Are you serious? This can’t be happening right now. Please don’t do this to me, I beg you.” My loyal car, or Anarkali, as I fondly refer to her, has failed me again. “Haan, ja raha hoon yaar, gaadi kharaab ho gayi hai, kya karun?” (“I’m trying to move but the car won’t start. What do you expect me to do”) There was really no need for the expletive that rickshaw guy used to describe me. On my way to an important audition for a feature film and Murphy’s Law is in full effect. With temperatures of about 40 degrees Celsius and humidity soaring at around 90 per cent, you can imagine how presentable I’ll look ten minutes from now. Is this really worth going there?
Last night, I received an email from my friend and colleague from the Wall Street with a picture of his new Porsche purchased along with a swanky apartment overlooking Central Park in the Big Apple. It’s very likely that the two of us would have been in the same position by now had I stayed on with my Wall Street career. Who needs money, right?
Perhaps, my family and friends with their subtle and often not-so-subtle hints about giving up this foolhardy choice are right. Maybe I should call it a day and go back to the clean air and freshly brewed Starbucks coffee back in the US. Maybe, the advice given to me by most industry people is correct. Maybe, this place is only meant for ‘star kids’ and people from within the industry.
There was definitely a strong reason for my leaving the life of high finance. First, was the five years of highly priced education at Northeastern University in Boston, where I did a double major in finance and marketing, with a minor in economics. Along with late-night studying were summer internships, where I made countless coffee runs for my bosses. Then began the endless interview process. It seemed then that investment banking jobs were only for Ivy League graduates. But, one long year’s perseverance and networking helped me get a great job on Wall Street.
That was the easy part. Then began the real test. The first year in banking was absolutely brutal as I worked without rest or sleep. “What’s that? Jay went to the hospital with an ulcer?” Well, that’s the pressure of Wall Street for you. I believe the burnout rate in the first year for new-hire analysts is around 90 per cent. I somehow made it through the first two years of boot camp and got promoted to associate in less than three years. The promotion and money made everything seem perfect from the outside. But in reality, I was completely burnt out. Another year of it and I realised that all I was doing only helped the rich get richer. The only thing that was keeping me going was the money and false sense of power that such high-powered jobs provide. Add to the prestige, which changes your personality as your ego becomes bigger than you. I was lucky enough to have a middle-class background and a grounded family that helped me realise all this. After the epiphany, my decision was simple — collect the big bonus at end of the year and find a new way of life. Life is too short. You don’t want to be that guy in the hospital with the ulcer.
My new journey began with a backpacking excursion. The American West Coast, bits of Europe, a treacherous mountain climb up Mt Kilimanjaro (which almost killed me), followed by treks across Ladakh and north India. My destiny finally brought me (via my hometown, Kanpur), to Mumbai and onto a film set. This is where I found my true calling. It’s impossible to put the feeling in words but one can draw a parallel to the ‘love at first sight’ feeling. There’s nothing like waking up charged, without alarm, with a strong desire to get to work.
Endless hours of Hindi-diction training and a hard-earned gold medal from my acting school led me into the reality of the struggle my new life was going to be. Not having a godfather in this industry meant having to compete against a sea of aspiring actors. As I came to my breaking point, a phone call from Dharma Productions changed everything. I was offered a part in an upcoming production, I Hate Luv Storys. In the film, I play an associate director and a senior to Imran Khan and Sonam Kapoor on the film’s set.
No amount of training could have prepared me for the pressure of performing on an enormous Karan Johar set, in front of the camera and a crew of 200 people. One needs to use every bit of concentration and focus, as your heart races faster than the New York City metro. “Cut! Well done Aseem”, and it all seems worth it.
My options are limited and I have to reach the audition. What should I do? My acting teacher always said repetition is the key. Just keep doing it and it will come. Ok, let’s just keep trying… turning the key and… and... there! She purrs! I’m off to my next audition.