Nora Fatehi interview hello© HELLO! India

Nora Fatehi On Her Tumultuous Journey From Toronto To Tinseltown

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Shraddha Chowdhury

A true multihyphenate — dancer, actor, singer and director — Nora Fatehi is en route to global domination — one beat at a time.

The fluidity and grace in Fatehi’s movements draw eyes, whether it be on stage dancing to one of her many hits, or off. She’s changed the way we perceive dance in India, all while giving her fans a platform to showcase their own talent through her popular social media channels. The danseuse gets talking with HELLO! about her arduous journey from Toronto to Tinseltown and making it big through sheer grit.

Nora Fatehi is the embodiment of self-belief. A confidence in herself that the sensational dancer credits for her meteoric rise to fame. A tumultuous journey from Toronto to Tinseltown brought us one of the best dancers the industry has ever witnessed, with a grace that’s unparalleled and energy that’s infectious. And now, she’s expanding her horizons by foraying into not just acting — she’s set to play the lead in a 2023 comedy with John Abraham — but also singing and directing.

Resembling a princess in dazzling ensembles for a shoot with HELLO!, a natural before the camera, Nora opens up to us on rejections, keeping at it, finding success and why it’s so important to her to give her ever-growing audience the platform she desperately craved in her early days — all while introducing us to her oh-so-familiar alter ego!

HELLO!: When you move to a beat, it’s almost like you undergo a catharsis... It’s no wonder that you’re near synonymous with dancing in India today! What is it that goes through you when you’re performing?

Nora Fatehi: I’d like to introduce you to my alter ego. Her name is Noriana, and she fully takes over the second it’s time for me to perform to any beat. It’s an unexplainable feeling, but I’ve characterised this side of me as ‘Noriana’ because it’s as though a whole new side of me emerges when I get into that performance mode. She has a bit of sass, a fierceness and a diva-like quality about her that comes the the music takes over.

H!: Your rise in popularity has been tremendous since the release of ‘Dilbar’, and your fandom is only growing! How do you handle this fame today? Has it become easier to navigate Bollywood now, since your earlier days?

NF: To be honest, I don’t think about the fame part too much because if one were to actually sit and think about it, it could get overwhelming and cripple you as an artist. Even with the numbers I have today, I’m still the same introverted girl who packed her bags in Toronto and ventured all the way across the world to fulfil her purpose. My drive and focus haven’t changed, even with the attention that’s come my way. I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface of what I really want to do, and I’m very grateful for the acceptance from my global audience that allows me to keep doing more. I do not take for granted the position I’m in. It certainly has its advantages, but I still face a lot of hardship when navigating my way through the industry because it’s a never-ending battle of acceptance. We’re getting there, though.

H!: Your journey from Canada to Hindi cinema has been quite the uphill battle...

NF: Self-belief is what made the impossible possible. Through all the hurdles and challenges, I never once doubted myself. Even when people would reject me in my initial days of auditioning, I knew it was not my end, and that I had to find a way to make people realise what I could do. If it meant learning the language and immersing myself in the culture, I knew I had to give it my all. I’m a firm believer in timing. Some could call it luck, but for me, luck is when preparation meets opportunity. And I’ve been preparing myself and honing my craft for years.

H!: You’ve now starred in a number of movies, too, and have 100% coming up next year. Would you say the acting and dancing experiences are comparable or vastly different when on set?

NF: When acting, there’s a bit of a mental preparation and internal process that’s needed before the camera starts rolling. And even when the director calls cut, it takes a minute to snap out of character. But when it comes to dance, you’re able to be much more fluid. Both forms are similar in terms of emoting what’s inside your soul and conveying that to the camera and audience; there’s just a difference in what goes on inside of you for each.

H!: What did you have in mind with #DanceWithNora? You promote a lot of your fans through your social media accounts via this hashtag...

NF: In my early days in the industry, all I could think of was how no one would give me a chance, no one would take the time to see the talent I so firmly believed I had, and all I needed was a platform to prove myself. So this hashtag and its purpose is very special to me. In the age of social media today, we have the tools to take our talents beyond borders. I’ve seen so many people around the world dance to my hit numbers, and I felt the need to provide them with a platform that could lead to opportunities. I wanted to give my audience the platform that I so desperately wanted growing up.

With #DanceWithNora, I’ve discovered unbelievable talent, many of whom from different parts of the world I’ve included in milestone projects of my career, be it on stage or some sort of video project. Dance is a celebration and expression of life. To be able to have a community of like-minded people across the globe among so many cultures is an amazing feeling, and I want to do my part to keep that movement going.

H!: You recently turned director with ‘Dirty Little Secret’ and also gave your background dancers a chance to be part of the video. How was it being behind the camera for the first time?

NF: I’ve always had a burning curiosity of directing, and I found that ‘Dirty Little Secret’ would be the best opportunity to explore that side of me. As an artist, to be able to manifest a vision and execute and deliver it was so rewarding. I won’t say it was simple. To be able to manage the process behind the camera and also deliver your 100 percent in front of it was certainly a challenge.

I was fortunate to have some of the country’s best dancers be part of this video with me. I carefully selected each of them because of their immense talent and background, and I couldn’t be happier about how it all turned out in the end. It was an honour to be able to give these great dancers their due credit; it’s an agenda I constantly push forward. Dancers, like all artists, deserve a platform and to be known, respected and appreciated for what they bring to the table. They deserve to be household names, as well.

H!: Your most favourite performance so far?

NF: It’s difficult for me to pin-point one because each has a story behind it. I also don’t look at them as just performances because all have been a special milestone in my journey. My most recent performance is just as special and important to me as my first.

H!: You seem to have a blast on the sets of Dance Deewane. How’s the experience been with the team and watching and mentoring such talented kids?

NF: It’s been an absolute delight working with Neetuji and Marzi Pestonji! I think no matter what your job is, it’s important to have a positive, loving atmosphere with your colleagues, and I felt that every day with them both. The cherry on top was witnessing such remarkable talent in front of me. I’m such an advocate for allowing children to explore and showcase their talent, and to be able to watch and mentor some of the most talented youth in India was an unforgettable experience. I felt so attached to all the contestants and their stories. It was important that I critique them in a way that empowered them and fueled their growth. Children are fragile, but their potential is endless.

H!: You’ve been open about embracing curves and accepting your body. What would you advise the women out there who believe being skinny is the only way to be appreciated?

NF: I will not shy away from saying that I absolutely love food. I love to indulge, but with that comes the responsibility to take care of yourself. I make a conscious effort to always stay moving, whether it’s dance or a session at the gym. It’s funny to me that this notion of ‘being skinny’ is the only way to be appreciated. Says who? The most beautiful thing about our bodies is how unique we all are in our different shapes and sizes. Being curvy and thick is just as beautiful as someone who may not have curves flaunting their body. Confidence in your body takes you a long way, and I find it a very attractive quality to have.

H!: If not for dance and the big screen, what do you think your calling would be?

NF: I’d be either a lawyer or teacher. I care a lot about helping and teaching people.

H!: The directors you’d like to work with?

NF: Sanjay Leela Bhansali, Sanjay Leela Bhansali and Sanjay Leela Bhansali!

H!: How do you deal with the unavoidable trolls and negativity online?

NF: It doesn’t affect me. I don’t let that be the basis of my self-esteem. Social media is a tool for my branding and how I express myself as an artist. I focus my attention on the outpouring of love and support I get from my well-wishers and don’t feed into keyboard warriors and trolls. I’m fortunate to be in a position where the love overshadows the negativity tenfold. I’m much more concerned about negativity in the real world, where there are people out to destroy you, though I don’t let them break me either. They don’t know even 2 percent of my story! But I’ve learned that not everyone will feel happy about your success. It is what it is.

H!: What do you do when you need a break from the cameras and the hustle?

NF: I like to step away and keep to my bubble. That bubble could mean keeping to myself anywhere where I can be in peace. And being by the sea helps me attain that peace of mind. It’s also paramount for me to meet up with my childhood friends, who help rejuvenate my spirit greatly. Moments where we can be ourselves and indulge in laughter and good times are precious to me. They help me get back to the grind with a stronger drive.

H!: What can we expect to see you in next?

NF: I’ve been focussing a lot on my independent music career and have some exciting international collaborations coming up. One of the greatest advantages of being a global artist is that there’s so much scope for me to explore and reveal myself as an artist — whether it’s as a musician, performer or actor — and I’m looking forward to taking the audience with me on that journey across the globe.

This is an excerpt from an interview that was originally published in Hello! India’s October 2022 issue. To read the full interview, get your hands on the latest issue right here!

Interview: Shraddha Chowdhury; Photography: Tejas Nerurkar; Creative Direction: Avantikka Kilachand; Fashion Editor: Sonam Poladia; Junior Stylist: Anushree Sardesai; Hair: Amit Thakur; Makeup: Reshma Merchant; Location Courtesy: Taj Santacruz, Mumbai; Jewellery Courtesy: Raniwala 1881