The ‘Dilbar’ and ‘O Saki Saki’ girl, Nora Fatehi, stole our hearts and had us in awe of her absolutely stunning dance moves in the past year. If there were sure-shot hits at every party, dance class, or even the recent Ganpati visarjan, it’s these songs! But there is more to her than being that girl. Honestly, this woman is one with beauty and brains, which you’ll figure as you read along here. The Canadian-Morrocan origin model/actor looked stunning as she walked in wearing a pastel-toned jumpsuit. She rushes as she’s a little late, apologises and quickly settles down for the interview. The enthusiasm and passion with which she discussed her craft made it one wonderful conversation. We spoke about her experience working on the international single, ‘Pepeta’, collaborating with people from different cultures, her views on beauty standards in our country, and much more.
Nora, not many know this but you debuted in Bollywood with the film, Roar. Then you went on to sign a few Telugu films down South. Did you ever do any of that in a calculated manner?
I feel like when it comes to my journey in Bollywood or otherwise, I haven’t done anything consciously or in a calculated manner. I just followed my gut feeling. If an opportunity came along, I didn’t want to miss it. For me, if I like the music in the film or the team, I’ll do it. If the film will help open up new doors for me, I’ll take it up. So whatever came my way, if I felt it was decent enough, I did it.
I wanted to know if the language is something that is an important aspect you consider while choosing films…
I don’t really have issues with languages. Obviously, everyone will have a tough time learning it, but then if you don’t mind learning new languages, then it is easier. It was very hard for me to learn Hindi in my first two years here. That’s mainly because even if I tried to speak in Hindi, people choose to respond to me in English. So I was not cornered to learn it. But if you go to say, France, you need to learn their language because everyone speaks only that. But I enjoy the language, so I would still put the effort.
In the past year, ‘Dilbar‘ and ‘O Saki Saki‘ became super hits and brought you great fame and following. But you aren’t very fond of how these songs are termed ‘item numbers’…
Well, thankfully not everyone nowadays calls it that. The informed ones are actually beginning to call it ‘performance-oriented numbers’ or ‘dance numbers’. Because these songs are extreme on dance and performance. It’s like a show. They are as good as Beyonce’s music videos and that is how a lot of filmmakers have shot me and my songs. The main vocal part of the song is always my choreography. It has a lot to do with how you portray the sensuality, femininity, and how it translates artistically on screen as well.
Apart from dancing and acting, were you always creatively inclined towards singing? Or was it a chance discovery?
I’ve always felt like I have some sort of knack for it, just like dancing and acting. I saw the impact ‘Dilbar’ had worldwide and the fame and fan following that I achieved after that. I thought that if I recreate it in Arabic, it will open up a whole new market for me. And if I sang in Arabic, it would be my debut vehicle as a singer. And it worked very well there, kickstarting this whole new career path for me as a singer. So eight months ago, the Arabic ‘Dilbar’ released and now ‘Pepeta‘ is out.
Yes, ‘Pepeta’ just released and it looks great! Tell us a little about your experience working on it.
I was meaning to do an English, or rather, an international track for a long time now. Post Dilbar, this track with Tanzanian artist Ray Vanny came along and I liked it, so I decided to take it up. We had to shoot the video in Thailand in just 2 days. Being the producer as well, it was quite stressful being the decision-maker, along with singing and dancing in the video. We got all our teams from Morocco, Tanzania and India to come together for it and it was a great experience collaborating with them all. I’m really fond of bringing different cultures together through my work and music, and I have tried to do this here, too. Be it the team, in the music video or even the way we sang the song, it has a lot of Afro, Carribean and Latina accents to it. And where I am from in Toronto, we lived with a lot of Caribbean people and people from different parts of Africa. So, I caught the accents quite naturally. I have grown up around such diversity. That is why when it comes to my work, I want to inject some new cultural aspect to it each time.
And I think you have managed to do it, too.
Yes, I hope. If we speak about Bollywood, in ‘Dilbar‘, we represented the Arab world by introducing belly dance. That representation in a mainstream Bollywood song made the people there very happy because Bollywood is only the second biggest industry and its reach is huge. With ‘O Saki Saki‘, we created a little bit of a gypsy vibe with the fire dance and again there was a bit of representation there. You know, I’ve just started my career, but moving forward I want to do more. I want to open people’s minds to learning, even if it’s as small as a costume that represents someone’s culture. I have creative liberty too, now, because I produce most of the projects.
You are dancing, singing and an actor, Nora. How would you define yourself as an artist?
Even though it has only been a year since my career took off (after ‘Dilbar’), I feel like it is still my responsibility as an artist to mix things up for my audiences each time. It’s so easy to get bored of your actors, singers and musicians. I am a huge fan of the musician, Missy Elliot. Every time she released a video, it was something different. Whether she wore a black garbage bag in one or was a scarecrow in another, it became iconic. Similarly, I want that every time you see me, you see something different. It’s all about adapting to different environments and genres. If Pepeta required a raw and urban-street attitude, I should be able to do it. And at the same time, I need to adjust myself to the sensibilities of a Bollywood song like ‘Kamariya’ or ‘Pachtaoge’. You’ve got to be a chameleon.
Talking about adapting to different sensibilities, we see you in a different avatar in each song or film you do. But if we were to talk about your personal style, how would you define it?
I don’t have a personal style, as such. But I really like sassiness. When I was thinking about my next project, I wanted to do something different with my look. When I saw a picture of someone with pink hair on Instagram, I said, ‘Wow, this is so exotic and so cool, I need to try this.’ So, when Pepeta happened, I decided to go through with it. It’s art, you know. We are artists and we need to experiment. But look, mine was just pink hair; if you see what Lady Gaga has done in the past 10 years, she was ruling the industry because she would shock and surprise people. And what worked was her confidence. So for me, I feel that as long as you’re confident in what you’re doing, that’s what matters.
Being a professional dancer, you have an amazingly fit body. Do you have any fitness regime or diet you follow in particular?
Honestly, I don’t follow a fitness regime. When I am shooting and I have rehearsals, I spend hours in there and it becomes a workout of sorts. But I don’t have a strict regime or diet. I enjoy food and I don’t have cheat days. I am also an advocate for thick bodies, I love girls who are curvy. This part of the world we live in still thinks that being skinny is attractive when it really is not the only way to look at bodies. Curvy women are beautiful and need to be celebrated more. The acceptance and love for your own body and talking about it openly isn’t given importance here, and it should be. Like, when I say I love tan or dark women, people here laugh at me. It’s weird for me because back home, we are taught to love our bodies and be comfortable in our own skin. And I think that’s how it should be.
If I were to ask you about the people who you look up to, who have inspired you in your work, who will it be?
I have always known that I want to leave a mark in the industry as an all-rounder and versatile artist. You know, someone who has done it all and nailed it. And people who I look up to for that is someone like Jenifer Lopez, for example. She’ll do a movie, release an original music track, dance, go on tours, and do it all so well. There are different artists like Beyoncé and Chris brown, too. Even if we looked at Indian cinema, if we talk about acting and dancing, Madhuri Dixit killed it. These are like different people I look up to.
You worked in Street dancer with Varun Dhawan and Shraddha Kapoor. How was your experience? We saw a lot of fun BTS content from the shoot!
Oh, this film is going to be crazy. It was one of the best experiences I had. I really evolved as a dancer here. I tried dance styles that I had never tried before. It was extremely hard and stressful for me, but it was always a dream for me to do a dance film and whenever you see the results on the monitor, it’s like a different world and makes it worth the pain. The level of these dancers and what they have to offer to the film is fantastic. Varun and Shraddha and the entire crew have been so supportive and accepting, we got along really well during the shoot.
What do you see yourself doing in the next, say, 5 years down the line?
I definitely see myself building my international singing career. I also want to make my mark in Hindi cinema — be it films, songs, chartbusters, I want to create that brand. Most importantly, I want to be that girl in Bollywood that is an all-rounder and who is able to blur borders and cultures around the world. There should be no limitations in terms of artistic expression because, at this point, people are exposed to various global cultures, and a different language is no big deal. They want to see and experience different things, and I want to be the person who brings them that.