Sri Lanka’s Jacqueline Fernandez who has made a name for herself in India as a successful film actress was very much in the news last week for reasons unconnected to her cinematic career. The luminous star of Sri Lanka who has been illuminating the Hindi cinematic firmament for several years was summoned by India’s Directorate of Enforcement Division to give evidence in an investigation into an alleged racket involving fraud, extortion and money laundering amounting to of over Two Billion Indian rupeers. The Directorate of Enforcement is a specialized financial investigation agency probing suspected financial crimes. The Enforcement directorate is under the Department of Revenue within the purview of the Indian Finance Ministry.
The suspected mastermind behind the alleged racket being investigated is an ace confidence trickster named Sukesh Chndrasekhar who is in jail. Jacqueline herself was an unwitting victim who had been enticed by Sukesh’s girlfriend and suspected partner in crime, Leena Maria Paul. Leena who is a film actress had befriended Jacqueline and lured her into the trap. She has also been arrested. Jacqueline appeared before the Enforcement Division on Aug 30 and was questioned by officials for over five hours. According to Indian media reports Jacqueline had provided crucial details to the officials.
The Indian media both electronic and print gave much exposure to Jacqueline’s appearance before the Directorate of Evidence. It also got much coverage in social media. This was hardly surprising because Jacqueline Fernandez is today a popular, successful actress in Hindi cinema. In a media environment dominated by COVID, Lockdowns, Afghanistan and political play, the news about Jacqueline may very well have been refreshingly welcome.
It is against this backdrop therefore that I write about Jacqueline Fernandez known widely as Jackie this week..In keeping with the practice of devoting at least one article each month to a cinema-related topic, this column focuses on the scintillating Sri Lankan jewel in the Sparkling crown of Indian Hindi filmdom. I have written about the beauty queen turned film actress who has blazed an alluring trail on the Hindi cinema screen before and will rely on some of those writings for this article.
Model and Beauty Queen
Jacqueline Fernandez is a model and beauty queen who has acted in 27 Hindi films and one each in Telugu and Kannada made in India so far. In some of those Jacqueline made special appearances in song sequences. In a few others, her’s were cameo appearances. She has also acted in an English film – “Definition of Fear” made in Britain and an English film-According to Mathew” - shot in Sri Lanka by the renowned film maker Chandran Rutnam.
Jacqueline Fernandez has shared screen space with many great Hindi actors such as Amitabh Bachchan, Sanjay Dutt, Riteish Deshmukh, Emran Hashimi, Salman Khan, Saif Ali Khan, Akshay Kumar, Abhishekh Bachcan, Arjun Ramphal, John Abraham, Ranbir Kapoor, Varun Dhawan, Siddharth Malhotra, Manoj Bajpayee and the late Sushanth Singh Rajput.At least ten of her Hindi films have been block-busters crossing the 100 Crore or One Billion rupees mark in gross earnings. Acting in film sequels and as part of an ensemble cast has proved lucky for Jackie very often. Jacqueline is also very much in demand for music videos, product launch events, advertisements and publicity shows in India.
Despite the impact of the COVID pandemic on the Indian film industry,Jacqueline continues to be busy. Her film ”Bhoott Police” in which she co-stars with Saif Ali Khan, rjun Kapoor and Yamini Gautam is scheduled to be released on Sep 26 via OTT. Also in the pipeline are “Attack” where she pairs with John Abraham and two other films “Ram Setu” and “Bachchan Pandey” opposite Akshay Kumar. Another two future film projects in the making for Jackie are the much awaited “Kick-2”with Salman Khan and “Cirkus” with Ranveer Singh.
Despite the dubbing and the film’s box office drubbing, Jacqueline did make a mark in her screen debut. This was demonstrated effectively when she received the ‘Stardust’ magazine award for Best Female Debut. More importantly Jacqueline also received the International Indian Film Award (IIFA) for the best female debut in 2009
Charming Unofficial Envoy to India
Jacqueline Fernandez is Sri Lanka’s most charming unofficial Envoy to India in recent times and the lovely lady has proved to be a credit to the island nation by winning the hearts and minds of millions there. The alluringly attractive actress remains rooted to Sri Lanka despite flying high as a successful film star with millions of fans in India and elsewhere. She has truly done Sri Lanka proud in neighbouring India.
Jacqueline Fernandez is the pride of Sri Lanka in more ways than one. As is well known, Sri Lanka is a multi-ethnic, multi-religious country whose strength is derived to a great extent on diversity. People from all walks of life from many parts of the globe have chosen to make this ‘Pearl of the Indian Ocean’ their home. Persons of multiple hues and different pedigrees have over the years integrated well and blended into being part of the social fabric of Sri Lanka. Jacqueline Fernandez is arguably one of the finest examples of this “Lankanisation” process that has been enriching this Island nation for many, many years.
Jacqueline’s father Elroy Fernandez is a Sri Lankan whose great grandparents had come to this Island from the Konkan coast in India more than a century ago when Goa was a colony of Portugal. His ancestors settled on the Western coast and inter-married with others thereby evolving into the community known as Burghers. Her mother Kim is of Malaysian origin with an eastern mother and western father. Jacqueline’s maternal grandfather is a Canadian and her maternal grandmother is of Malay-Chinese extraction. It could be seen therefore that Jacqueline Fernandez is a quintessential embodiment of different ethnic lineages. Jacqueline whose radiant glow is of a cosmopolitan mixture perceives herself as a Sri Lankan citizen of the world.
Jacqueline’s father was a musician who played in several bands in Sri Lanka. The 1977 anti-Tamil violence where he witnessed some ugly scenes upset his sensibilities so much that he decided to move out of Sri Lanka for a while. Elroy relocated to the Gulf state Bahrain where he reportedly met, loved and married Jacqueline’s mother Kim who was an air hostess.
Born in Manama, Bahrain on 11 August
Jacqueline herself was born in Manama, Bahrain on 11 August 1985. She is the youngest in a family of two boys and two girls. The children were born within a year of each other. Life was no bed of roses for the family and Elroy did two jobs to support his family. He did a day job as salesman in a duty free shop and a night job as a Disc Jockey.
Jacqueline who is called Jackie by her friends had her primary and early secondary educationat the Sacred Heart school in Bahrain where she studied in the English medium. She also learnt Arabic. Having an aptitude for languages she also enrolled at the Berlitz centre and followed language courses in French and Spanish. She hosted a children’s show on Bahrain TV at the age of 14. She also dabbled in modelling as a teenager.
Jacqueline had her late secondary and tertiary education in Australia where she obtained a degree in Mass Communications from the Sydney University. Afterwards she returned to Sri Lanka and joined the Young Asia TV as a reporter. Jacqueline also began modelling in Colombo.
Miss Sri Lanka Universe Beauty Pageant
Life however changed overnight when she competed in a prestigious beauty pageant. Jacqueline Fernandez participated in the Miss Sri Lanka Universe Beauty pageant in 2006 and was crowned queen. She went as ‘Ms. Sri Lanka for Ms. Universe’ to Los Angeles for the 2006 Miss Universe competition but failed to win any laurels. Jacqueline was not even in the top 20 list of contestants. However after her return Jacqueline became a much-sought-after model for fashion events and for advertisements.
The turning point in her life was when she took part in a Rotary show. Representatives of the Times of India Group Talent Management Team were there. Impressed by Jackie, they invited her for modelling assignments in Mumbai. They also suggested that she try her luck with the Indian film industry.
Jacqueline made a bold, brave decision with the support of her family and relocated to India’s commercial capital Mumbai formerly known as Bombay. She enrolled at the Barry John acting studio for a diploma course in acting and began applying for film auditions. Jackie was first selected for “London Dreams”starring Salman Khan and Ajay Devgn but was later replaced by Asin Thottumgal.
Jacqueline’s major break came when she successfully auditioned for ‘Aladdin,’ directed by Sujoy Ghosh. The film was a fantasy set in modern times and boasted of a star-studded cast including Amitabh Bachchan, Sanjay Dutt, Riteish Deshmukh and Victor Bannerjee. Boman Irani was the narrator. Jacqueline played the lead role of Jasmine.
“Aladdin” was Jacqueline’s entry into Hindi films
‘Aladdin’ was released on 30 October 2009. I recall going to see the first screening in Toronto on that day. The weather was foul but I went for the matinee show at the Woodside cinema only to see Jacqueline on screen. I had been following the news about Jacqueline’s entry into Hindi films and was very proud of her. In my younger days I used to make it a point to see some of the popular Tamil films on the first day of release itself. Seeing an MGR (MG Ramachandran) film “first day, first show” was the ultimate triumph in those days.
It was with the same sense of excitement and expectation that I went to see the first show of ‘Aladdin’ starring Jacqueline Fernandez being screened in Toronto. If MGR was the magnet in my callow period the “draw” in my mellow days was Jackie. There were very few people in the audience presumably due to the bad weather. Even more disappointing was the film. Sujoy Ghosh was a terrific director who went on to make masterpieces like ‘Kahani’ but something had gone wrong in the making of ‘Aladdin’. It was a modern fantasy derived from the old Arabian folk tale about ‘Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp’ from the book ‘One Thousand and One Nights’ (The Arabian Nights). In spite of the music, the sorcery, costumes, exquisite sets, elaborate special effects and excellent acting, the film did not make an impact. A few even left the theatre after the interval.
Sujoy Ghosh’s ‘Aladdin’ was most disappointing but Jacqueline Fernandez playing a modernised version of the Arabian princess Jasmine did not disappoint. She sizzled on the screen and gave off a dazzling performance. As an avid movie goer I was on friendly terms with the theatre staff at Woodside Cinema which continues to screen Tamil, Hindi, Telugu and Malayalam movies in the Scarborough area of Toronto. We did an oral post-mortem on the film where everyone agreed on one point. Jacqueline Fernandez was a ravishing beauty with commendable thespian skills! And when the inevitable question “She is from Sri Lanka, no”? came, I replied very proudly “YES!”
The film however was a box office disaster. The film had been made on a budget of 200 million India rupees. The returns were only 136 million rupees. The silver lining was the kudos received by Jacqueline. Her Hindi and Urdu pronunciation was not good at that time. So Mona Ghosh Shetty, the well-known Bengali singer and voice dubbing artiste, loaned her voice for the Sri Lankan actress who lip-synched her lines. The singing voice was the popular play back singer Shreya Ghoshal.
Award (IIFA) for the Best Female Debut in 2009
Despite the dubbing and the film’s box office drubbing, Jacqueline did make a mark in her screen debut. This was demonstrated effectively when she received the ‘Stardust’ magazine award for Best Female Debut. More importantly Jacqueline also received the International Indian Film Award (IIFA) for the best female debut in 2009. The icing on the cake was that the IIFA 2010 ceremony where the awards for 2009 were handed out was held in Sri Lanka. Jacqueline received the IIFA honours from India on her native soil to a wildly-cheering home audience.
The beauty queen turned film actress who possesses a flair for promoting culinary commerce as well as retaining a penchant for espousing social and humanitarian causes has certainly blazed an alluring trail on the Hindi cinema screen.Her roaring success in Indian showbiz as well as her well-rounded contribution to uplifting social activism did not go unnoticed or unrecognised in her home and native land. The finest manifestation in this regard came in 2017 when the prestigious journal Lanka Monthly Digest (LMD) bestowed upon Jacqueline Fernandez the ‘Sri Lankan of the Year’ award for 2017.
Jacqueline was indeed in an elite group of distinguished Sri Lankans as some of the previous recipients of this award were people such as Lakshman Kadirgamar, Jayantha Dhanapala, Chandra Jayaratne, Indrajit Coomaraswamy, Ken Balendra, Mahinda Rajapaksa, Ranil Wickremesinghe, Sanath Jayasuriya, Muttiah Muralitharan, Kumar Sangakkara, Mahinda Deshapriya, Susanthika Jayasinghe and K.N. Choksy.
LMD ‘Sri Lankan of the Year’ for 2017,
In selecting Jacqueline as ‘Sri Lankan of the Year’ for 2017, LMD explained the rationale for the decision in the following manner. Excerpts:
“She has brought radiance to a land permeated with the dull and uninspiring. She is today a leading name in Bollywood and beyond; and despite the untold pressures of being in the spotlight constantly, she has for all intents and purposes maintained an unblemished reputation.”
“Her success comes as a blessing for the country’s image as well – an image that’s been battered for too long by two senseless insurgencies, a protracted civil war and other misdemeanours that have put Sri Lanka in the news for all the wrong reasons.”
“Yes, we can now claim a Bollywood superstar who has not only risen to A-list status in a relatively short time but also highlighted Sri Lanka’s better side through activities that seek to give back to a nation she calls home. Let’s not forget that Fernandez continues to promote Sri Lanka and some of its leading brands with great success.”
Casting Sri Lanka in a Positive Light
“As LMD’s 23rd SLOTY, she is in the company of Sri Lanka’s most eminent citizens over the years, a number of whom have had their names etched in the annals of the nation’s history. Fernandez’s refreshing persona, charming demeanour, broad appeal and inherent resourcefulness ought to stand her in good stead in the years ahead. And at the same time, she is casting Sri Lanka in a positive light at a time when darkness looms.” (ENDS)
D.B.S.Jeyaraj can be reached at email@example.com