Being surrounded by the glamour of TIFF for the past week reminded me of my time before Ryerson, when I travelled to Mumbai in search of stardom. Yet, what I found was nothing close to what I expected.
Some of these memories I choose to cherish and others, not so much.
Mumbai’s glitzy Bollywood world is filled to the brim with many young, talented hopefuls in search of a bright future in cinema. Some aspire to act, dance, sing or direct, but the reality is only a handful make it to the big screen. The rest continue to struggle in the pursuit of stardom.
In February 2012, I went on the exact same pursuit. I packed my bags and jetted off to Mumbai to follow my dreams of becoming a Bollywood actress.
But once I arrived, I found out that chasing one’s dream isn’t as glamorous as it seems.
For starters, I learned that the industry has its fair share of scammers. A good friend introduced me to a coach for one-on-one acting classes. But after a few days, I realized that I was being cheated. He took an advanced payment, taught me for a couple of days, asked for another payment, and never showed up again.
I was also surprised by what some were doing to just land a role.
I attended lavish parties where I witnessed young girls offer men coy smiles of invitation, which were often followed by sexual acts and drug use. I knew this wasn’t the right path. For me, I wanted to achieve my dream, but I wasn’t prepared to sell my body for it. And even if you resorted to sex, it wasn’t a guarantee you’d be cast in a movie.
Perhaps, this would’ve been a different situation had I known someone well-connected in the industry. I quickly learned that the film industry is about networking. It’s about who you know, as opposed to what you can bring onto screen.
With that in mind, I joined Roshan Taneja’s School of Performing Arts to undergo formal acting training and to make some legitimate industry connections.
I auditioned for many different roles – a granddaughter with a Mauritian accent, a housewife and a college student caught in love triangle.
At one audition, I experienced an unsettling situation. The director asked me a series of questions for about 20 minutes before requesting I act out a few scenes. Without asking permission, he proceeded to videotape me, but I felt uncomfortable and left the room. In another situation, I was offered a role based on my willingness to sleep with the director and producer of the film.
These were just two of the approximately 25 propositions. A part of me wanted to continue acting despite these situations, but I also believed in staying true to my morals.
I continued to audition, meet interesting people, build positive relationships and keep my head up high, no matter what challenges came my way.
In November 2013, I landed an opportunity as a lead actress in a Telugu film, a regional language spoken mostly in South India.
This to me was an experience of a lifetime. I felt like I was on Cloud 9. I had my own crew. I had an entourage. I had lights and cameras focusing on me all the time. It was one of the best moments of my life.
But the reality of this movie, just like many others, is that it may not be released on the big screen. And even though I was a star, the sexual advances never ended.
That’s when I decided to come back home.
You may think I’m disgruntled or cynical towards the Indian film industry because I haven’t appeared on the big screen. No matter what, I will always have a passion for Bollywood.
I realized that as a young actress, it’s about chasing those aspirations, believing in yourself and taking on real life challenges in the industry. I was also fortunate to have a strong support system of family and friends. They were my source of encouragement and my shoulder to cry on.
Now, as I reflect on and cherish all of those experiences, I’m happily pursuing journalism – an opportunity for me to stay connected to the media, and running my own dance school, Dance Expression. This is me enjoying a new chapter in my life.