The story of the young hopeful who leaves small-town India to make it big in Bollywood has been told and re-told in our popular culture. Yet there is something about that story that makes us want to hear it again.
That something is the element of hope and of dreams, an all-pervasive theme in conversations with Bollywood aspirants. As Mohit Arora (24) who has been in the industry for the last two years, puts it, “In this profession it is 95 per cent luck, four per cent PR and one per cent talent.”
Despite that 95 per cent factor, aspiring actors work extremely hard, attending two to three auditions a day. For those with no connections in the film industry, auditions are the only way to get a foot in the door.
Paras Thukral (23), who came to Mumbai from Delhi a year ago, to become an actor, outlines his daily schedule. “I wake up, exercise or do yoga, do my daily pooja, have a power breakfast and leave around 11 am for auditions. I return around 8 pm, have dinner and exercise again before going to bed. And the same thing continues the next day.”
Those who bag a role in an ad film or land a small-time role, work on a temporary basis, getting paid for the day. After the project is done, they have to go back to auditioning.
For those who’ve got themselves roles in serials, acting is a full-time job, like any other. Nikita More (22), who works in Palkon ki Chaon Mein on NDTV Imagine, has to wake up at 5.30 in the morning to be able to make it to her shoot at Mira Road at 8 am. After shooting all day, she returns home to Andheri around 11.30 pm. “People often underestimate the amount of work that aspirants do. In fact, we put in many more hours than those in regular jobs,” she says.
With little time to spare, More, like many other aspirants, hardly gets time to socialise. Says Arora, “The friends you make are only those who work with you, or you see every day.”
Gehna Judge (19) says she’s lucky she’s in college and gets to interact with non-film friends. “But the downside is that I often become slack and forget my goals. Being with the filmi crowd keeps you on your toes,” she says. When she was 14, she won a beauty competition in Bhopal, where a casting director saw her and cast her in Shabnam Mausi as Ashutosh Rana's daughter. She moved to Mumbai last year to pursue both, her acting career and an engineering degree.
The pressure to look good all the time — in case a casting director happens to be around — can also take up a lot of time and effort. “Whether our clothes are worth Rs 100 or Rs 1,000, we always have to project ourselves,” says Arora. “We are in the business of selling our looks as well as our skills,” points out Paras Thukral.
But Sharhaan Singh (27), who has acted in serials such as Uttaran and Jhansi ki Rani, disagrees. “Most of my friends are fed up of costumes and make-up after work. When we go out, we don't bother dressing up; we like to be casual like everybody else,” he says.
Singh says some other practices have changed as well. Like changing a name to a more ‘filmi’ one. “These days, people only believe in hard work and PR,” he explains. Adds Judge, “The younger generation (of film-makers) is much more practical and upfront, which keeps things very clean. They don't mix professional and personal agendas either. I am glad I came into the industry now and not 10 years ago.”