A cafe in Andheri suddenly goes silent as a woman enters. All the eyes are glued to her as she sits in one corner ordering a coffee. And suddenly, the atmosphere inside the cafe changes completely. Sunglasses come out from the bags and almost every girl starts retouching her face. Beefed-up guys flex their muscles while talking in an American accent. Everybody there knows that woman; she is a casting director, associated with a major Bollywood production house, and that is why everyone in that cafe is trying so hard to impress her. But the woman quietly finishes her coffee and exits the cafe. Right after that, all the people start leaving too. None of them had ordered anything.
Scenes like these are pretty common in many upscale cafes in Mumbai suburbs. Many struggling actors hang around such cafes in a hope to get discovered like Kangana Ranaut. But these cafes are not the only spots where strugglers hang around to get noticed — many casting directors are stalked at their gyms, spas and even salons. Countless tiny gyms have sprouted across the lanes of Andheri where many small time TV actors are always surrounded by strugglers. These young starry-eyed youngsters butter up any celebrity, big or small in hopes of getting just one role (no matter how small it is). Earlier, landing an acting gig in Mumbai required persistence to hang around a studio or a director. But today, the industry has moved upwards, not just geographically (Bandra to Andheri), but also professionally. Now all the big production houses and studios are guarded by heavy security, and meeting a director or a head of a studio is almost impossible. But, more and more people are coming to Mumbai each day with dreams of making it big in the film industry.
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Sohan, a young good looking guy from South Delhi moved to Mumbai many years ago. Coming from a well to do family, he had always wanted to be an actor, and after seeing him in numerous plays and short films, one can clearly see that he had both the zeal and the talent to become a good actor. But even after all these years, he is yet to catch his first break. In order to keep himself afloat, he took a few production jobs, and now he is a senior post producer in a reputed production house. When asked about his goal, Sohan says that he is saving enough money to quit his job and hunt for roles, devoting all his times. Though it’s still not clear when he will have enough money to survive for months in this city where he currently shares a flat with 3 other guys like him.
Sohan is not the only struggler who took a job to support himself, there are numerous others like him who are doing the same. In order to stay afloat in this city of dreams, a lot of strugglers opt for a stable job with a steady income. The film jobs pays well like any other industry, but there is one specific difference — its really hard to find a job that is real. The industry imitates the life it projects on the silver screen, and a lot of people and jobs turn out to be fake. It makes things difficult for strugglers who are new to the town. Though there are great many film-job websites that act as a job hunting platform, but most of the talent scouts rely on their network on Facebook and Whatsapp groups. Social media is rapidly replacing the job portals with many production houses posting their requirements on Facebook groups. But even these jobs are not enough to help these strugglers sustain. A lot of productions houses only want to hire ‘interns’, which basically means that they want people to work for them for free. And surprisingly, youngsters line up for these ‘no salary’ jobs.
Cities like Mumbai, Delhi, Kochi and Chennai are swarmed with countless aspirants who left their homes to get Film Jobs. But over 70% of these people end up working in other fields, even after having a degree or diploma from a film institute. Stories of starvation and sleeping on benches are not as common now as they used to be earlier, but they still exist nonetheless.
But this dark cloud also has a silver lining; hard work when combined with talent almost always pays off. Actors like Nawazuddin and Irrfan Khan are now hailed as Superstars in an industry that puts a face value over everything. More and more strugglers with a humble beginning and great talent are finding a way to break into the mainstream success of Bollywood. The kings of B-Town like Shahrukh Khan and Amitabh Bachchan also slept on streets and starved themselves. They faced rejections and were told they will never made it, but just one break changed everything for them.
So how different are Film Jobs than the other industries?
— Not much. Long work hours, meagre pay for hard work, dissatisfaction from what you do, bad bosses and work environment. These are the things that made film jobs similar to any other job. But what sets them apart is the payoff — because once you become a part of a team that makes a good film or tv show, you can actually feel the gratification of your beautiful work. Your work becomes your resume and business card. And of course, the fame it brings makes all the troubles worth it. And perhaps that is why there are over hundred thousands of strugglers in these cities who are not ready to go home just yet.
Out of all the successful actors who once struggled to get their first break, there is one thing common — they never gave up on their dreams. And this is what separates a struggler from a failure. Failed aspirants pack their bags and board the first train out of town, while strugglers struggle until they get what they wanted.