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Stardom, without 'khandaan'
Bollywood's tales of struggle are legendary. . . the nights spent on pavements, the vada pav meals. But now the industry has taken a shine to smart survival.
The word 'struggling' is an accepted adverb only in certain professions. You never hear of people introducing themselves as struggling senior managers. Nor are there struggling insurance agents or struggling media planners.
In the movies and other arts however, there are struggling actors, directors and writers. The 'struggle' has assumed connotations that make it the Mafiosi equivalent of 'making your bones'.
There are stories to fuel every kind of tinsel dream. Of actors who arrived with a few rupees in their pockets, slept on platforms and pavements, did menial jobs and finally crawled their way to stardom after many mortifying years. In an interview, Naseeruddin Shah recalled his days as an aspirant. "I applied for a job as a waiter at Bartorelli's, a restaurant near Haji Ali. I didn't get it. I applied for a bellboy's post in the Taj Mahal hotel. I didn't get it. I finally scrounged some work as an extra in two movies, one of them was Hema Malini's first film, Sapnon Ka Saudagar. That got me Rs 7. 50 a day..."
You are unlikely to find a struggler sleeping on a pavement today. They sport six-packs and washboard abs depending on their gender and invest thousands in protein shakes. For mainstram aspirants, Shah Rukh Khan is the ultimate example of someone who came to Mumbai with nothing but the belief that he would be the King of Bollywood. Or an Akshay Kumar who waited in restaurants in Bangkok before making his debut in Saugandh in 1991.
We no longer live in an age that romanticises the purifying power of the hungry artiste. Bollywood wannabes are more likely to take flights to the city and spend hours at a coffee shop where filmi-types are known to congregate. (Kangna Ranaut was reportedly spotted by Anurag Basu while at a cafe).
Networking has replaced sleeping on platforms. No one risks everything. Everyone has a backup. They model on the side. They become assistant directors and soak everything in while waiting for their big break. Or work in television. Siddharth Malhotra who was a model and then assisted Karan Johar on My Name Is Khan before making his debut in Karan Johar's Student of The Year talks of how he has had to share share an apartment with friends. "However these are the sacrifices one has to make, " he said. Clearly the nature of the sacrifice has metamorphosed into something moored in reality.
Actor Vinay Pathak, known for bluntspeak, believes that the process of struggling is glorified to ridiculous lengths in Bollywood. He himself was a successful VJ and did random roles for nine years before he landed Bheja Fry. Modern struggles don't make for interesting stories. You sometimes need a distant light in the horizon to fixate on in Bollywood where most A listers are second generation movie stars and where 90 per cent of all films made flop anyway and even those born with a silver spoon have a tough time.
Mathematically, it's a losing battle. Not everyone has the gifts of Vishal Bharadwaj or Irrfan Khan. And even they survived on very little for a decade before got their share of appreciation. Actually more than SRK and Akshay Kumars, it is the Bharadwajs, the Irrfans and the Nawazzuddin Siddiques who are the true survivors of Hindi cinema. Because surviving in Bollywood is much harder than struggling. Surviving means you never give up. A struggle needs a resolution. Survival is in continuum.
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