Nora Fatehi on her Bollywood trip


For decades, well-established recording, dance, and film artists around the world have made significant personal and professional adjustments to cross paths with mainstream Western entertainment. Think Ricky Martin, Camila Cabello, Gloria Estefan, J Balvin, Jennifer Lopez or even closer to home, Priyanka Chopra Jonas. The lure of Hollywood has always attracted the brightest stars and the best talent. Now the trend is perfectly normalized, with more niche artists suddenly enjoying global recognition for their work as they leverage social media and cultural integration to make themselves both relevant and accessible.

On the other hand, Bollywood is often accused of being the opposite, terribly insular. Critics chide him for only encouraging the rise of famous offspring and those with insider connections. It is therefore extremely rare for a newcomer from around the world to find their place and make an impact as actor Nora Fatehi did.

The Arabic variation of Nora’s name can be spelled “Noora” which means “light”, and oddly enough in 2022, Nora Fatehi is perhaps in the brightest phase of her career. But this success is far from beginner’s luck; her accomplishments can be attributed to the strategic and passionate journey of a young girl with a singular vision – to do everything successfully. Here is an account of Grazia’s conversation with Nora, who now lives in Mumbai.

GRAZIA: What inspired you to become an artist and how did you pursue this dream in Bollywood?

NORA FATEHI: Growing up, I had a deep sense of myself. I knew I was talented, multidimensional and versatile. I wanted to play, dance, play and entertain, and I looked for every opportunity to do so. As I grew, I realized that I needed to find a place where I could showcase and leverage my talents. Luckily, my agent offered me to try my hand at commercial modeling in India or Los Angeles. Stuck with Sophie’s choice, I had to weigh my options carefully. In the end, Bollywood’s appeal was stronger. The opportunities and diversity it had to offer appealed to me as a person on a very visceral level. I needed a big platform to encompass all of my dreams and talents, and I’m so glad I followed my instincts; it was the best decision.

G: What surprised you about India, and what did you learn from your experiences?

NC: Although I didn’t experience any culture shock due to my background and cosmopolitan upbringing, I was surprised by the number of foreigners I encountered – Europeans, Latinos, Americans, etc., all trying to become the next big thing. I watched them all, internalized their experiences as my own, and learned by watching them make mistakes – swearing never to do the same. So many of the girls I met in those early days had big dreams but made little or no effort to learn Hindi or assimilate into the environment they were trying to be a part of. I realized that if I was going to be taken seriously, I needed to learn the language and assimilate it quickly. Crazy dreams take crazy effort, and I decided to be relentless in pursuit of mine.


G: You talked a lot about your difficulties at university. Do you regret not having completed it?

NC: I was a star student in high school, but when I entered college full-time, personal life circumstances made it very difficult for me to maintain the high level of achievement I had previously enjoyed, both in my positioning than in my notes. It was hard for me to come to terms with poor grades and dwindling motivation, so I left college to get my personal life back on track. They say that God works in mysterious ways, so I don’t regret that I didn’t complete my studies. Whether I finished college or not, I always knew my goal was to become a global artist. The path may have diverged, but God led me where I wanted to be.

G: Would you say Bollywood is inclusive, and what advice would you give to strangers waiting to step in the door?

NC: Bollywood is inclusive, otherwise I wouldn’t thrive here, but it’s not easily accessible. The competition is very tough; the industry itself is run by movie families and dynasties that have ruled the game for decades. As a foreigner, you have to bring something completely new and unique to get a seat at the table. Once you have a seat, constantly work on your skills, personality, and communication – you can’t fake it here. Professionals will see through you. The audience will sense your authenticity or lack thereof. Everyone is looking for someone to identify with, so don’t try to be another Hrithik Roshan or Katrina Kaif. Be you. Be original. Shine your own light.


G: Your Afro-Arab ethnicity, your Canadian upbringing and your career in India have undoubtedly given you a rich cultural DNA. How do these influences find their place in your work and your attitude towards life?

NC: My diversity makes me different. I think that’s what makes my brand unique, and that’s what people love about me. I am so different from everyone else that I channel my life experiences into my work. When I make independent music, for example, my roots and all the background music in my life finds a place in the lyrics and the melodies. When I work in a team, I bring many different creative ideas to the table. I’ll give you an example – my Arabic background came in handy when we made Dilbar. I was able to tap into Arabic belly dancing culture and traditional Arabic fashion in a way that took the video from mere appropriation to authentic representation. All these cross-cultural experiences made me stand out from my peers and enabled me to succeed in India and abroad.

G: You’ve come a long way between 2014 and 2022 and you’ve proven many naysayers wrong. What stereotypes do you think you managed to break down in the process?

NC: (Laughter) Can anyone ever tell how many stereotypes there are? I’m sure people take me more seriously today than when I started. People believed that doing item numbers led to oversexualization and limited an artist’s chances of securing more meaningful opportunities. It’s not true for me. Foreigners were once locked into narrow social and professional expectations. I am happy that we can break this stereotype. We have shown that it doesn’t matter your background or where you come from. If you make an effort and recognize the opportunity, success will follow too. I’m not comfortable with a one-dimensional label. I’m not just a dancer. Or just a singer. I can be all of that and more. It’s something that I inherently know, and people need to accept and become familiar with.


G: To what extent do people’s opinions and criticism influence your decision-making?

NC: I’m not going to lie; people’s opinions and critical comments do not affect me. But even if it doesn’t influence my decisions, I always have it in mind. I listen to opinions and weigh options, but the last call is always mine. If I feel like a specific project is going to elevate my brand, I do it and take feedback after. I understand music and fashion, and despite my young age, I also understand this world. I make decisions based on my intuition. I don’t need an entire feature film to leave an impact; a song or fifteen minutes on screen can make a huge difference. That said, feedback is key, and I get it from my team, especially my management, who have watched me grow and understand this industry inside and out.

G: Dance is a fundamental passion; tell us how it was a catalyst for your “Dance with Nora” initiative.

NC: I started the hashtag #dancewithNora when my songs became global hits, and I started seeing people all over the world dancing to my tracks. I felt so inspired and soon realized that this could become a movement, such an interconnected community that it doesn’t matter what background you come from, what language you speak or what religion you practice. The platform is for people who are like me, who are talented, who want to be seen, and people who need a place to be creative. Instagram and YouTube are the reason I’ve had a lot of opportunities come my way. Dancing with Nora is a way for me to discover people to integrate them into my career and into my outstanding performances like Expo2020 or IIFA. It’s a way for me to reciprocate the love I receive from my fans, many of whom are talented artists just waiting to be discovered.

G: readers of Grace I would like to know your fashion philosophy.

NC: I don’t really have a fashion philosophy, but I believe in refinement. Your personal fashion statement is anything that enhances your dignity and femininity and gives you confidence to face the world. I love glam, bags and shoes, high heels and glamorous outfits; I like everything. I am a very fashionable girl.

G: You ventured into uncharted territory with your debut as a video director; explain why creating original content is important to you.

NC: I’ve been creating original content for a while now, and producing music videos for about three years. With Dilbar (Arabic) I put my money where my mouth is and financed the whole project. It was my vision, even if no one else believed in it. I was convinced it would be a door opener, and with the support of T-Series, I could share it with the world. Then I did an English-Swahili song, and my YouTube subscribers soared to 1.5 million – that’s a boss shot, right?

I believe artists have their publishing rights. I believe artists own their content because that’s where you earn well-deserved income and can have the creative freedom to do work that’s meaningful to you. With my third venture – “Dirty Little Secrets”, again an international collaboration, I had full creative control to execute my vision and bring it to life through funding, production and direction. My detail-oriented fans will notice the symbolism in the video, and I was motivated to leave my mark in such a meaningful way.

Since her debut in 2014, Nora has mesmerized audiences with her volcanic on-screen talent and secured her status as an unrivaled and fearless star as she occupies and thrives in a league all her own. If her social media presence is any benchmark for her success and popularity, we can safely bet there’s more to go for the incredibly talented star who has her eyes set on receiving and maintaining international fame.


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