A look at any film shooting will reveal hundreds of people on the set and many more working in various departments of film making—from scripting to promotion, there are thousands of people who make a living out of Bollywood, and a large fraction of them must have come to Mumbai to become actors.
Obviously very few of them succeed, some take up bit roles, some work in small B and C grade productions, and some give up and get into other areas of showbiz, probably still nurturing dreams of being ‘discovered’ because success in the movies offers wish-fulfillment of a dream come true variety. You can spot a film aspirant from a mile — the boys with buffed up bodies are dressed in tight jeans and undersized t-shirts revealing biceps and flat abs; the girls are all in Lokhandwala market finery, as figure-hugging and revealing as possible. All of them have a strangely vain look, that makes their eyes flick towards every mirror and reflective surface.
Some have parents who fund their rents, food, wardrobes; others have to do odd jobs to survive. And all huddle into small apartments spread in Andheri, Oshiwara, Goregaon, Malad and beyond. Somehow they manage to be well turned out and air themselves at parties, but the desperation — to be spotted, to be recognised, to impress someone important — can be seen a mile off.
For ordinary folk, Bollywood is either fabulous wealth, glamour and power, or the back alley seediness of failed Bollywood aspirations. This is emerging a lot more in the media, as scandals hit fast and furious — murder, suicide, fraud, depravity. The most horrific being the Neeraj Grover murder, the latest being the strange life of Simrin Sood.
Strugglers as they used to be called once (now TV provides for a lot of them and the struggle is somewhat shortened) have a tough life, made worse by the fact that they are surrounded by the success of others and their own lost opportunities. Because they were not in the right place at the right time, because they were unwilling to ‘compromise’, because they didn’t have a godfather, because they do not come from industry families.
It is, obviously worse for the women, because they are slightly more vulnerable to exploitation and are sometimes worse affected by the rigours of struggle and the shorter time span they have to make a career before it’s too late.
For years, this ugly side of Bollywood was hidden from view, but now it’s hitting the news with alarming regularity and feeding the morbid instincts of gossip consumers. Interestingly, Ashim Ahluwalia’s Miss Lovely, which is about C-grade Bollywood, is one of the few Indian going to Cannes this year. And The Dirty Picture turned out to be a hit last year. Is it time to bring sleaze out of the closet?