How a 55-year-old California teacher became a Bollywood actor

It’s Never Too Late ”is a series that tells the story of people who decide to pursue their dreams as they please. By most accounts, Ri...


It’s Never Too Late ”is a series that tells the story of people who decide to pursue their dreams as they please.


By most accounts, Richard Klein had a pretty good life: a solid job as a teacher at a Hebrew day school in Oakland, California; friends who were like family and a passion for song and dance that ruled their nights and weekends. But one morning, at the age of 45, he woke up and realized that he had not yet fully realized his potential. He wanted to break into Bollywood.

“I have always loved playing and listened to a lot of classical and devotional Indian music,” Klein said at the time. The Bollywood epic of 2001 “Lagaan»Inspired him to try to make his passion his job. “Things have come full circle,” he said, adding that he appears in the 2022 film “Lal Singh ChaddhaWith Aamir Khan, who starred in “Lagaan”.

Six months after that fateful morning, Mr Klein, who is divorced and has no children, moved to Mumbai. At first he lived part-time in the coastal metropolis. He alternated between a subtitle editing gig for English TV shows in Mumbai and tutoring in California, where he would earn enough money to fund an additional six months to try and succeed in the arts world. show in India.

In the end, it paid off. Mr. Klein, now 55, appeared in dozens of Indian films, TV shows and commercials, playing roles as varied as scientist, doctor, chef, spy and, due to his ability to nail a British accent, quite often, a “mean British officer”.

Making the change was not smooth. Still, he said he would do it again. “I’m in India, you know, the land of reincarnation,” Mr. Klein said, “but as far as I’m concerned, I have this one life that I have to face. I want to make the most of it. (The following interview has been edited and condensed.)

What was your life like before you made this change?

I had lived in the San Francisco Bay Area for about 20 years. I was mainly a teacher: math, science, computer lab. My nights and weekends were devoted to some kind of performing art. I have always had an affinity with music. I remember being a little kid, walking in the park, singing. A stranger came by and I kind of calmed down. My mom said, “Don’t be shy. You sing out loud and don’t worry about anyone else.

What was the decisive moment?

I was working as a teacher in a Hebrew day school, and one morning I woke up and thought, “If I don’t do something, I could be here for the next 20 years. It wouldn’t be a terrible result, but it wasn’t what I wanted.

I’ve studied India in graduate school, while I was pursuing a degree in religion. Learning about India inspired me to adopt the nickname Bhakti, which I have used since 1991, although I have never changed my name legally. Broadly speaking, Bhakti means devotion and love. The word is a reminder to lead with my heart instead of my head, so every time I hear my name I think about it.

My first trip to India was in 1995 as a backpacker. I absolutely loved it. I went back several times after that. So I thought: what if I go there and stay and see what’s going on? On one of my first nights in Mumbai, I went out to a jazz club. All the artists were foreigners. We chatted afterward and I ended up joining their band as a singer, which was my first foray into the performing arts world here.

What was the biggest challenge you had to face?

When I arrived, I was staying in fairly inexpensive places. Often there was no hot water in the shower. Most of the time there wasn’t even a shower – most of my time in India I had a bucket bath which is really great.

How did you go from editing subtitles to acting in Bollywood productions?

About four years after moving to Mumbai, I started having voice over work opportunities: corporate presentations, TV and radio commercials that wanted an American or British accent. Then I started getting calls to dub Bollywood movies. Then I was invited to audition to play.

At the beginning, I had background pieces. And then, because I’m lucky enough to have an American accent and some vocal training, I started auditioning and getting speaking roles.

It was a godsend. It was another miracle from India. To be able to learn a new art form now is so wonderful and such an incredible opportunity.

What’s the next step for you?

I want to continue with the acting game. There is so much more to learn. I’m getting a lot of good feedback, and the games are getting better and more varied. I don’t always play a mean British officer anymore. I get other types of roles, bigger roles, and I get more respect. I’m in a beautiful sci-fi love story called “X = PremWhich comes out in February. This is the fourth time that I have worked with director Srijit Mukherji.

Otherwise, I just want to live in this amazing country everyday.

How has this new act changed you?

Being here gives me the opportunity to be the best version of myself. I did not feel this opportunity in the United States. I feel like people here see me as I want to be seen. I do not know why. Honestly, I feel like it comes down to the ridiculous love I have for this place.

What advice would you give to people who are stuck looking to make a big change?

Dream a big dream, then figure out what all the little incremental steps are to make it happen, and go through those steps one by one. There are always obstacles. Relatives can be a barrier, money can be a barrier. It is not easy. There are a lot of sacrifices involved, but you can dream a big dream and make it come true.


We’re looking for people who decide it’s never too late to change gears, change their lives, and pursue their dreams. Should we talk to you or someone you know? Share your story here.

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