For Indian American actor Manish Dayal, mastering Indian accent a challenge in The Hundred-Foot Journey

A love story set in France.

By Deepak Chitnis

WASHINGTON, DC: Any actor would kill for the chance to star in a film directed by Oscar-nominee Lasse Hallstrom (Chocolat), co-starring Oscar-winner Helen Mirren (The Queen), and co-produced by Oprah Winfrey and Steven Spielberg – but that’s exactly what Indian American actor Manish Dayal is doing.

hundred-foot-journey-poster 2Dayal will play one of the main roles in The Hundred-Foot Journey, an upcoming film from Spielberg’s Dreamworks Pictures. The film, based on a novel by the same name, tells the story of an Indian family settling down in the south of France and opening up a restaurant in one of the most culinary parts of the country, drawing the ire of Mirren’s Madame Mallory. Both Indian and French cultures must learn to accept each other, however, when love intervenes.

That love story, which is a focal point of the film, is between the characters played by French actress Charlotte Le Bon, and Dayal’s character, Hassan Haji. For Dayal, born in South Carolina 31 years ago to immigrants from Gujarat, mastering the Indian accent, affectations, and customs proved to be the most challenging aspect of the role.

Dayal had some fantastic help, however. His on-screen parents are played by two performers steeped in the history of Bollywood – Om Puri and Juhi Chawla. The latter is making her first appearance ever in a Hollywood production, following in the footsteps of other Hindi performers like Amitabh Bachchan, who made his debut appearance in last year’s The Great Gatsby.

Although The Hundred-Foot Journey is Dayal’s first major big screen venture, he is no stranger to films and television. An actor since 2005, Dayal has made appearances in films like 2010’s The Sorcerer’s Apprentice and even the Bollywood hit Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna (2006). Most of his work, however, has been on television; Dayal had a key role on the revamped “90210” series a few years ago, and also made an appearance on NBC’s doomed sitcom, “Outsourced.”

Now, Dayal will be front-and-center in Hollywood’s latest attempt to appeal to Indian American audiences. In the wake of the stunning success experienced by Slumdog Millionaire – which walked away from the 2008 Academy Awards with eight prizes, including Best Picture – Hollywood has increased its Indian-oriented output significantly. Most notably, Life of Pi (also an Oscar heavyweight) and the recent Million Dollar Arm have put India in the limelight.

With a prime release date at the tail end of the summer (August 8), The Hundred-Foot Journey is poised to provide smart, adult-oriented counter-programming to the usual summer fare of explosions, violence, and superhero antics. Penned by Oscar-nominee Steven Knight (Eastern Promises) and, of course, scored by Oscar-winner A.R. Rahman (Slumdog Millionaire), the film has the pedigree to score big with audiences.

The trailer for The Hundred-Foot Journey can be viewed below:

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