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Bollywood goes berserk for German actress

Sonia Phalnikar · 2 Jan 2013, 07:26

Published: 02 Jan 2013 07:26 GMT+01:00

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Barefoot and dressed in a skimpy skirt and spangled navel-exposing top, Claudia Ciesla gyrates to the beat amid flashing strobe lights in a nightclub. The curvaceous, long-limbed dancer tosses back her black hair and grinds her hips as famous Bollywood actor Akshay Kumar sways towards her after he's done thrashing some thugs.

The promo video for the song “Balma” from the action-comedy “Khiladi 786” has been watched over four million times on YouTube and has made Ciesla something of a sex symbol in India. Filmfare, a leading Indian film magazine, even dubbed the 24-year-old “the newest sizzler in B-town.”

Though the film has received mixed reviews, it's done well at the domestic box office. And the song “Balma,” which means “oh, beloved” in Hindi, has become a huge hit. The catchy number seems to be playing everywhere in Mumbai – in taxis, malls and at street food stalls.

India’s item girl

With her perfect curves and dizzying dance moves, Ciesla, who was born into German-Polish family that moved to Bavarian Bamberg when she was 17, is the new “item girl” on the block. In Bollywood slang, that's the dancer in a sexually provocative dance sequence added to films in order to generate publicity when featured in the trailers.

She says she's the only German actress in the world's biggest film industry. Sitting on a plush sofa in her apartment in an upscale northern Mumbai neighbourhood, Ciesla was clearly excited about the video's success. “It was an amazing opportunity to do the dance with Akshay Kumar, one of Bollywood's biggest stars,” Ciesla told The Local. “And it's great that the press is calling me 'sexy' and hot'. What else can you want?”

She was also frank about how she's viewed in the Indian film industry. “As a foreigner, you're naturally seen as exotic and different. People do go like 'wow' when they see white skin,” she said in English tinged with a German-Indian accent.

“But it's still a struggle for someone like me to make it because there are just so many talented Indians who come to Bollywood everyday,” she said, dressed casually wearing jeans and a sleeveless T-shirt, no makeup, and her feet in worn slippers.

Nationally televised ‘Namaste’

Ciesla moved from Germany to Mumbai, formerly known as Bombay, three years ago. Her brush with Bollywood began when Indian producer Vivek Singhania spotted photos of Ciesla on the internet. She was then a model who had among other things posed topless for Germany's populist Bild newspaper. Singhania offered her a role in his film “Karma” which was made in English. Soon after, she was invited to take part in the popular television reality show “Bigg Boss,” an Indian version of “Big Brother” hosted by Bollywood acting legend Amitabh Bacchan.

What the producers didn't initially tell her was that she was only allowed to speak Hindi on the show “My first reaction was 'hello, this wasn't part of the deal.' But then it was actually funny,” Ciesla said. “I learned my first Hindi words – 'Namaste' and 'Accha' and a few basic sentences with the whole country watching and somehow managed to survive for ten weeks on the show.”

The experience changed her life. “I was planning to return to Germany after the reality show,” Ciesla said. “But I got so used to India and the people, the food and the lifestyle that I decided to stay on. I believe it was my destiny.”

It's a decision she hasn't regretted. The reality show, she believes, also helped her gain a toehold in an industry where knowing the right people is key. “Luckily, all of India watched 'Big Boss' so everybody knew who I was,” she said. “It was like a debut and provided a great platform for Bollywood.”

Adapting and integrating

For Ciesla, who studied mathematics in Bamberg, acting has been a dream come true. “Ever since I was a child, I wanted to be in front of a camera,” she told The Local. “And after modelling around Europe, acting and dancing seemed a natural next step.”

She signed up for dance lessons, joined a well-known acting academy in Mumbai, made contacts and spent two hours each day learning Hindi. She also works out every day for an hour and a half at the gym and swimming pool at the luxurious gated community fringed by palm trees where she lives - and which is home to several Bollywood stars. She said she had become a dedicated Bollywood fan - watching Hindi films for pointers on acting and speaking.

“I never say no to a challenge,” Ciesla said. “I've made a huge effort to adapt and integrate.”

The hard work appears to be paying off. Ciesla now speaks near fluent Hindi - and as well as the successful “Balma” she's taken part in another reality show, this time with another Bollywood icon Shahrukh Khan, and has starred in a Punjabi film.

Such is her popularity that she hires four bodyguards to hold back the huge crowds of Bollywood fans which often greet her live dance shows around India for promotional events and opening ceremonies.

Story continues below…

Making Mubai home

Despite work offers pouring in, Ciesla admitted that living and working in India was not always easy. “I had to change the way I think about a lot of things. For instance, people here communicate differently. They may say one thing but think something completely different. It took me a long time to understand that. In Germany, everyone is so straightforward,” she said.

Mumbai's notoriously gridlocked traffic and aggressive drivers also took some getting used to. Ciesla told how terrified her parents were when they visited her, reluctant to leave the apartment.

“When I finally did convince them to get into the car for a drive around the city, my father refused to sit in the front seat so that he wouldn't see what was happening around the car,” she said. Ciesla is so used to the city that she gets behind the wheel of her Audi herself - particularly after her former driver crashed her car.

If there's one thing Ciesla misses from home, it's German food and her grandmother's cooking – dumplings, roasts and pork chops.

But the German actress has no plans to leave Mumbai any time soon. “I've invested so much here and things are working for me right now,” she says. “India does really feel like home. I even miss it and get restless when I visit Germany. I often can't wait to get back.”

Sonia Phalnikar (news@thelocal.de)

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Your comments about this article

08:13 January 2, 2013 by hech54
How did a German model end up stealing the show in Bollywood?......simple. Have you seen the rack on that girl? :)
10:57 January 2, 2013 by Anny One again
Be carefull Claudia,better don`t take the Bus or similar public transport systems in India at the moment.
11:45 January 2, 2013 by buddhist46
Why am I not surprised at comments alluding to the rape. May I suggest following links for a better perspective than the ones offered in the gutter press:


14:55 January 2, 2013 by Joho
The problem with India is that they use per capita rates, so generally the rape and homicide seem low in relations to the size of the country. They need to use actual numeric figures instead of per capita to tackle the problems they have.
15:25 January 2, 2013 by i am my master
@Anny One again, I am not from India but still would like to comment.

don't conclude yourself from the reports of the media. It has been reported in western media because there are thousands of people who have initiated some meaningful action. I dont know where you are from but is there anything other than a year jail for (if) convicted people

"please Grow up"
16:34 January 2, 2013 by arbeitsbiene3
Bollywoods newest sex symbol.

Enlightening. Wonder how exotic she would be seen with no makeup? People would go like, wow...when they do see her white skin.
17:35 January 2, 2013 by simi1983
Thanks for feeding the stereo type Claudia.

I lived in Mumbai for one year and also plan to return and live there. It is an awesome city.

Still it has it's bad sides as well. Women are (as compared to Delhi) quite save in Mumbai. But as a white woman you are every single day confronted with the stereo type of white women being easy and up to anything with anyone at any time.

Why? In Bollywood movies for Bikini dance scenes or any dance scenes with barely any clothing white girls are casted off the street while the indian actress dances in jeans and top, lingerie ads are ALWAYS shot with white models. So yeah that's it. White women will do anything. That's what men on the streets think and that's the way they approach you no matter how much you cover yourself.

Again...thanks Claudia.
19:06 January 2, 2013 by mudslime

Any actress (Bollywood or Hollywood) without makeup will look not very attractive. I cannot recall at the moment, on some website they posted pictures of "not so attractive" women before and after makeup. The change is stunning.

Finally, it is all in the editing. You can be made to look like a Demon or an Angel.
19:57 January 2, 2013 by hech54
Comment removed by The Local for breach of our terms.
20:34 January 2, 2013 by arbeitsbiene3


Perhaps her statements were lost in translation? However. Since most germans pride themselves as being direct and honest when expressing their feelings. Her attitude regarding white skin maybe her reality? The preference of ranking individual worth according to skin color affecting peoples opportunities is common practice.

The perception of white skin and european woman as a standard of beauty is a global phenomenon. Do not blame Claudia.

After all, beauty is anything light, lighten or white.
02:05 January 3, 2013 by mudslime

I agree! From Michael Jackson (US) to Bollywood stars are trying to bleach their skin to look white. It has become the standard of beauty. Orientals are getting surgeries to look less oriental.

10:30 January 3, 2013 by hech54
Well I see here at The Local nothing has changed. Freedom of speech, freedom of expression(all without a single "swear word") are still taboo. I'd love to know when the phrase "Third World Cesspool" and the word "India" became swear words? Anyone care to explain that one to us?
11:26 January 3, 2013 by dp_darmstadt
"She was also frank about how she's viewed in the Indian film industry. ¦quot;As a foreigner, you're naturally seen as exotic and different. People do go like 'wow' when they see white skin,¦quot; she said in English tinged with a German-Indian accent."

She will soon realise that the "wow" reaction was just temporary. They will tolerate your next 3 or 4 movies and then get bored seeing your white skin playing indian characters... I am Indian and i am happy to see also non-Indians in our movies as long as they play characters that suit their skin colour.
17:45 January 3, 2013 by Anny One again
@ i am my master

In 2007, according to India's National Crime Records Bureau, 32,318 people were murdered in India. Another 3644 were victims of ''culpable homicide'', roughly equating to manslaughter. In a category of its own, 8093 brides or their relatives were killed in ''dowry deaths'' - murdered by greedy grooms and in-laws angry over the amount of dowry paid by the bride's family. And there were a further 27,401 attempted murders. It is a country in which violent crime is commonplace - so commonplace that every day more than 100 Indians are murdered by other Indians, yet their TV news channels treat this as humdrum unless it involves some celebrity or unusual features.

Read more:http://www.theage.com.au/opinion/society-and-culture/indian-tvs-unsound-fury-20100106-lu8y.html

Or when someone has bullied Shilpa Shetty,(in response to the alleged racism directed at actress Shilpa in the Big Brother House, protesters took to the streets in India and burned effigies of the show's organisers,for example)

There have been widespread protests in India against sexual violence since the attack and you just try to play it down.

Believe your objective sources,i believe mine,but don`t tell me to grow up ! ok !
23:03 January 3, 2013 by arbeitsbiene3
@mudslime #8

More of the same in Hollywood. Bollywood is a reflection of the pretenders and illusionist of Hollywood and european culture.

And Its unfortunate some women in Indian, Asia, Europe, The U.S. and Africa are willing to bleach their beautiful dark skin.
11:13 January 4, 2013 by dp_darmstadt
@Anny One again

you would have searched really hard to find out this stupid news reported by the australian news paper. Read also the comments in the same web page to see how people reacted to the irresponsible journalism. The news has been published during the series of attacks on Indian students by some australians. Instead of reporting the facts about the attacks, the journalist was arguing that murder is common in India and hence Indian government should not complain about its citizens being attacked or killed in Australia. I have never heard such a stupid argument. The Indian government is worried about their citizens taken for granted in Australia and when it happens they react to it and thats the correct thing to do. According to the same news, the number of murders in Australia is not too less.. its about half compared to India.. which i think is a high number given the Austalian population and high econonic, safe and social standards as boasted by them.

We are also very much disturbed about all these murders and sexual attacks happening in India. Indians are not taking it lightly and thats why there are widespread protests happening now.
19:06 January 4, 2013 by mudslime
@ dp_darmstadt #13

I find it appalling that you say ¦quot;….i am happy to see also non-Indians in our movies as long as they play characters that suit their skin colour¦quot;

There are lots of African-American actors who wanted to play lead role in Shakespearean plays but were limited to white actors only. As time progressed these African-American actors later played the roles and did a superb job as the lead actors in Shakespeare dramas.

Now it sounds like you have some biases for a white woman to act in a major role in a Bollywood movie. You are only happy with seeing their skin or doing some sleezy dances. As a person with an Indian ethnic background, I am disgusted by this view of yours.
20:57 January 4, 2013 by Anny One again

Wrong !

I found the article very quickly, the URL can be found on 10 Google pages.I had been looking a long time ago at international crime figures and was very surprised that I read about India.The connection with the events in Australia is irrelevant.This article explains it pretty well in short which impression I have of India.How often meant people from the Middle East or from the Asian Region, the West would be more immoral and criminal,they would finally read it every day in the news and see it on Tv.The real cause is rather the lack of free journalism and the lack of public intrest to change things in these countries.

Add to that poor run statistics, and that police,authorities and judiciary often suffer under widespread corruption.

Well you seem to care even more about indians in Australia as child labor and abuse, child marriages, killing of female babies, honor killings and acid victims.Everybody sees since two weeks what conditions in India prevail.You don`t need not search long for infos.

23:35 January 4, 2013 by dp_darmstadt
@Anny One again

I do care and worry about the child labour, killings etc in India. But this does not mean that Indians attacked in Australia should be taken lightly until we solve the domestic problems. My whole point was that theage journalist should be reporting about the attacks in Australia instead of complaining about the murders in India which is irrelevant for that topic. That's not free journalism, it is irresponsible journalism.
00:32 January 5, 2013 by Anny One again
Read again the comments after my # 2 from # 3, # 4, # 5, which play down the problem and apparently see this as no big problem.Again, I've shown quickly a couple of numbers and figures to explain that there is really something wrong

and not a staged western media story against India.And I stick to my tip to Claudia.Period
17:25 January 5, 2013 by hech54
Comment removed by The Local for breach of our terms.
15:31 January 7, 2013 by discovering
India has worst stat 9 women for 10 male. So its obvious there will be lot of perverts in such country.

Cant agree more to what 'Anny one again' says.

Google news is spitting lot of details about hate crime against women in India.

India was also rated worst country for women to live in.

Just saw one now where a 16yr old girl was burnt alive after being raped.

This one is for today. This is sad situation for humanity.

Didnt read such news anywhere in the world. Hope its not happening.

what damage these perverts are still going to do is the big question.

God save the women in India.
17:17 January 7, 2013 by dp_darmstadt
@Anny One again


Why are you trying to make this a West vs India issue?

Again and again and again - I only have problem with that particular news in Australian news website esp. with the timing of the news. I do not think that the western media in general is doing anything wrong.

You do not have to tell me, i know what is happening in India better than you and i also know that there is something really wrong.

Due to corruption and political reasons not all victims gets justice. But atleast our judiciary does not insult the victims like what happens in UK. Check out the recent news by Telegraph. But fortunately due to the less number of rape incidents in there, not too many woman will be insulted this way.



Why dont you show more interest in discussing the problems in your country before complaining about other nations...

Guns, drugs, kids struggling to learn and understand basic science and maths etc


you got me wrong. When did i say i am interested in just looking at white skin and sleezy dances..

If her skin colour is the only advantage that she has got and no acting skills, she will be a failure in any film industry, Bollywood is no exception.

A british model Amy Jackson is doing well in Bollywood and a regional movie industry in India.

She has not been in any item songs or dirty dances yet, but pure acting which made her successfull in India with a good fan following.
09:44 January 8, 2013 by hech54
@ dp-darmstadt


India¦#39;s prime minister acknowledges gendercide as a national shame, however, the police and judiciaries do not implement the law because they believe in the same thing. Authorities often let the unlawful parents and doctors off with light punishment. Often, when the mothers disobey the husband¦#39;s family decision to abort the female fetus and report it to the authorities, the suits are ignored or given a light sentence and the pointed finger targets the mother for bearing girls and disobeying the family¦#39;s decision to abort the child. She may even lose her job, exposed to constant death threats, and be left with unresolved cases. In addition, others who give birth to girls are prone to violence and even if she is able to give birth to the baby girls, the family is likely to not report the birth and even murder them.

India¦#39;s secretary of health and family welfare, K. Chandramouli concedes that the law is not aggressive enough on the offender. However it will be difficult and may take years to change the cultural inclination of billions of peoples.
10:00 January 8, 2013 by dp_darmstadt

Now your comments focussing on a different issue in India. You seems to be having some problem.

I can also search and find hundreds of news and wikipedia articles about each of the deadly problems in your country, just to keep this fight going. But i am bored talking to ignorant people like you.
13:49 January 8, 2013 by hech54
Search for: Girl Killers - India and Dowry Deaths - India on YouTube for a lesson on India's shockingly barbaric history towards females.
02:03 January 9, 2013 by i am my master
@Anny One again please have a detail look into the below statistics


let me help you understand better, In Germany rape rate per 100.000 population is 9.4 and in India it is 1.8, South Africa being the highest at 120

get your numbers correct before showing your haterism against any country.

Do you know how many people lost their lives (got killed) during the world war 2 ? and I need not tell you who was responsible for it.
23:49 January 9, 2013 by Anny One again
@ master of what?

Perhaps you are your own master, but certainly not the brightest in the sun. Anyway thanks for your help and your nice Statistic.

Then we can countries such as like, Kenya, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Cameroon, Algeria, Egypt, Morocco, Sudan ask and wondering why and how they have managed to have been since one or two years without a single rape.Or why some countries previously had no single and suddenly so many.

You better get your numbers correct before showing your simple intelligence.

"Do you know how many people lost their lives (got killed) during the world war 2 ? and I need not tell you who was responsible for it."

You know it at all ?You have not yet reveal where you really come from, perhaps will also have your reasons, if you know what I mean.

And you have the nerve to say to me, "Grow up" ? Tz,tz Tortenboxer !

Better have a look on this one here;


Every hour 18 women become victims of crime.

11:32 January 11, 2013 by dp_darmstadt
@Anny one again

For the rape statistics around the world, do you have a better source than the United Nations report mentioned in comment #27?

Please do not again give more statistics about India, but a comparison of different countries.


"You have not yet reveal where you really come from, perhaps will also have your reasons, if you know what I mean."

You didn't reveal yours either...
15:06 January 13, 2013 by hech54
Well lookie here....yet another gang rape....and yet again on a bus in India:

16:32 January 13, 2013 by dp_darmstadt
Search youtube with the keyword "knowledge of Americans"

Pity that shameless people like hech54 complains about other nations.
18:27 January 13, 2013 by hech54
Another story of the second gang-rape of a woman on a bus in India:

10:30 January 14, 2013 by dp_darmstadt
It is the same news that you posted in #30.

hech54 seems to be seriously ill.. recommended to take some vacation and relax...

BTW hech54 - Do you know who is kofi annan? Most of the Amaericans do not have any idea who he is... Do you also think that "queen elisabeth's money" is the currency in UK, as most of the americans think. Americans only know about guns, singers and basket ball..
16:07 January 14, 2013 by hech54
Comment removed by The Local for breach of our terms.
14:31 January 20, 2013 by simi1983
@arbeitsbiene3 you did not quite understand my comment. yes, white or as they said "fair" skin is considered beautiful in india. BUT it is caucasian women who have the reputation of being easy and ready to do anything with anyone at any time sexually. I have no problem with Claudia having her career, but with the kind of role stereotype she is serving to. she doesnt get the roles the hero falls in love with, she doesnt get the roles because she is more beautiful than an indian actress...

she gets them because she has big boobs and is willing to swing them around barely dressed, which in the common indians' opinion only caucasian women would do, while their women are considered "pure".

That's why i have a problem with someone earning money and on the way supporting a stereo type that makes life for white female foreigners in india often not very easy.

i lived there one year and got confronted with this nasty stereo type every day and now am fighting with it to convince my to be in laws that i am not "that kind" of foreigner.
19:36 January 20, 2013 by hech54

Hetal Parekh, 14, was raped and killed by Dhananjay Chatterjee, a guard in her apartment building, in Kolkata. Chatterjee was hanged in 2004.


Bhanwari Devi was gang-raped in Rajasthan as a punishment for protesting the traditional practice of child marriage. The case is still dragging on in court. Two of the accused have died.


A 16-year old girl from Suryanelli was raped continuously for 40 days by 42 men in Kerala. Although a special court sentenced 35 men to prison terms, the state high court acquitted all of them. Last week, the Supreme Court said it will hear an appeal of the acquittal.

Priyadarshini Mattoo, a 25-year old law student was raped and strangled to death at her home in New Delhi. The accused was sentenced to life in prison in 2010.


A Swiss diplomat who left an auditorium in Delhi after attending an international film festival was pushed into a car and raped by two men.


Manorama Thangjam Chanu was gang-raped and killed by members of the Indian army in Manipur after they arrested her on charges of links with rebels. The incident sparked massive protests against the army.


Pratibha Murthy, a call-center employee in Bangalore, was raped and murdered by a cab driver who was driving her home from work. The driver is serving a life sentence.


Two Japanese tourists were allegedly drugged and raped by three men who had lured them into a hotel in Agra.


An American student studying at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences in Mumbai was raped by six men whom she went out with to a party in a hotel. The court acquitted the men in 2010, saying the victim was not ¦quot;wholly reliable.¦quot;

Nayana Pujari, an IT employee, was gang-raped and killed in Pune. The prime suspect accused in the case escaped from police custody and has not yet been traced.
21:13 January 22, 2013 by dp_darmstadt
Even after some of his comments were removed because of abusive language, hech54 did not learn how to behave in a public forum... I feel pity for the people around him...
08:11 January 23, 2013 by hech54
Even after a "false reporting" campaign by dp_darmstadt, he or she has still not addressed the rampant abuse, mistreatment, dismissal and inevitable eventual rape of women in India. Claudia Ciesla is like any other woman in India. She is seen as nothing but a sex symbol for Indian men to try to reach out and fondle as she passes by. This is brought out by the sad and pathetic Caste System that India has in place at all levels of the terribly corrupt Indian government(if you can call it that).
13:41 January 23, 2013 by dp_darmstadt
@hech54: you are ignored. F$k off...
15:30 January 27, 2013 by hech54
Just another day in India where women and many people are second, third or fourth class citizens.

"A woman from Tonk in Rajasthan allegedly sold her 11-year-old daughter to a couple, who wanted to traffic her for prostitution."

18:55 January 31, 2013 by Mag123
@hech54 what do you have to say for this!!!!!


06:32 February 4, 2013 by hech54
@Mag123 - I'm not sure. How about:

"Those stories have nothing to do with the rampant rape and murder of women, selective abortion of females, and the selling of young girls for the sole purpose of prostitution that is VERY common(almost encouraged) in India."

Does that about sum it up for you?
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