On Friday, ETimes reported how, as India grapples with the second wave of the lockdown and curfews are being imposed around the country, cine workers are fleeing back home having been left with no income to sustain themselves in cities. At such a time, what chance do people who were still only looking to make inroads into the close-knit industry, stand?
For this week’s #BigStory, we spoke to aspiring actors who are still powering on despite the delays, casting directors, acting institutes, as well as strugglers whose dreams have come crashing down, to understand how has the pandemic affected people who were yet to even become a part of the industry. Read on:
No place like home
Romit Sardana (Struggling actor): I have decided to stay back in my hometown Karnal and study to become an IAS officer
For Romit Sardana, the rogue coronavirus that killed more than three million people around the globe also spelled the end of his Bollywood dreams. The aspiring actor who was working as an assistant casting director with Jogi Mallang, has returned to his hometown in Karnal for good. “I come from a well-to-do family and I am a qualified lawyer. My father has retired as a district attorney and also needs me as he has not been keeping well. Therefore, I have decided to stay back and study to become an IAS officer, and if I need to pursue my passion of acting I will do it here,” he says, his voice tinged with bitter resignation. Romit is also quite disillusioned by the casting process. “My experience was very disappointing. There is still no system to reach filmmakers directly. Some agents would tell me that I like look like Rajkummar Rao but when I would tell them to give me work, it was only empty promises,” he rues.
Dinesh Kirar (Struggling actor): I have just started a car washing service station to help run the household
Meanwhile, struggling actor Dinesh Kirar, who has acted in TV shows like ‘Chandrakanta’, ‘Hanuman’, and ‘Rudra Ke Rakshak’, has also gone back to his hometown in Rajasthan. While he hasn’t quit acting completely, he points out the need for a backup income now that his main source of earning a livelihood has come to a grinding halt. “The industry has gone back by three years and it will take some time for it to get back to normal now. I have just started a car washing service station to help run the household. However, my creative instincts are still intact and I am creating videos and uploading them, which helps me polish my skills as an editor and a director here only,” he shares.
Hope makes the world go round
Bansshi Nanamma (Struggling actor): The industry is partly shut for the time being but it will reopen
Another starry-eyed actor, Bansshi Nanamma, was living out his dreams, performing plays with his troupe and supplementing his passion with a call-center job that paid the bills. However, Covid-19 threw a spanner in the wheels and Bansshi could only stare as plays stopped, and one by one, his colleagues left for their hometowns, never to return to the City of Dreams. “When things seemed to be returning to normalcy at the beginning of the year, I resumed my job and also started practicing for a play with a new group. We were going to stage a play this week but with a strict curfew imposed, it has been called off. I have also lost my job now,” he says dejectedly. However, unlike his peers, he is not giving up hope. “The industry is partly shut for the time being but it will reopen. So, I will stay here and keep practicing and working on my craft to keep myself ready to bounce back. It is difficult to survive and I am using up my savings to survive these unprecedented times, but I will get by”.
Micckkie Dudaaney (Actor): For me, the lockdown was a blessing in disguise
Micckkie Dudaaney, who plays a pivotal role in the TV show ‘Jai Santoshi Maa’ has also stayed put in the Maximum City but some of his friends, who didn’t have work, had to leave. “Last year, once the lockdown started I enrolled myself in an online course on screenplay writing from the Michigan state university, and later I did another course in direction from Whistling Woods International. I have been an actor for 16 years I wanted to learn these subjects for a long time. So, for me, the lockdown was a blessing in disguise,” he admits.
Practice makes perfect
Meghna Puri (CEO, Whistling Woods International): We had invited celebrity guests like Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Honey Trehan to motivate our students
Like Bansshi and Micckkie, several other aspiring actors and star kids chose to use the downtime to hone their skills, even if it was only through online classes. Meghna Puri, the CEO of Whistling Woods International, a film school in Mumbai acknowledges this, adding, “When the first lockdown happened, we thought it will end soon but it got stretched which was stressful for the students. But teachers didn’t let the momentum slip and kept students engaged in performing monologues and making films on their phones. We have a hundred students in our degree program and only a few left due to financial issues”. Their students are eager to return to the premises but government rules are keeping them from doing so. “It is difficult to teach acting online but our faculty members are making all efforts to make it easy for our students. We had invited celebrity guests like Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Honey Trehan to motivate our students,” she informs.
Prakash Bhardwaj (Acting coach): Students train with me for one month or three months as it helps them divert their attention from the grim situation
Meanwhile, acting coach Prakash Bhardwaj, who conducts online acting classes for aspiring actors, reveals that he keeps getting calls from worried acting students all the time. “They ask me when will the uncertainty end and unfortunately, I don’t have an answer. They train with me for one month or three months as it helps them divert their attention from the grim situation and channel their energy into a positive outlet at a time when the news is full of depressing stories”.
Sushant Singh (Actor): I know it is a tough time for those actors who earn on a daily basis
Actor Sushant Singh, who has been around for over 23 years in the film industry, puts things into perspective as he shares a personal experience of how even he was on the verge of digging into his financial reserves during the first lockdown. “So, I know it is a tough time for those actors who earn on a daily basis. I also know how payments happen in this industry. As it is, the payments come after three months; with this lockdown, it is bound to go up to six months. The last one year has shaken the faith of those who want to be part of this industry,” he agrees. However, the actor has a few words of advice for those who are struggling. “Don’t lose heart; an actor’s life is full of uncertainty. Even if you reach the top, there is always a replacement for you–there can be no better example than Rajesh Khanna and we all know what happened to him in the end. But if you cannot take the stress, you should know that you are not the only one in the entire industry who is facing it. If you can’t take the pressure, then you are not meant for this industry”.
Mukesh Chhabra (Casting director): The number of auditions that we used to get done physically was much more than we can get done online
Casting director Mukesh Chhabra concurs that these indeed are depressing times, pointing out that it is quite difficult to get good online auditions. “There are times when the lighting is not correct, or the voice is not audible, or the camera angle is not correct, and we end up asking the actor to redo it, which is time-consuming. The number of auditions that we used to get done physically was much more than we can get done online,” he laments. However, not all hope is lost. The casting director goes on to assure aspiring actors that he will cast people from any part of the world if they are talented. “Just be positive and focus on your craft; practice every day. I am sure I will find you some way or the other,” he promises, adding that he discovered a lot of talented actors through the virtual workshops he had conducted recently.
Cashing in on OTT
Anmol Dhillon (Actor): The film has just been released on OTT and I am getting such positive and encouraging reactions
While these certainly are testing times for those yet to find a break, they are just as harrowing for actors whose first films were ready for the big screen when the pandemic struck. Like Poonam Dhillon’s son Anmol, who made his debut with ‘Tuesdays & Fridays’ that finally squeezed in a theatrical release in the narrow window when the outbreak wasn’t at its worst and theatres were slowly opening up. However, with the audience shying away from theatres, it was far from the dream debut that the star kid would have wished for. But Anmol has no regrets. “The release of my film on OTT was a blessing in disguise for me. Of course, when we started making the film we didn’t really know the pandemic was going to strike us in this way and the aim was to see me on the big screen in a big way. But the film has just been released on OTT and I am getting such positive and encouraging reactions from people. My parents and I have been flooded with messages, which clearly means people are watching my film and enjoying it too. I am a very positive and realistic person. For me to get an opportunity like this was really very big,” he asserts.
But won’t he always feel bad that his debut film didn’t result in fireworks as he must have expected it to? “There is no disappointment at all,” he clarifies, adding, “You have to adapt with the times and what is happening in the current situation. The second film will come on a big screen in the traditional way, hopefully. But I am grateful that so many people are watching it at home. I don’t think theatre mein itne log dekhte bhi (I don’t think so many people would have watched it in the theatres too)”.
However, the actor acknowledges that it’s not as easy for those who have come to the city to fulfill their dreams. “I can’t imagine what must be going on in their minds and what they must be going through and thinking during these stressful times. Everyone’s journey is extremely different and I think if people have a dream and if they are talented and hardworking, they should just keep at it,” he offers, adding that now that people are watching OTT, even the outsiders are getting recognition. “If you are working hard and making your debut on digital, I don’t think anyone should be disappointed because the reach is so much! No one should give up hope; everyone should be brave at this time and whoever is getting work should be grateful, because it is such a tough period. We all need to adapt. We can’t dwell in the past, we have to see what the current situation is and work accordingly,” he avers.
Debut delayed isn’t debut denied
Suniel Shetty (Actor): As a father, I can see that it has been a very, very tough time for Ahan
Suniel Shetty, whose son Ahan Shetty’s debut film ‘Tadap’ would have been released by now had it not been for the pandemic, says that this is the toughest situation we, as a nation, have faced. “I will say it is pretty nasty but, at the same time, when you look at it from a world perspective, when you see innocent people, middle class and lower-middle-class people being destroyed, somewhere you feel you are luckier. We are in different boats but in the same storm. I guess that keeps me going. Also, I have a huge team that I have to take care of”. Ask him if he is worried about his son’s debut film being jeopardised, and he replies, “If you are willing to work hard enough, you will bounce back. As a father, I can see that it has been a very, very tough time for Ahan because he has been waiting for over a year for the film to release. But when I talk to him he is positive because his producer is positive. It’s probably a blessing because Sajid Nadiadwala is his producer and he has decided that this film can only release in theatres. He took his time and said it will only come out on September 24, knowing very well that there is a second wave of Covid that we need to tide over. Ahan is very excited about his work from what he has seen but I know, as a youngster, he is anxious,” shares the concerned father.
Shirley Setia (Debutante): Both my films, ‘Nikamma’ and the Telugu project are waiting for things to get better
Shirley Setia was all set to make her big Bollywood debut too but now has to wait it out till things return to normal to see herself on the 70mm screen. “Both my films, ‘Nikamma’ and the Telugu project are waiting for things to get better so we can plan for the shoots ahead, but since the situation is quite bad right now, everyone sort of understands that we will begin again once things get normal. I am not sure as to how soon that will be either, but at least one can remain hopeful and try to keep yourself mentally and physically healthy and fit,” points out the debutante, who works out at home whenever possible and is also starting to meditate, as it helps her keep the mind calm. “There is definitely a lot of uncertainty around and anxiety too, but the only thing I can do right now is to keep myself healthy and safe and try to see if I can help anyone in need,” she concludes.