Tales Of A Bollywood Actor

Derek India, Travel Tales, Work & Travel 35 Comments


The time was 8:00am.

I had exactly one hour to kill before having to hail a taxi to the airport in order to pick up my close friend who was flying in from Thailand. And while one hour normally seems like a short period of time, on this occasion it was torturous, given that my arms, legs and chest required constant scratching due to the several dozen bedbugs I had shared my bed with during the night.

Why I had chosen the most ultra-budget, grimiest of hotels in Mumbai was beyond me, but there was nothing I could do at this point but to accept the consequences.

And eventually the hour did pass and I stood up to finally leave. But just before I reached the door, I noticed a paper calendar taped to the wall. It was a most ordinary calender, yet something struck me as odd. The date read “February 29th” yet my friend was arriving on March 1st. I suddenly realized that I had forgotten it was a leap year.

Therefore, I had one more day on my own in Mumbai.

I sat back down again in the cafe with my face in my hands, trying to decide how to spend that day, when the man from the reception ‘desk’ (which was actually just a three-legged wooden chair) approached me. He asked if something was wrong and I proceeded to explain my story.

He listened intently and when I finished, I just expected him to shrug his shoulders, let out a chuckle and wag his head back and forth.

What I absolutely didn’t expect him to do was to offer me an acting role in a BOLLYWOOD TELEVISION SERIES! (For those who are not as addicted to India as I am, Bollywood is the Indian equivalent of Hollywood.)

At first I thought it was a joke, but without even waiting for my answer, the man returned to the reception chair, made a quick phone call and then informed me that someone would be picking me up from the hotel in thirty minutes.

When I tried to press him for further details, all he said was, “You go and be actor somewhere, I think they will pay you.”

JUST ANOTHER DAY ON THE SET

The journey out to Juhu Beach (an upscale, coastal neighborhood of Mumbai) required two taxis, a commuter train and a rickshaw, but the young man who had collected me from the hotel seemed to know exactly where we were headed.

We eventually arrived at the set of the Indian soap opera Sansaar, which was actually a beachfront mansion in which half of the inside had been temporarily transformed into a London apartment building. As soon as we entered the door we encountered dozens of people – actors, producers, directors, set techs, errand-boys, etc. – as well as an endless sea of cameras, computers, props and sets. And while this is exactly what one might expect to find in such a place, it all seemed more overwhelming than the wildly chaotic streets outside.

I was quickly introduced to the casting director, a young friendly guy who led me into a small living room for a quick chat. After explaining to him that I had absolutely no acting skills whatsoever and was completely uncomfortable in front of a video camera, he promptly offered me a speaking role as a British police officer, a role that required me to act in five different scenes and memorize a page of lines.

Another man then entered the room, had one look at me and whispered something to the casting director. Within minutes, I was back outside the mansion, being driven to a barber shop where I was given a shave and hair cut courtesy of the director, who had felt that my normal scruffy look didn’t exactly fit the role.

After a lavish buffet lunch on one of the mansion’s terraces overlooking the ocean, where I spent an hour chatting with several of the actors and actresses and trying to memorize my lines, I was handed a British police officer’s uniform and directed to my ‘changing room’, which was actually a closet that didn’t even have a door.

Then, fighting off my nerves, I walked onto the set and silently prayed to the statue of Ganesh in the corner. As if he magically answered my prayers, I found myself, over the following hour and a half, rising from an absolute nobody to an award-worthy actor. Sure, each scene took at least ten takes due to my mumbling and bumbling, but I think it was quite clear to everyone that it was the passion I showed for my role, not a lack of ability, that was the real culprit.

And while the look on my fellow actors’ faces, who were playing a family whose daughter was just in a car accident, often appeared to be that of frustration as I repeatedly blurted out, take after take, “I found and sweater, wallet this and car daughter book”, there were only looks of pure joy (and perhaps relief) when I finally nailed it and informed them that, “I found this sweater, this wallet and this book in your daughter’s car.”

I’m not exactly sure if joy was what they were supposed to display at that exact moment…but who am I to say what’s right? I’m only an actor, not a director.

When the actual director did finally yell out ‘CUT!’ for the last time, my day of acting did abruptly come to an end. Of course, I went around the room and accepted the handshakes of the other actors and crew, all of whom I assume felt so proud to have worked with me.

The young man who had picked me up from my hotel earlier that morning appeared again in order to take me back. But before we left, just as the man at the reception desk had predicted, the casting director handed me 1000 Rupees ($22 USD) and thanked me for my services.

Barely able to control my excitement, I left that mansion seriously pondering a new career.

ARE YOU READY TO START YOUR ACTING CAREER?

If you’re ever in Mumbai, all you need to do is wander around the leafy streets of the Colaba district. Unofficial ‘scouts’ scan the area for foreigners all the time, as they earn commissions for filling roles in films, television series, television commercials and even music videos. If for some reason nobody approaches you, ask anyone working at the hotel you’re staying at.

I’ve met a handful of foreigners who’ve spent months in Mumbai, earning a living from this kind of acting. As casting directors began to recognize and personally request them, they started being given better roles and a lot more money. And the greatest part is that in Bollywood, the least important requisite of being a foreign actor is having past acting experience.

Where else is it this easy to get your face on the big screen?


Has anyone else acted in Bollywood or have a different acting experience to share?

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Comments 35

  1. Pingback: 42 Ways You Can Make Money and Travel the World | Geekingeveryday

  2. Jahnel

    ah this is awesome, had no idea! thanks for sharing your story … hopefully sometime soon i’ll have a similar one 🙂

  3. Christine

    I’ve just started to read your blog, starting from the very beginning of it.

    It is nice to see that you made it! Back in 2009 you wrote:

    “Luckily for me, my brain is currently warped due to this illness I’m battling, allowing me to envision certain adventures that would have never crossed my mind under normal circumstances. Adventures such as…

    Spending one year in Bombay trying to make it as a film star in the Bollywood movie scene”.

    Manifestation! Amazing..

  4. Shannon

    Here I am, just a 17 year old Aussie I living at an orphanage in Vietnam for a month… And then one of the local volunteers Hanh told me she had a friend who was a director for a big-time Vietnamese reality tv show who needed a foreigner for an episode. So I said yes, and there I was eating Ban Cuon on a busy street with the Canadian host. For the show, we went back to the street vendors house to learn how to make the traditional food. I cut onions for an hour – my face red from crying. The camera man loved my onion ‘acting’. After the long day we then came back to my apartment and held an interview which was going to be used throughout as inner dialogue and explanation for the change of scene. The director handed me an envelope, which I was sure was a thank you note and information as to when my premier would air on TV… I didn’t expect to find $50 dollars. I still watch the tv show on Youtube sometimes and read the hilarious comments about this crazy foreigner who can’t cook properly. (I burnt the onions and ruined the process of making rice paper) Ah well, 🙂

  5. Kendal

    Thank you! I’ll put your number in my phone. I should be around next weekend, maybe we can meet up. It will be several months before I go, most likely… probably November.

      1. Ben Kaplan

        If you want a working visa I can connect you with an agency to do the paperwork. I would recommend just going on a tourist visa, live in Mumbai and connect with production houses/ad agencies to book work. There are tons of model coordinators that will get you casting too.

        1. Kendal

          How long are you allowed to stay on a tourist visa? If you have any information on the production houses and ad agencies, I’d love their info for some advance planning. Ha. This sounds like a great plan. Go get famous in India then come back to L.A.

          1. Ben Kaplan

            6 months on a tourist visa, you’ll work freelance all under the table. Make sure you are paid the SAME day you work.
            contact Warren: starlightmodels@gmail.com he will get you started with some castings and from there you’ll meet other coordinators in Mumbai. Not much for you online for planning, Indian’s work all in country through relationships.

            call me if you have any more questions 7078496920 im in Bay area, will be in LA next weekend.

  6. Pingback: 42 Ways You Can Make Money and Travel the World - Wandering Earl

  7. Christine

    So, this is the best homework ever…reading through your blogs, and specifically India. This one had me smiling cheek to cheek through the whole post. I guess you have come a long way as to your discomfort with the video camera, given your recent video post from the bath. LOL!

    1. Earl

      Hey Christine – Haha…definitely easier to shoot a video in the bathtub than be on camera with dozens of people around, staring at you, and with larger cameras in your face!

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    1. Earl

      Hey Dina – Sorry, I just found this comment of yours hanging out in my spam comments for some reason! I didn’t see the link you mentioned, do you still have that link handy?

  9. Nate

    Wonderful story!! I would absolutely love to see a clip of that…although your description of what happened is probably good enough for me!

    What could have turned out as a boring day in Mumbai, turned out to be a memorable (possibly once in a lifetime) experience. Just great!
    .-= Nate´s last blog ..You Have Only This Moment To Live =-.

    1. Earl

      Hey Nate – This was definitely something I will remember forever and maybe I’ll try it again some day as well. Maybe I should spend a few months there and see how far I can make it in Bollywood and then document my adventures on this blog!

    1. Earl

      Hey Johnny – You’ll definitely have to give it a try next time and I’d love to hear what happens. I have a feeling that if you had a t-shirt like that, you’d be offered endless roles in all sorts of strange productions. After all, if I can play a British police officer without having even the slightest trace of a British accent, there’s hope for everyone!

    1. Earl

      Hey Maria – It sure was…although I did find it somewhat amusing that we needed to take the train, taxis and rickshaw to the site (the overall journey took about an hour and a half). I guess I didn’t deserve a limo just quite yet!

    1. Earl

      Hey Shannon – I’m sure you would have loved it and at least now you know for next time. I could definitely see you acting over there for a living! A new career awaits!

    1. Earl

      Hey Alan – They actually gave me a phone number to call so that I could get a copy of the show but when I called it, the number didn’t work! I just had a look around YouTube right now and found clips of the show, but it might take me a few days to find the one I was in. To be honest, it never even occurred to me to search before, but now I’m on a mission to find it and I’ll posted it here once I do. Thanks for the suggestion!

    1. Earl

      Hey Moon – I actually love Bollywood movies and probably see one a week whenever I’m in India. It’s the perfect way to take a break from the heat, although sometimes I wish they weren’t so long! Two of my favorites are “Om Shanti Om” and “Koi Mil Gaya”…check them out if you can…it might bring back some good memories!

      1. Shelley

        Om Shanti Om was my very first Bollywood movie that I watched in a crowded theater packed with ALL men in Hospet (outside of the fabulous Hampi). I do love me some Sharukh Khan.

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