When I walk down a regular road, nobody really recognises me. But when I meet people, a few tell me that they’ve seen me somewhere, that my face seems familiar… and I respond proudly, saying, ‘yes, you must have, on the TV.’ These are special moments of validation for me. I am a struggling actor who has a decent amount of work to her credit, like a few episodics, three digital and one TV ad, as well as a show on a national channel.
When I first started acting at the age of 14, I didn’t know anybody who worked in the industry. I always thought that if you were friends with Shah Rukh Khan or Salman Khan, you would call them and they would give you work. Little did my childish brain know that this was actually going to be the future of Bollywood.
Don’t get me wrong, I am in no way implying that talent does not matter. Of course it does – and so do too many other factors like luck, being in the right place at the right time, running into the right people etc. But back then, the little aspiring performer in me used to go through the newspaper’s classifieds section every single day, searching for ads requiring TV actors. Needless to say, I was fooled.
I’m too old to remember the name of the agency now, but I remember my dad was asked to pay this place thousands of rupees as an “entrance fee” for a TV show that I “auditioned” for. The same agency then told us that after I became a part of the show, my father would have to pay even more for mandatory acting classes.
And so, I travelled from Dahanu to Andheri every Monday and Thursday after school, accompanied by one of my parents, to attend these so-called acting classes. Me and my classmates were too young to understand the farce behind these classes. ‘Class’ meant that we were just given a monologue to memorise and then recite in front of everybody. There were no instructions, no lessons whatsoever. Slowly but surely, the show and the classes, both proved to be a money-making scheme that took advantage of aspiring young actors like me.
Audition after audition, I kept building my hopes up. Honestly, I enjoyed the auditioning process – it helped me improve my arts by leaps and bounds, in ways that no acting class would have.
As I grew older and shifted to Mumbai for higher studies, I continued auditioning for different roles. My first-ever project was a junior actor position in Luck By Chance. If you watch the movie, the camera passes over my face for a microsecond; I remember I was paid Rs 1000 for the role. I thought I had achieved so much! Not because I had cash in my hand that I had earned, but because I had seen Zoya Akhtar and been on a film set – something that I had only dreamed of before then.
After a couple more projects like that one, I was finally able to grab a small role in a popular crime show. Then, I won a series of episodics. My career-defining big break came when I got selected to play a very prominent character on a Star Plus daily soap. But my character got scrapped just after I’d shot one scene for it – the channel had decided that they didn’t require that character after all.
Here’s a glimpse into the daily life of a struggling actor. We spend our money – and if we are relatively new, our family’s money – to travel to various studios every day to ask for work. What happens if we are not dressed exactly as per audition requirements? We are asked to come back again another day. Nobody really cares about how we are feeling – ill, sick, okay, normal, healthy, mentally ill or what have you. It’s a race and if we want to win we need to stand in a queue for hours, sometimes even 4-5 hours. Why? Because we’ve got to. No excuses!
What happens when we don’t fit the casting requirements? The casting directors say dehumanising words like ‘rejected’, they tell you that you ‘don’t fit’, some even say ‘no, not possible!’ Thankfully many casting directors these days are kind enough to convey their message politely. The alternative can get too much to deal with. Imagine going for a new test every day and getting rejected over and over again due to a variety of reasons. And trust me, the reason is not a ‘lack of talent’ every time.
So when I saw Suhana Khan on this month’s Vogue cover, I couldn’t help wondering – how come nobody at Vogue told her that she didn’t ‘fit the bill’ or tell her she was ‘rejected’ or look at her and say ‘no, not possible’?
A regular actor with no connections probably thinks of magazine covers as a bucket list item. And here, a girl who has done nothing to prove her merit – not a single film or piece of work – gets to be on the cover of one of the most prestigious magazines in the country; just because she happens to be a daughter of a Mega Superstar. Ask yourself, how fair is this?
It’s not that we commoners, who come with big hopes and dreams, don’t know that nepotism exists. We are very aware that nepotism exists in almost every field out there. We are okay with Suhana Khan getting her first film because of her father, because that is an opportunity to showcase her talent, which the world can then judge fairly. After all, there have been so many actors who bagged their first film only because they had a filmy background or some sort of connection to the industry. But we are also aware that, at the end of the day, only talent sells. What we are fighting for is that first opportunity – and the free opportunities that a privileged star kid gets even after failing terribly.
Not every star kid who has made it on the top today succeeded in the first go, but they eventually made it because of the second, third, fourth chances their privilege got them. And this is why we run around each and every single day, asking for work at the studios, because we know that we only have our hard work, dedication and talent to rely on if we want to get that first, crucial opportunity. Needless to say that even after we get that first opportunity, we still have to go back to the same old grind.
We know we cannot escape nepotism, but the spark of hope still remains, because we believe in our art and we believe in ourselves.
Bhumika Chheda is an actor, find her on Instagram and Twitter @iAmBhumikaC.
Featured image credit: Kedar Nene/Vogue India