An interview with two aspiring Bollywood Actresses!
Lucky for me, I am surrounded by crazy, inspirational, and unique people who like to take chances and grab opportunities. I got a hold of two girls who represent all these qualities and asked them a few questions about their experiences in the competitive world of the film industry! These two Torontorians have requested to remain anonymous but have answered all the questions honestly. We’ll refer to them as A and B. So what is it really like to go across the world to Mumbai and pursue your own dreams in a city full of ambitious people?
What does your every day schedule look like in India?
Around 10am-3pm: Wakeup because I have to open the door for the Help. Watch movies/netflix/stay on my phone/eat breakfast and lunch.
3pm-5pm: Teach English to kids online as a part time job to support myself financially
5pm- 10pm: Get ready and go to auditions
10:30pm: Dinner, chill at home or get ready to go party
So it varies on my mood. I like to keep things flexible so I don’t feel like I’m getting bored by repetition. Most auditions start after 2 pm, so until then I wake up, have breakfast, watch some motivational videos, or just regular tv shows, while my caretaker cleans my room and does my laundry. Then I get ready and leave for auditions, spend a few hours depending on how busy the audition valley (it literally is a mini village full of little hut like places) is on that particular day. Then I go to the gym (almost everyday), come home, eat dinner, call my parents, and just chill out/read/watch tv/organize my room. I sleep after 12am usually because I’m up talking to my friends in the EST time zone.
What was your main goal when you first decided this is the career path you want to pursue?
A: To become the biggest and the best actor there is.
B: I’ve wanted to be an actress for as long as I can remember. As a kid I was mesmerized by the heroine’s dancing on screen, how they would act when they were falling for their crush, and just everything that had to do with the film industry. As I grew up, I saw acting as an opportunity to live my best life, and also live the lives of the many characters I’d like to play on screen. With each character you experience a different lifestyle, career, family dynamic. For someone who had the hardest time figuring out what I wanted to study in university, being able to act the role of a doctor, engineer, musician, or lawyer etc. is very exciting. I realized early on that the 9 to 5 corporate life was not for me. I need to be challenged every day, and I hate routines. I hate having to do the same type of work. Actors are always pushed to learn new skills, and try new things for the roles they play.
So my main goal is to become a well recognized feature film actress (like Deepika Padukone, Aliaa Bhatt etc.), where I can play various different characters. Now that I’m here in Mumbai, I’ve created more reasonable short term goals, that will help me get to my main goal one day. These short term goals include working in TV commercials, print ads, and Web Series. I also had to make goals regarding my finances, to ensure that I could support myself while I audition in Mumbai. Thus, I got a BBA degree (also just because I think education is very important, and learning the various aspects of business will help me throughout my life in many ways), and worked in New York city for a year. I saved up as much as I could in that one year, so I could support myself for at least a year or two while I focused on making it as an actress.
I’ve now taken up a part-time teaching job at VIPKID (I definitely recommend this for people who need side income while pursuing their main goals), to keep me from stressing about my financial situation. The thing about Mumbai is you only last over here, as long as your money lasts – so living on a budget is very important to me.
What did you study in school?
A: Bachelors in Psychology Neuroscience and Behaviour. Currently pursuing my MBA in Global Leadership.
B: I have an International Bachelor of Business Administration (IBBA) degree, from the Schulich School of Business. I think my education and university experience have been monumental in shaping me into the person I am today. From living alone, to making new friends, to learning how to present in front of a 100 people without breaking a sweat, really increased my self-confidence. Thus, I wasn’t worried at all about moving to Mumbai, and making it on my own over here.
Also, studying marketing and finance is a huge plus point, because at the end of the day you have to market and present yourself at every audition you go to, and you also need to know how to handle your basic finances. Plus, you also meet people who work in the business area of the film industry, and it’s great to be able to speak their language. I really did enjoy the subjects I studied in class, and I like to keep myself updated on what’s going on in the business world. I’m so glad I didn’t choose Medicine as my education path!
When did you decide you want to do this and how did your parents react?
A: I decided when I was a toddler, not even kidding. I used to get a high dancing on stages. I ABSOLUTELY LOVED IT! I was always cast as the main lead in my school plays and I got so many modeling opportunities. I made sure I never lost touch of my Hindi.
I feel like, all my life, I was preparing myself to be the perfect mainstream “Bollywood Heroine.”
B: They’ve always known, so there wasn’t a very dramatic reaction. When I finally took the steps to come to Mumbai and join an acting program, they were mostly concerned about my safety and health. My mom kept asking me to try to get into Hollywood instead, because that’s at least still in North America. But I’ve always been more attached to Bollywood Cinema, so I wanted to try in Mumbai first. When my Dad came to see my graduating performance in Mumbai, it was a huge moment for both of us, because he finally saw why I wanted to pursue acting (until then, they’ve only seen me dance), and I saw how proud he was of me that day. That was the first time he said “I think you can do it” with full conviction. As for my mom, I’m already a superstar. She’s been my biggest fan since the first time I performed on a stage. She thinks I can just call up Karan Johar, and he’d put me in his next movie. I love her optimism!
How did you deal with judgement from family friends?
A: I really don’t care.
Majority of my family friends find it really cool that I’m pursuing my dreams. There are obviously some odd family friends that will talk negatively, but I cut them out of my life long time ago. Like they say, surround yourself with positive people :)
B: My parents have known all along that this is something I wanted to be when I grew up. So it wasn’t much of a shock to them when I told them that I was quitting my job to come to Mumbai. I haven’t faced too much negativity or judgement from the rest of our family and friends. I think people were shocked that I quit a pretty decent job in Manhattan, and there are always those family friends who fake “awe” and are like “omg that’s so cool, so are we going to see you on the big screen now?!”, when you know in their head they’re probably thinking “this girl is a goner, thank god our daughter isn’t this crazy”.
I think the toughest reaction I get, is when people assume I don’t realize how hard it is to actually make it in the film industry. Like they think that I am delusional and that I think that I’m just going to wake up as a superstar tomorrow, and they’ll try to convince me against it. They’ll tell me all the facts and horror stories, and how the probability of making it big is close to impossible. This is tough because I’ve already gone through all those details with myself. I did not get myself into this by fooling myself, I already know the probabilities, and all the issues that I am going to face to get where I want to go. So having to hear it over and over again by concerned and sometimes not so concerned (random people who like to piss on your dreams) is just depressing. I’m usually pretty good at ignoring all the general “advice” telling me that “I’ve gotten to pick a more stable career”, but I think the only way I can deal with the people who tell me my dream is unreasonable, is to make sure I work that much harder so I can prove them wrong.
How do you deal with flying back and forth? How does it affect your social life?
A: I generally like flying back and forth but it isn’t the best for my social life because I’ve been flying back and forth since 2014 and I would say I have lost touch with a lot of my friends since then. Keeping in touch is the hardest part! Of course I make new friends too but holding onto your old friends is amazing and we just can’t seem to do that with crazy schedules.
B: I actually really enjoy spending 6 months of my life in a warmer country during Canadian Winters. I’ve managed to avoid two very cold winters, and I came back in the summer for 6 months. I feel like all of our social lives slow down during the Winter anyways. But, yes there is definitely an impact on my social life. I’m someone who likes to see their friends very often, even if it’s just to hang out and talk in my car for hours or chill at a Timmies. So the FOMO is real when I see my friends hanging out and having a great time without me. But at the same time, I’m still glad that my friends are meeting up and enjoying their lives. I’ll facetime them from time to time, or they’ll call me when they’re all together so I can be a part of the fun for a little bit. I like to look at my situation in a positive light. As much as I love my friends, I get some much need Me Time while I’m in Mumbai. I can focus on my goals without as many distractions. Also since I love to travel, each trip I’ve divided my flights to have longer layovers in cities like Dubai and Abu Dhabi, so I can go out and explore. I’ve also travelled around India each time that I’ve been here. I think what also makes it a lot easier to be away from home, is that I’ve been lucky enough to have family and friends from Canada visit me throughout my time here. It’s great to get little glimpses of home through these much appreciated visits. I’ve also built a good tight knit circle of friends in Mumbai who help to keep me sane. In the end, our friends will always do what’s needed for their careers and personal development. What I need to just happens to be at the other side of the world at this point.
Do you get differential treatment because you’re coming from Canada?
A: Oh yes! EVERYONE loves my accent in India. I get tons of attention by men and women! Some people think I’m Brazilian because my skin is brown and I have a foreign accent (I don’t know how that correlates but I take it as a compliment).
In terms of auditions, girls from outside India have it harder because they have an accent while speaking Hindi. So we have to work extra hard to diminish that. Also, it’s very hard to do improv at auditions in Hindi. This is because all my life I have spoken in English and I think in English too so to stop and change that to Hindi is extremely hard. In terms of Talent Agencies, they LOVE outside girls due to their exotic looks - that’s where it works out for me.
B: I try to avoid exposing that I’m Canadian as much as I can, just because I don’t want to be type-casted as the “foreign girl”, or have people assume that I can be easily duped, or that I can’t speak Hindi. But I’ve also had two opportunities come to me because I could speak English without and Indian accent. One was dubbing for the voice of Sunny Leone’s childhood best friend, and the second was an audition that came to me where they needed the girl to speak Western accented Hindi. You also see a lot of European models auditioning for TV commercials here, so I think the industry is becoming more welcoming to people from all places. I think with web-series’ becoming a bigger deal now, people who can speak both Hindi and Fluent English are becoming sought after. Outside of castings, my friends love that I’m Canadian (I hope). I love sharing things about home and trading stories about how we do things in Canada vs. the values that are followed in India.
What advice would you give a friend going into the Bollywood industry?
A: You should go, try it out. If it works, great! If it doesn’t, come back and give acting a shot in your home country. And if all fails, grab a video camera and start recording yourself and put it out for the world to love you.
B: Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do it, that it’s hard, or scare you with their personal hardships and experiences. Everyone seems to love to spread the negativity. Come on your own terms, have your own experiences, and make your own opinions about how it is over here. It’s great to talk to people and be aware of their experiences, have them share advice, but the only advice you should take is your own. Follow your gut. What may work for them, might not work for you, and vice versa. Find what makes you special and different, and know exactly why you’re here. Once you know your strengths and weaknesses, and you know exactly why you want to be a part of this industry, you’re drive will definitely set you apart from the crowd. It’s also important to know if you have the skills that can be improved upon to get you and keep you in the industry. Always be realistic about your strengths and weaknesses. If you already know them yourself, when they are pointed out by scrutinizing casting directors, it won’t shake your confidence. And this way you can continue to get better.
Thought on nepotism within the industry?
A: One would be stupid to think that nepotism doesn’t exist. Of course it exists. Look at all the Kapoors and Khans and everything in between getting their army of kids lined up to be launched by Karan Johar... It’s not even a hidden secret. It’s a fact.
But then again, I think to myself, why are we giving these people so much power to “launch” talent? There are many platforms out there for you to “launch” yourself. Take advantage of those. And if you do well, people will naturally love you and then these nepotism “bhakts” (translation: followers) of Bollywood would also come running after you :)
B: It makes me very angry. I can’t say that I don’t hate that it’s much easier for star kids to land auditions, and speak and meet with directors and producers. I wish it was that accessible for people who are not from the industry. They were just lucky to already be born within the network of people they want to work with. That being said, I can’t say as a business it doesn’t make sense. With the same amount of training, the child of an athlete will still run faster, than the child of a non-athlete. A business owner is more likely to pass on the business to his child, than to an outsider. The same goes for the people who have grown up surrounded by the film-industry. They have at least 15 years of experience before even being on camera. They’ve been on sets, seen their family work, and probably have learned numerous things during that time. So naturally, many of them will be quite good at their craft, even as a debut. What really irks me is when star kids get movies, and I know I could have done a lot more justice to that role without having their upbringing; when it seems very obvious that their parents connections and money definitely got them that role, and not their talent. What’s sad is, some of them are very talented, but may still need their parent’s money and connections to be launched (these are speculations based on many articles I’ve read over my life time, if I find out that things work differently, I will be the first one to make sure that everyone knows).
Any cool stories?
A: I have been cast as the main lead in many movies. One in particular even announced my name and released my pictures. But, due to budget cuts, my part was cut too. This happened so many times with other projects too. But hey, at least it’s cool to know that I was worthy.
Some other examples are when I was cast as a lead opposite Abhay Deol but the film never went onto floors as one major producer backed out or when I was cast as one of the lead characters in a Red Chillies Entertainment web series but the idea ended up being scrapped. I was also sent a 2 year contract to be represented by a top agency in Mumbai. I couldn’t sign it because I wanted the freedom to fly back and forth to Canada, which I wasn’t getting in the contract.
Besides work, a couple of India’s top notch young billionaire businessmen were romantically interested in me. They were very sweet. However, that wasn’t something I was looking for, but definitely a cool story to tell my friends!!
B: It’s not really my story, but I was still just as mind blown when it happened. I have a friend who has a role in the Netlflix show Selection Day. I was hanging out with him one evening, when two guys came up to us and started freaking out about how he was the guy from the show. That was one of his first “fan” encounters, and it was just really fun to see, and to think that this normal dude that’s my friend is kind of famous.
Any bad stories?
A: So many! One casting director flat out told me that I got the lead role if I was okay to compromise! To troll him, I asked him “Sorry, I don’t understand… compromise what?” He was dumbfounded! He couldn’t even explain it to me.
One story, I was at a party with my friend -a very famous producer’s party to be exact. Although nothing happened to me, my friend was constantly harassed by the producer. And the messed up part is that his wife was right there! The producer kept asking my friend for sexual favours. When I sensed danger, I immediately called an Uber and we ran out!
Another story, we lived in a famous yesteryears Bollywood celeb’s flat. When I left the flat due to an emergency, she never paid me back my down-payment (Rs. 50,000). Later, I found out that she had paid my down-payment to my friend who spent that money on her trip to Dubai. So here I am, still without my money. My friend and the celeb’s manager keep blaming each other. *rolls eyes*
I have to mention one more story. There are many more but those are not as important. I ran into this one guy at Lakme Fashion Week who worked for them. He offered me a job to anchor sports events. I politely declined the job because that’s not something I wanted to do. However, the guy gave me his contact info and he genuinely seemed like a good guy who wasn’t sleezy. He never hit on me, never made a move, never made it seem like he had that in mind - even my friends noticed that he’s probably the first guy in the business that didn’t seem to have bad intentions. Long story short, he asked me out to the movies. So at this point, it was apparent that he was a genuine guy who might have a slight interest in me. Again, I politely declined as I barely knew him. Turns out, I randomly facebook’d him and HE WAS MARRIED! (that too just 6 months ago)!!! His wife was a DIME! And this man was roaming around flirting with other girls! I was heartbroken for his wife! This is the sad reality of majority of the married couples in the industry. Everyone is cheating on everyone. Where’s the loyalty man?!
B: So far I’ve thankfully avoided anything super terrible in the industry. All the castings I go to are usually handled quite professionally. I’ve had a few rare run ins with scam casting agencies which are just trying make money off of naïve and desperate people. It’s disgusting how they sell your own dream to you. They tell you how they’ve worked with so many big stars (they might even have pictures with them), how they casted for the last 10 super hit blockbusters, and even logical minded people like me can start to think, “but what if its true?”. For a second you really want to buy into it, they sell it so well! And then they hit you with the, “please sign the contract today, and pay our registration fees by cash or credit?”. I’m sure many people have fallen in their traps, and I just get very irritated for having my time wasted.
Anything that you want to warn people about given that we usually only see the glamorous side of the industry?
A: *DRUG ALERT* I would say 90% of the industry does cocaine on a regular basis. It’s definitely a culture shock when you come from USA/Canada because we’re not used to seeing cocaine … EVER!
*FRUSTRATION ALERT* Let’s be real, in the city, you haven’t made it until you’re Deepika Padukone or Ranveer Singh level, etc. Anyone below that is struggling so all these struggling actors have crazy frustrations/mood swings and some of them act out. Don’t surround yourself by someone who’s been struggling in the industry for years. It’s a very negative environment to be in. Surround yourself with people who are positive and hopeful.
Only the TOP actors earn money. And when I say that, I mean SRK, Salman Khan, Aamir Khan, Deepika Padukone, etc. Everyone else is STRUGGLING! - This is true AF. So if you’re passionate about acting and you can look beyond the flaws of the industry, go for it! But if you’re not AS passionate, stick to your 9-5 (you might be earning more than half of these celebs anyway).
B: Places where you have to pay to audition are always a scam. People who make you pay fees to join an agency are scams. The only form of payment which is expected is commission after you have done work that has been provided by them. Don’t let them convince you otherwise. There are also a lot of people who string you along in the promise of giving you an opportunity. Never believe anything until you have an official contract in your hand. Other than that, I’m sure everyone is aware of the drugs. I’ve only had one experience where I was offered cocaine at a house party I went to, but the people didn’t seem like they were that high or anything. It was just a shock to me, because I’ve never been approached like that. Thankfully they didn’t take it badly when I said “no”. I haven’t seen anything else with my own two eyes that I could shed light on. There’s a lot you hear about from others, or read on the internet, but I won’t be able to confirm any of that unless I see it myself.
What does a typical audition look like?
B: Because I don’t have an agent right now, I find all my auditions on whatsapp, facebook and instagram (by following well known casting directors). The whatsapp group is super unofficial, sometimes you find extremely legit auditions on it, but you have to scroll through many fishy looking ones. You can also just go to the audition village (Aram Nagar) and walk around to see which of the casting houses are holding auditions. I find that to be the most convenient way of auditioning, you find atleast 3-5 legit auditions that are looking for your “type”. So then you walk into the casting office, and they’ll tell you if your look “fits” what they are auditioning for or not, tell you to do an introduction video, and act out whatever short script they give you on the spot.
You usually know the role your auditioning for, but you won’t always know the exact details of the project if its a movie or a web-series. If its a commercial, then you usually know the brand and what lines will be in the ad. There’s usually a script being passed around that you memorize in 10-15 mins. For more important auditions they’ll send you the script a day or two before-hand and let you practice it (it’s usually a lot longer too). Thore are usually the most exciting and nerve wracking auditions.
What would be the deciding factor for when you choose to leave this field and take up something else?
A: I don’t think I would ever quit this field because acting is something I am extremely passionate about. Maybe I’m turned off by how things work in Mumbai but that doesn't mean I’m going to give up on my dreams. Yes, I have come back to Canada but only because I realized that there are so many other platforms currently out there from which a person can show their talent. Why would I stay away from my family and other loved ones when I could stay in Canada while pursuing my dream?
B: I think I, like everyone else, have other life goals apart from my career goals. If I don’t see things moving in my favor over time, and I feel like I’m nearing the time I’d like to settle down and have a family, is when I’d start looking for a change in career. I’d find another way to earn a living and still be passionate about my work, while also being able to enjoy the other aspects of life.I think subconsciously, when I quit my job in New York, I had decided that I should know which direction my life is going in by the time I’m at least 27. It’s scary to put a number on paper like that, especially because I get this question from my parents and my close friends all the time, that “when will I decide that I need to try something else?”. It’s funny because, in most other professions, this would never be the case. If I studied to be an accountant, I would try for accounting jobs until I landed one, and my parents would expect me to keep trying until I got a job in my field. Whereas, in my industry, you try till you either make it, or you give up because you can’t sustain yourself anymore. Furthermore, my time-line for myself is always changing and evolving as I experience more about the industry I’m trying to break into (thus 27 is not a number set in stone!). I think even if I do decide to stop actively pursuing a career in acting, I’d still do things which would help me get noticed in the industry (because this is still my passion). I really enjoy dancing, traveling, modeling, and all things related to beauty and fashion. I think this part of me will always keep me a little connected to the film industry. I don’t think I could go back to the corporate world for too long, but I have a very entrepreneurial and creative mind, so I’m sure I’ll figure out what’s best if that time comes.