From Bollywood to real-estate: A background dancer’s story
Sunil Moothedath, 40, has been dancing with the stars for 21 years. He now works as a real-estate agent in Kalyan, and spends five or six days a month on film sets.
Five years ago, he finally decided to branch out. His earnings were stagnant and work had become harder to find.
“No one in my family has ever worked in the film industry before,” he says, pride still in his voice. “I have a passion for dancing and that led me to be become a background dancer, but to survive in the city, you can no longer depend on background dancing alone.”
Moothedath started out in 1997, as part of choreographer Ganesh Acharya’s group. He has featured in song sequences in Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, Jodhaa Akbar, Dabangg 2, Golmaal 4, Prem Ratan Dhan Payo and Zero, among other films.
His first problem was that he never earned enough to move to the prime struggler zones in Andheri, the suburb where most networking for extras is conducted. He lives with his sister in Kalyan and so, he says, he never made it to the privileged list of dancers to be called first whenever there was a scene to be shot.
Another big problem is the competition from ‘outside dancers’ — largely hobbyists from other states and overseas, looking for an experience or wanting to check this off their bucket lists.
“They usually work for less money and hang around with choreographers and casting agents in their free time,” Moothedath says.
“I still dance because over the years our payments have gone up. Earlier we used to get ₹700 to ₹800 per day, now we get ₹3,500,” he adds. “But the golden days are over. We used to shoot for 10 to 12 days per song. Now directors wrap up the shoot within three or four days.”
In a time when there are fewer dance sequences to begin with, this stacks the odds against one. “Many songs don’t need background dancers. Where a film might have needed 200 dancers 10 years ago, now they need 50.”
A graduate, he considers himself lucky to have found a white-collar profession. Some of his fellow dancers sell crockery by the side of the road or toys at fairs, he says. “Some work in real-estate like me. I would love to just dance with stars for the rest of my life but it’s not sustainable now.”