Sunday, January 28, 2007

Sunday, January 21, 2007

The Struggler’s Guide to Mumbai

A great article by Taran Khan I came across on the Struggle in Bollywood.

Great moments from the life of Rajesh M, aspiring actor. “After one performance, I saw Mahesh Bhatt beckoning me from the other side of the (Prithvi) café. I started walking towards him, heart pounding, and it was the longest walk of my life.” Just as Rajesh reached the director, Bhatt’s phone rang. “He started talking, put an arm around me and we walked around the café. All eyes were on me, I could see them thinking, iski to nikal pari--—this guy is made.” Then, as they reached the edge of the theatre, Bhatt got into an auto and left, still talking on his phone. Rajesh still agonises over that moment which occurred years ago. “What if that call hadn’t come right then? Would he have given me a chance in some film? Would my life have been totally different?” Welcome to the Bollywood Struggle, a sub-culture held together by handshakes, inspirational myths and liberal amounts of wishful thinking.

The Struggle may seem chaotic and random, but scratch the surface and highly developed patterns emerge. Long before Orkut was thought of, strugglers had written the code. A new recruit, depending on his lineage (NSD, Delhi, FTII) and inclination, is almost immediately inducted into specific networks and communities. There are well-defined routes to the ‘break’, signposted for your convenience. There are even conduits, channelling frustrated talents in other directions. It is possible to build a wider network, even to switch allegiance to another circle. But, as actor Vinay Pathak asserts, “You have to be part of the system.”

The ‘system’ demands that connections be honoured. Work goes to friends, or friends of friends. To struggle is to leap over the six degrees that separate you from the person in charge. “I knew someone who had a friend at an office…” is how most stories begin. The Struggle is to gain that point of access. There are always people who got there before you, a crowd straining to catch up. The Struggle is a growth industry, with every success story inspiring hundreds more to board the train. Faces change, people move up or out, but the hang out joints, the addas and the route remains the same.

The road to success is called The Struggle.


When Shah Rukh Khan first came to Mumbai, so goes the story, he stood on the rocks at Marine Drive and yelled, “One day, I will rule this city.” Devotees who pay homage to the spot feel compelled to do the same, preferably in a dramatic silhouette against the evening sky. Variations to this theme include asking “Mumbai ka don kaun?” a la Manoj Bajpai in Satya. There is only one correct answer to that.


As his train pulls into Mumbai, the struggler has just two words to guide him in the teeming city- “Andheri station”. This is where most arrivals get picked up by their ‘seniors’, old hands at the game. At the Irani restaurant across the road, they get their first taste of what will be their staple diet for at least the next few months— milky tea and gyan— information, gossip, phone numbers, lots of hope. The struggle has begun.


Where a struggler eats is an accurate indication of his market worth. Most newbies are found at roadside Punjabi dhabas, like National Restaurant, Bandra, where Dharmendra and Shatrughan Sinha used to dig into cheap chapatis. The action has now moved to Lokhandwala’s Guru da Dhaba. Scaling the food chain is important, but revisiting the haunts of your struggling days is permitted for purely nostalgic purposes.


The workout is purely incidental. In gyms like Barbarian or Sykz in Bandra and Andheri, more connections than muscles are being built. “Behind every actor on the treadmill, there will be five strugglers waiting for their turn, just so they can shake his hand and say hello,” says Rishabh Sinha, actor. Also developed is the fine art of greeting a celebrity like a long-lost friend, or at least a steady acquaintance, on the very first meeting.


The struggle never sleeps. In a one-hour conversation, Sinha exchanges fifteen handshakes, twelve nods and at least one conversation with each table. “This is all part of the struggle,” he explains. The fiercest networking is in small teashops. With success comes Barista and other upmarket coffee shops where writers and directors meet. It may appear otherwise, but the cappuccino-sipping horde is actually hard at work, waiting to be discovered.


In times of loneliness or celebration, strugglers seek out the sea, usually on Versova beach. If the mood for contemplation occurs during the day, coconut water suits the script. But at night, the ‘Rock Bar’ offers better comfort from the liquor shop nearby. The resultant bonhomie regularly prompts more optimistic members of the group to strike a pose on a handy elevation and declare, “Ek din apna bhi aayega doston. Our time will come.”


In the carefully graded hierarchy of locations, an invitation to the JW Marriott, by a director or producer is cause for celebration. “A guy calling you to Andheri station can only give you hope, a meeting at Barista can yield a number to call. But the Marriott can only mean The Break,” explains Sinha. This is when the credits roll on the ‘struggling days’, and the screen reads The Happy End. Or, as they say in Bollywood, The Beginning.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

A new dawn

The days have gone by, pages of the calendar have flipped and another year has marched right in. Almost stealthily. Last year saw a lot of activity both pleasant and upleasant. It was an year filled with activity. A year that started in New York and almost ended in Bangkok. I changed jobs, parted company from a lot of friends. Last year helped me gain a lot of direction in life, now I DO KNOW for once in my life what I want to do. That realization also brought in lot of hard work or at least the inclination. I believe this year too will be extremely eventful. Though I do not know what it has in store for me, I am excited at the onset.

I hope you too will have an extremely joyous year. "Naya saal mubarak ho"

BTW I am in love with Picasa and have uploaded a lot of my photographs on picasaweb. As time passes by I grow fonder of this hobby of mine, sometimes it almost reaches maniacal frenzy when I go out in the cold at 11 in the night to click night photographs. I hope this fascination will continue to grow. Have a look at the pics and let me know your opinions and suggestions. Till I write next, Alvida