Mumbai doesn’t owe anything to anyone.
She will lure you with tantalising promises of opportunities, success, wealth, fame.
But she won’t make it easy for you. Ask me.
* * *
Rewind: I had been working for many years in Delhi, and earned the reputation of being brilliant at what I did. Both my brother Rajiv and I were considered really talented, and could work longer and harder than anyone we knew.
So when I announced that I was going to Mumbai to try my luck, my friends told me I’d be snapped up in a jiffy by any channel or production house. I was pretty sure of it myself. So with money just enough to last me a week, I got off a train at Mumbai Central.My dream was to eventually become the Executive Producer of MTV, for I’d fallen in love with the channel ever since its launch and had made many shows for them through various production houses in Delhi.
When I came to Mumbai, I was alone in the city, with nowhere to sleep. So a friend from Lucknow, Nirupam Sonu, invited me to stay at “his place”. He was staying as a paying guest in Nariman Point and had a room to himself. The catch was that he had not paid rent in a year and a half! But that didn’t stop him from extending his generosity to me. We’d do all kinds of household chores to make up for our inability to pay the rent.
Then there was Akshay Rajput, who was living with his pregnant wife. I shacked up with them too. The reason I had to do all of this was that, within a week of my coming to Mumbai, I had been rejected by MTV.
My dream was smashed. I had come with money enough to sustain me for a week. I stayed for two months. I went everywhere, tried everything. But I couldn’t get a job. It was truly frustrating that, even though I believed I had talent and experience, it counted for nothing in Mumbai.
But for my friends’ big hearts, there was no way I could have survived in this city. They believed in me, so they never let me feel unwelcome or like a burden, which I must have been. I remember standing at the window of Nirupam’s little PG room, looking out at the Mumbai skyline and promising myself that I would make it in this city. One day, I would be accepted.
Eventually, I went back to Delhi to work for the BBC World Service Trust. It was a very prestigious job, but I was pining for acceptance in Mumbai. You see, I had made three attempts in all to break into Mumbai. But every time, I found myself being thrown back to Delhi.
Just when I was about to give up on my dream, I got a call from MTV: They were producing a big travel show, and would I like to make it?
That show was Roadies.
* * *
Not long ago, I remember standing at another window with my wife, and telling her that at least one big dream seemed to have come true; I had succeeded in fulfilling one promise to myself. I finally felt accepted by Mumbai. The window was in our own house, which we had just bought. And I was the Executive Producer of MTV.
Nirupam Sonu is now National Creative Head of Big FM. Akshay Rajput is the one the Roadies crew lovingly call ‘Kandi’, its Director of Photography, the visualiser, the boss, the best reality DoP in India.
We have been accepted.
Mumbai is like the most beautiful woman you have ever seen. You want her. Desperately. She will charm you, entice you with promises. Then spurn your advances and break your heart. But when she does finally open up to you, she makes you her own.