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From Oscars to Sundance, Sharma and Revolori discuss India's 'Umrika'

/ Source: Reuters

PARK CITY, Utah (Reuters) - In the midst of the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, actors Suraj Sharma and Tony Revolori found themselves comparing notes on Hollywood's awards season, both having made their breakout in films that stormed into the Oscars race.

Indian actor Sharma, the lead of 2012's Oscar-nominated "Life of Pi," and Hispanic American actor Revolori, the star of this year's quirky Oscar-nominated "The Grand Budapest Hotel," joked about etiquette required at the Oscars as they discussed their role in "Umrika," which premiered at Sundance last week.

"Umrika," the Hindi word for America, follows Ramakant (Sharma), a rural Indian boy whose older brother Udai mysteriously vanishes after he embarks for a new life in America.

But soon, detailed letters come from Udai, through which Ramakant and his sheltered rural community live and learn vicariously about "Umrika," a foreign land that embodies the notion that anyone can make their dreams a possibility.

"The story for Rama is about finding this identity which is set apart from the identity that is put upon him, so it's overshadowing what is the truth," Sharma told Reuters.

"Umrika" is the only Indian entry at this year's Sundance Film Festival, where it is competing in the world drama competition.

"I was confronted with a lot of cliches growing up abroad, so I wanted to playfully turn that around and create a portrait of America as an exotic place through the eyes of these villagers," said writer-director Prashant Nair.

While Sharma had the benefit of having Hindi as his native language, Revolori learned the Hindi dialect of Bundeli from scratch for "Umrika," in which he plays Ramakant's best friend Lalu.

"I'm Hispanic and I don't have a lot of those head movements. It's a lot of those things you'll see in the film which you won't even notice, but I had to get it right," he said.

Despite breaking out with high-profile films roles, both Sharma, 21, and 18-year-old Revolori said they have encountered challenges as actors of color.

This year's Oscars was criticized for its lack of racial diversity in its acting nominees. "Grand Budapest Hotel" and "Selma" are the only best picture nominees with actors of color in its main cast.

"There's a lot of roles out there, and obviously they're good enough for everyone, but it mostly gears towards a Caucasian audience so they're casting more of them than they are of us," Revolori said.

(Reporting by Piya Sinha-Roy; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)