Thandanani Mhlanga

A University of Cape Town drama student says he has learnt a lot of lessons about Bollywood after playing a leading role in a movie directed by Mohit Suri - as a racist gang leader.

Francis Chouler, 23, recently returned from Mumbai where he completed his scenes for the movie Crook. His co-stars were Bollywood stars Emraan Hashmi, Arjan Bajwa and Neha Sharma, and South African model and actress Shella Alan.

The movie is based on real life events surrounding violent racist attacks on Indians that have been taking place in Australia.

Set in Melbourne, the movie follows the story of a young Indian who leaves his home country to pursue a new life in Australia, where he encounters racism.

"It gives a personal story to the racial tensions that exist within both cultures," said Chouler.

Chouler, who is in his final year of a four-year drama degree at UCT, plays "an Australian working class college drop-out turned street gang leader", as he puts it. He landed the role after auditions were held here.

"My job was to represent the frustration and anger present among lower-class Australians against Asians coming in and taking away their jobs. I was tasked with giving this very real sentiment a realistic and personal motivation."

To engage with the psyche of this group of people, Chouler spent a lot of time in online forums, chatting to Australians of his age about "white power" and racial pride.

"I was shocked at how rife this kind of thinking still is today. But I had to put my opinions aside and immerse myself in their perspective."

Speaking of India's film industry, Chouler said movies were part of everyday life for the people there.

"You walk down the street and hear people singing the tunes from a movie that released that weekend. Even the rickshaw drivers have their favourite movie stars."

Chouler was blown away when he heard that Bollywood movies only had one week to make money because the following week new movies were released.

"That's how many movies are made and that's how many millions of people go to the cinema every day," he said.

He admits he was not a fan of Bollywood movies prior to the casting but said that quickly changed.

"I actually found myself humming the music of Awarapan after watching it just once; despite not knowing the lyrics. It grows on you."

Chouler said he was optimistic about South Africa's feature film industry. "I believe we have an untapped resource of fine actors in this country," he said.

The young actor looks forward to a line-up of interesting new projects in the pipeline but says now that he's had a taste of his possibilities on camera, he's learnt what no class could teach.

"In this business, the only way to learn is by doing. I think all actors will agree that one never stops learning; each job is further training," he said.

"That is why I am so grateful for this opportunity. I have learned more by trying, stumbling and recovering, than I could in any acting studio."