Hi guys, hope you’re well.
Since I last posted for Miss. Malini back in April, I was in the comfort of my hometown of London, auditioning online for a Bollywood movie that was supposedly launching ‘new faces’. After that debacle, in June I left the U.K and made the daunting move to Mumbai to tackle Bollywood head on. From the moment I landed in India, I knew things were not going to be easy.
I first went to my Dad’s hometown, Hyderabad, to acclimatize myself to India. My parents were thankfully holidaying there so it was a nice transition. I had only planned to stay in Hyderabad for a week before heading off to Mumbai and on my sixth day, I managed to meet with a director. A fellow acting friend of mine put me in touch with him and informed me that he was casting for an independent film that was to be shot in Hyderabad in June/July. I didn’t want to get my hopes up, as I had only just arrived and the following day I was flying off to Mumbai, however I went along and met with him and his producer wife. The meeting went well and they wanted to cast me for a small role at the end of July, which I was happy to come back and do.
On June 7th I left Hyderabad, via Indigo airlines (which I have to say I was impressed with, except for the freaky black bob wigs the air-hostesses were ALL wearing) and landed in humid Mumbai. I was feeling very nervous as I didn’t know anyone. I only had the number of my Aunt’s nephew who very kindly agreed to let me stay with his family until I found my own place. I was picked up and taken to his flat in Andheri West and throughout the entire drive I kept thinking ‘what the hell are you doing Aadil?’ I could not believe I was attempting to do this. Even though I had been to India many times before on holiday, living here was a whole other ball game. My Aunt’s nephew was talking away, but to be honest I was just crapping myself thinking of all the worst possible scenarios – he probably thought I was so rude for hardly talking back, but I was petrified.
His flat was lovely and I slowly settled in. First thing on the agenda, was to find my own place. The next morning, after a very noise polluted nights sleep, I woke up semi-rejuvenated, showered (to only come out feeling just as sticky as I did going in) and was rearing to go. My Aunt’s nephew lined up a bunch of brokers to take me around the area of Yari Road to look for a 1 or 2 bed flat. I took off and boy was I in for a ride.
I first set off by bike and the broker took me to a bunch of flats that were not very nice. The second broker took me by foot (!) and we walked around for 2 hours in the heat of Mumbai looking at even more questionable flats. The third broker took me in a rickshaw to some OK-ish places, but then pulled up at one of the previous buildings, and I insisted he take me back home even after he kept saying ‘but no sir, this flat ek dum mast hain’ (!) I was thinking ‘yeah right’.
It was only my fifth day in Mumbai when I received a phone call from the director in Hyderabad who wanted to cast me as one of the five lead roles in his film. I was thrilled and pretty much halted everything in Mumbai and flew back to Hyderabad the next day to start pre-production. Now, this film is a small independent feature film, entitled ‘Mere Haule Dost’ (‘haule’ being a Hyderabadi term for paagal/mad), but from an experience point of view, I didn’t want to give up this opportunity so early on. It was to be shot in Hindi with my character being an NRI, so it was the perfect fit.
It’s too long to go into detail about the six week shoot, but overall it was a great experience. Being on a film set, albeit a small one, was exhilarating. 5am call times, travelling all over Hyderabad, cramming workshops and scenes into long hour days, helping my fellow actors with scenes (as I was the only trained actor) the whole process was so much fun it didn’t even feel like work. Ramadan started halfway through the shoot and even whilst fasting I managed to still pull through the long shifts and round the clock work. The production team were so helpful and I guess because the unit was small and we saw each other everyday, it really felt like a family. The film is currently going through its post production phase and will Insh’Allah be released all over India at the end of the year. It’s not a big budget production, but a film I will always cherish as it is my first feature film in India.
Shooting finished at the end of July and I immediately left for Mumbai on August 1st. I decided to combine the laborious task of flat hunting with getting on with meeting the contacts I had scheduled to meet. Now when people say ‘it’s all about who you know in this industry’ that is 100% true. So many talented people are out there, but if you have not got the correct network, you’re not going to get anywhere. Obviously luck and being at the right place are huge factors that play a part, but it really is about the people you know and what they can potentially do for you.
I was so eager to not waste a single day that I kept badgering away, shamelessly, to the contacts that I had. I mastered the art of patience and perseverance, as I had to wait so long on people to give me even 10 minutes of their time. But whenever they eventually did, (probably because they wanted me to stop harassing them) I ensured I was there, no matter how far I had to go. Thanks to the monsoon rains everything took double the time, but I managed to be seen by a few influential people (even if I looked like I had been run over by a bus!)
In a nutshell the highlights would have to be – auditioning at YashRaj Films after having met their head of production – auditiong for a Sajid Nadiadwala film (but didn’t get the role) – meeting with the great Sanjay Leela Bhansali on the sets of ‘Ram Leela’ in Film City – having a very interesting meeting at Dharma Productions – and stalking Madhuri Dixit on the sets of Jhalak Dikh Laja (!)
I went for a few ad auditions but they apparently felt my look was too ‘international’ for Indian ads (I think they just thought I was ugly). I was approached by a modeling agency but they were hell bent on having topless shoots, which I really wasn’t comfortable with (more so because my physique isn’t there yet). I would love to do some print work and fashion shows so that’s something that I will still work towards for exposure.
It felt great to be seen by these big shots and obviously I am hoping further down the line that things come from it, but I have to be realistic as well. I am just one of thousands of people here in Mumbai chasing their ‘Bollywood dream’. I have given this quest of mine a finite amount of time so I constantly feel the pressure.
I have found that coming from London definitely helps as far as communicating is concerned, but I am competing with so many good looking guys, who all speak Hindi as their first language, and know the ins and outs of Mumbai. When I meet people I like to talk in Hindi so I can practice, but as soon as they find out I am from London, they insist in talking in English and start pontificating to impress me… I swear it’s supposed to be the other way around?
Basic things such as getting a SIM card for my phone, opening a bank account or even simply joining a gym have proven to be difficult tasks here – sometimes it’s like there’s no customer service in this country. Travelling everywhere in the dust and pollution of the city via rickshaws, trekking all over Andheri, Juhu, Bandra and South Mumbai in intense traffic, getting food poisoning from various restaurants and generally living in this city has been an eye opening experience. I came here prepared to struggle but the day-to-day activities, which in London seem effortless, are quite tough in Mumbai. From the cut throatness of this industry to the inability of some people to be flexible (landlords!), Mumbai has been a struggle for me. I keep thinking of the bigger picture that Insh’Allah this will be all worth it in the end but it’s still very tough.
And don’t even get me started on a flat. To this day, I still have not managed to find a place to live. My Aunt’s nephew and his family were amazing to let me stay with them for a total of 2 months but I was very frustrated! I saw 57 flats in total and being a bachelor in this city has proven to be the most inconvenient issue ever. If I had known, I would have got married a long time ago. I even had an incident at the local police station, which is a whole other story in itself. For now, let’s just say, I don’t look good in one :)
In the beginning of October I flew back to London as I very fortunately signed my second film – a British/Asian crossover film along the lines of ‘Bend It Like Beckham’ and ‘East is East’ starring the likes of Shabana Azmi, Satish Kaushik, Ila Arun & Dolly Ahluwalia – that was to be shot in the UK. Unfortunately due to certain visa issues with the crew and other financial issues, the shoot has been postponed to Feb/March 2013. I was very disappointed, but at the same time so thankful to be back home for a while.
I have just finished shooting for a short film in London and am heading back to Mumbai at the end of this month, to enter the rat race again and continue from where I left off. I will head back, tie up some loose ends and see what happens. I still have so many people I want to meet and try and impress, so I am keeping my fingers crossed for the best (hey that rhymes!)
2012 will go down as one of the most memorable years of my life, and probably the toughest. I have to see this dream through and give my passion for Bollywood 100%. I accomplished a lot in the short space of time I was in Mumbai and I am hoping for a similar response when I go back. Skills I knew I had but never really utilized fully, I did in Mumbai. Networking, hustling, being persistent, flexible, fighting against the many star kids being launched, trying to get a flat (not looking forward to that!!) working on my physique, having pani puri on the road and not living in a bathroom afterwards, and everything else that comes with being in Mumbai has been one big learning curve. It’s definitely been rewarding personally, and has helped me grow as a person, so for that I am grateful.
This is a dream I have had since I was a kid, and never really thought I would pursue it. Now that I am, I know I have to put up with these difficulties and adjustments in order to get what I want – as nothing ever worth having comes easy. Wish me luck for round two!