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Ready to rock

It was the year of the debutante. They adorned the big screen and brought a breath of fresh air to the movies of 2008. There were stars from the south and former models who’d strayed a long way from the catwalk. And you’ll be seeing a lot more of them in the year ahead.

“It’s nice to work with new actresses. They bring in a fresh flavour and exuberance,” says Ram Mirchandani, COO, UTV Rampage Motion Pictures.

The most recent newcomers to make a splashy debut are, of course, Asin and Anushka Sharma, who both arrived on the scene with big bang films. Asin, 23, ensured that she would be noticed, when she paired up with Aamir Khan in Ghajini. Meanwhile Sharma, 20, a Yashraj Films find, made it to the big screen opposite Shah Rukh Khan in Aditya Chopra’s Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi.

To be sure, as a leading heroine in Tamil cinema, Asin is no stranger to the camera. The youngster from Kochi began modelling at 15. That led to Malayalam films in 2001. And from there it was a quick hop, skip and jump into Tamil and Telugu cinema in 2003. Asin has starred in several Tamil and Telugu hits including the original Ghajini in Tamil in 2005. More recently, she did Dasavathaaram with Kamal Haasan.

Her debut in Hindi films too created a stir — and the industry will no doubt be keen to see if she will follow in the footsteps of other South Indian stars like Sridevi. Asin has already bagged several big projects. Director Vipul Shah has cast her opposite Salman Khan in his next film, London Dreams, which will be out in 2009. And she’s continuing to do Tamil films — she will star in 19 Steps, a mega multilingual project in Tamil and Japanese co-produced by Bharat Bala and Warner Bros, which stars Kamal Haasan.

Meanwhile, the 20-year-old Anushka Sharma seems to have done a Deepika Padukone — remember that Bangalore lass entered Hindi films opposite King Khan with Om Shanti Om in late 2007. A year later, Sharma, also (a model) from Bangalore, made it to the big screen with Rab Ne... opposite SRK himself. Sharma, who comes from an army family, also began modelling at 15. Now, she’s in love with acting and can’t wait to get in front of the cameras again.

Earlier in 2008, yet another model snapped up the attention of movie-goers and filmmakers — Sonal Chauhan. Chauhan was introduced to audiences by Mahesh Bhatt in one of 2008’s early hits, Jannat, opposite Emran Hashmi.

Anushka Sharma’s done a Deepika Padukone, with her debut opposite Shah Rukh Khan in Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi

“Sonal can be called one of the finds of 2008. She had the right screen presence. Plus, she’s good looking and is a very good actress too,” says Mirchandani.

The 5ft-8in svelte heroine, who studied in Delhi, is a former Miss India finalist. She did ads for brands like Ponds and Diet Pepsi, before Bhatt spotted her and cast her in Jannat. Now, she may do another film with the Bhatts, and she’s also doing a Kannada film.

If Chauhan is a hotbod, newcomer Prachi Desai has refreshing girl-next-door appeal. This Ekta Kapoor find who became a small screen star as Bani of Kasamh Se came to her own on the big screen in Farhan Akhtar’s Rock On!! Desai will make her next appearance in Life Partner, a romantic comedy by Rumi Jaffrey, opposite Tusshar Kapoor.

Genelia D’Souza got a re-launch of sorts with Jaane Tu... Ya Jaane Na

Other heroines from the south are also tripping along the path to Bollywood. Take Shriya Saran, who’s among the most highly paid actresses in the south. Saran first forayed into Hindi films with a brief role in Mahesh Bhatt’s Awarapan in 2007 and last year she featured in Mission Istanbul.

Mugdha Godse wowed audiences in Fashion; (Above) Prachi Desai made an impressive switch from TV to films with Rock On!!

Although both films failed to set the box offices on fire, Saran has prestigious projects coming up. In fact, after completing the shoot for Deepa Mehta’s What’s Cooking, Stella?, she has been cast by Mehta again for her next film, Komagata Maru. This historic film is based on the 1914 voyage of a group of immigrants from Punjab led by Gurdit Singh (played by Akshay Kumar), who hired a Japanese ship to sail from Hong Kong to Vancouver.

Meanwhile, Genelia D’Souza, the heroine from Telugu cinema, was in a sense re-launched in Hindi films last year. Genelia actually did her first Hindi film, Tujhe Meri Kasam opposite Riteish Deshmukh in 2003. But her career in Bollywood failed to take off then.

Nevertheless, she’s now a popular heroine in Telugu cinema. And last year, she returned as the ‘Meow’ girl who stole Imran Khan’s heart in the hit Jaane Tu… Ya Jaane Na. Next, she will be seen next in David Dhawan’s Hook Ya Crook.

There were other newcomers who made promising debuts in 2008. One such was model Mugdha Godse, who held her own on the screen against Priyanka Chopra and Kangana Ranaut in Madhur Bhandarkar’s Fashion. And Tamil film actress Sada was seen in Aparachit, the dubbed-in-Hindi version of her Tamil hit, Anniyan.

Now in 2009, producers like Mirchandani are also looking forward to the debut of heroines like Aruna Shields and Fareena Wazir. British Asian actress Shields is entering Hindi films with Prince opposite Vivek Oberoi while Wazir plays the second lead in Ketan Mehta’s Rang Rasiya.

Which of these newcomers will make it big in coming years? It’s too early to offer predictions but it’s sure they’ll all be attractive on-screen presences in the year ahead.

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