Photographs: Reliance Big Pictures Arthur J Pais in New York
Barbara Mori was afraid of the kissing scenes with Hrithik Roshan in Kites.
"When we were getting ready to shoot the kiss, I asked Hrithik why we are doing this. They don't show kissing in Indian films," she says with a chuckle.
The Uruguay-born and Mexico-raised TV and movie actress says, "We kiss in Mexican films all the time. Nobody makes a fuss over a kiss there. But I did not come across an Indian film with kissing scenes. Whenever I thought the man and woman are going to kiss, it would be like, cut, cut... suddenly the scene would change."
But Hrithik, she says, assured her that things are changing and the audiences are 'becoming broadminded.'
There are a lot of speculations about a bare-chest hugging scene from the English version of the film. But everyone connected with the movie says that there is nothing exploitative in both the versions, unless you object to a bikini-clad Mori.
The famed Hollywood director Brett Ratner who cut the remix version of Kites agreed with a journalist last week that its trailer looked sensuous and full of energy.
'I knew this film was made for Hrithik to cross over'
This is the first international film for 32-year-old Mori, whose paternal side comes from Japanese roots and the maternal from South America. She agrees in a way this could be her breaking out film for world audiences.
"I knew this film was made for Hrithik to cross over," she says in a telephone interview from Los Angeles. "He is fascinating while doing those songs and dances. But I also wanted to make sure that I will be comfortable with the film. I saw some Indian films, and I asked Anurag Basu (director) if I have to do a lot of singing and dancing? The Indian films I saw were very different from the films we make in South America, especially in Mexico."
"I wanted everything to look real," she continues. "The women in Indian films look really good. The eye lashes and the clothes they wear are very beautiful. But I was afraid that such things might take you out of the story."
'Kites is the first action film for me'
Barbara Mori is the third non-Asian actress to appear in recent years in a Hindi-language film.
Camilla Natta, a little known French actress (despite appearing in Crimson River 2) was cast as a tourist in Bharat Bala's hardly seen road movie Hari Om in 2004.
Two years later, the British TV and Shakespearean actress Alice Patten had a substantial role in the huge hit, Rang De Basanti. And now, watch Mori, who is certainly a big name in the South American TV and to a lesser degree in the movies.
Mori says she had extensive discussion with Basu, and "we agreed on a compromise," she feels that she has been able to make "everything look more real."
So what did she enjoy most about Kites?
"Surely the action scenes," she says, chuckling. "This is the first action film for me -- there are so many cops and guns in the film."
But she did not like the water scenes. "In the first place, I didn't like the sea and to be there in water with those oxygen tanks..."
'I had cancer of the uterus'
What did she learn from her co-star as well as the director?
Hrithik, she says, helped her ease during the film's tough scenes. She admires his stamina.
"Anu is a mess," she says laughing. "Suddenly, he gets a crazy idea and the script is changed. I would go like -- What is happening? How can you do it? But at the end we would realize he knew what exactly he wanted and everything would work out fine. He is a fun guy."
They also bonded on many levels and became stronger friends, she says, when they learned each was a cancer survivor.
"I had cancer of the uterus," she says. "It was diagnosed at an early stage and I underwent a surgery. When I heard the news, I knew I was going to be a fighter but even then I could not believe it was happening to me. At that time it looked like I had everything -- my son, popularity, a beautiful home, love from my friends and fans, and then suddenly everything seemed to shatter."
'It was important for me to tell my story for people across the world'
She has told her story in a documentary 1 a Minute by Namrata Singh Gujral, a LA-based actress and film-maker who is also fighting cancer.
Featured in the film are artists Olivia Newton-John, Melissa Etheridge and Lisa Ray who tell their fight against cancer.
"It was important for me to tell my story for people across the world, and give them hope," Mori says.
As her healing process began, she says, she resolved that she was going to make the best of her life.
The experience of acting in Kites was just another step in that direction, she adds.