Mumbai’s aspiring actors say the ‘struggle’ is not real any more
Rajat Trehan, 27, had a cushy corporate job in Bengaluru for eight years, but he left it all behind to move to Mumbai, to pursue his passion — acting. Originally from Jamshedpur, Rajat says, “I did it because I didn’t want to ask for any financial assistance from my parents. But this year, I put in my papers, and decided to give acting a shot.”
Now, a student of Kreating Charakters acting school, he is confident about things working out for him. And while he still feels there will be some struggle, he is hopeful. “I am not looking at myself as a mainstream actor. I am willing to take up parallel leads as well to acclimatise myself to the industry,” he adds.
The lanes of Four Bunglows, in Andheri, Mumbai, are filled with many such acting institutes that are all meant to cater to hopeful, striving actors like Rajat. Residential areas also have notices and posters inviting people to join acting courses held in their premises.
There was a time when the word ‘struggling’ was synonymous with ‘going all out’ or even ‘disappointment’, but in the new age of cinema, these actors may not hesitate to leave behind their degrees, diplomas or even dwellings to head to Maximum City for their shot, or even a 10 second role on the big screen.
Actor, acting trainer, Samar Jai Singh — who has been training artists since 1993 and also taught acting at the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) (from 2004 to 2010) — feels acting is still a very “discouraging profession”. “If you have a degree in medicine or engineering, your certificate shows it, but whether you are a good actor or not cannot be determined on the basis of a degree. It is an acknowledgement that must first come from the casting director, then the director, and finally the audience,” says the 52-year-old, who runs Kreating Charakters along with his partner Roopesh Thapliyal.
Slice of life
However, Samar agrees that “the struggle” is much better now because there are so many casting directors. “Earlier it was all dependent on the directors, but now assistants have to get fresh faces every week,” he adds.
With films taking a more ‘slice of life’ approach rather than ‘larger than life’, the emphasis, Samar says, is on the craft. He also adds that the, “hero worship phenomenon is changing to concentrating on learning the craft.”
With a dynamic shift in the industry from character actors to “actors who look the part” in more regional-based stories has also made it easier for people from smaller cities to jump onto the acting bandwagon. Samar’s business partner, Roopesh, chimes in with his observation of an increasing number of students coming from outside Mumbai, which he says is, “at least 60 to 70% of the class.”
“Aspirations have grown in smaller cities,” begins Rohit Taneja from Roshan Taneja School of Acting. “If you look at films that have been popular in the past few years, they are all set in tier two cities, such as Dangal, Sultan, Bareilly Ki Barfi.”
Rohit, whose father Roshan Taneja is considered one of the pioneers of training and starting acting schools for struggling actors in Mumbai, has been witnessing the change for more than two decades now. “Actors are a reflection of society,” says, adding, “If we do not portray that society in its truest sense then how can we talk of truthfulness in performance.”
Anjali Ryot, 26, moved to Mumbai from her native state of Himachal Pradesh to pursue acting, but had to convince her parents to send her off to Mumbai. She is hopeful she wouldn’t have to resort to going back to her backup plan of becoming an engineer because of the number of avenues the industry can offer. “I am open to exploring every medium,” she says.
There are more avenues in acting nowadays. “The number of opportunities today in comparison to 25 years ago, when there was just one medium, are multitudinous. Television only existed in Doordarshan and opportunities for upcoming actors were limited. Today, there are so many channels, and with the emergence of web content, the scope for an actor is manifold,” Rohit says.
Both, Rohit and Samar, tell their students that they shouldn’t expect to get a topnotch role right at the beginning. “What they should look at is interesting cameos, short appearances are fine too, but they should be able to leave their mark as an actor,” Rohit says.
All in the stars
And sometimes life is just a game of luck. It was pure coincidence for actor Kinshuk Vaidya, who was playing in his building when a casting director spotted him. “I was just four years old. I haven’t studied acting,” he laughs. From then on, he went from doing Marathi films to Hindi soaps such as Rishtey, X-Zone and eventually landed the role of protagonist in the popular serial, Shakalaka Boom Boom. Today, he’s playing the lead in Jaat na pucho Prem ki, among others. “Khel kud mein sab seekh gaya (I learnt everything through playing), but people new to the field need to be prepared by theoretically studying acting,” says the 28-year-old.
In the third year of her graduation, through a correspondence course in Punjab, Malina Kumra didn’t study acting before she landed a gig in a daily soap. “I have always wanted to be an actor. Two months after coming to Mumbai, I gave my first audition and immediately got a gig. I was offered a role in Yeh Un Dinon Ki Baat Hai. I worked in the same role for two years,” she says. Though, today, she felt the need for polishing her acting skills and returned for a five-month course at Kreating Charakters bringing her younger sister with her too.
Unfortunately, only those people who are a product of nepotism, Rohit says, are able to make a foothold in the industry when it comes to playing a fresh lead in a film.
But to study acting, is a costly affair. A four-month course at Kishore Namit Kapoor Acting School, which boasts of having trained stars such as Sonali Bendre Behl, Lara Dutta, and Sonu Sood among others, costs up to ₹2 lakhs; while their nine-month course could go up to ₹4 lakhs.
Roshan Taneja’s also charges the same for a four-month course, which works out to ₹50,000 in four different installments. Kreating Charakters, on the other hand, has a three-month course for ₹4 to 5 lakhs and a five-month course for ₹6 lakhs (amounts vary with different courses).
Feroz Khan, 27, quit his job as an engineer in January, and in March, he enrolled himself at Roshan Taneja’s. Even though, quitting on a whim was an option for Feroz, following his dreams were a costly affair. “I had some savings, so I used that and my parents have helped me a little,” he says.
Asha Rathi, 22, whose parents needed a bit of convincing, pursued her BCom degree but never left sight of her acting dream. As she dabbled in photography and baking to sustain herself for a couple of years, now she is finally studying acting. She says, “My parents support me emotionally and financially.”
Regardless of the money, the acting aspirants continue to pack the schools that are now accommodating more batches to satiate the growing demands that flocks to Four Bungalows.