A freshers' party
Besides different concepts & programming, television is scripting new success stories as unknown faces from small towns look all set to change the rules of the game. Srabanti chakrabarti writes a new struggle story.
Take a two-minute test before reading this article on a lazy Sunday afternoon. Switch on your television set and flip through the channels showing Hindi serials.
Chances are you may not recognise most of the lead pairs, even if you happen to be a regular serial watcher. With television channels releasing new serials with increasing frequency, it is becoming difficult to keep count of fresh new faces waiting to grab our attention every evening.
However, just a couple of years ago — during serial queen Ekta Kapoor’s reign — things were quite different. Those days prime time meant watching the same familiar faces (Ronit Roy, Smriti Virani, Hiten Tejwani, Juhi Parmar, Cezzane Khan, Sakshi Tanwar and the likes) in different serials. Even if a new serial started, you would be assured of seeing one of them in the lead roles. Not any more.
Today in every serial, irrespective of the channel and production house, you will find a new face — hitherto unknown and unseen. In fact, it would not be an overstatement to say that newcomers like Parul Chauhan, Sara Khan, Angad Hasija, Ratan Rajput, Ankita Lokhande, Sneha Wagh are controlling Indian television today. They are the people who make millions of viewers laugh and cry, rule the Page 3 circuit and also define fashion trends.
Interestingly, most of these newcomers are first generation entrants in the entertainment industry and came to Mumbai with the traditional dream of making it big on the silver screen. With the proliferation of satellite channels and a telecom revolution in our country (leading to remote villages being connected through satellite television), the demand for new shows, and as a result, new faces in the entertainment industry has increased, thereby giving rise to success stories every day.
As a cascading effect, this has led to more and more people coming to Mumbai with the dream of making it big in the entertainment industry — television, film or fashion.
Among these three options, television has become the favourite for newcomers because it is easy to enter, has more opportunities and offers instant success, as opposed to films where the waiting period for completion, post-production and release can be abysmally high in some cases. Such is the lure that dreamy-eyed teenagers are leaving school to come to Mumbai and become actors.
Remember Parul Chauhan, better known as Ragini of ‘Bidaai’. She says about her struggle, “I am from Lakhimpur Kheri in Uttar Pradesh and come from a very poor family. After completing my plus two, I wanted to study engineering and after a lot of trouble I managed to get into a college. But I left it midway and came to Mumbai to try my luck in acting. The creative quest in me to do something was too much to resist.”
Incidentally, Parul was not the only one who left her studies midway to come to Mumbai. Tina Dutta, who has achieved stardom at 18, after playing the role of Ichcha in ‘Uttaran’, has a somewhat similar story to narrate. The actress who started her career when she was not even five says, “I used to play small child roles in serials and after I reached my teens, I started acting in Bengali serials. I turned plain lucky after that. Ekta Kapoor stumbled upon a scene of mine in a Bengali serial, liked my performance and tracked me down in Kolkata. But I was studying in my tenth standard then and thus could not move to Mumbai. As luck would have it, Balaji contacted me again when I was in Class XII. Unfortunately, due to the same reason I could not go for the auditions. But they requested and almost forced me to come to Mumbai just for the final auditions where I got selected.”
After she was selected, Tina had no option but to move to Mumbai. Studies took a backseat. “It was like a dream come true for me. Honestly, I feel I was very lucky and got noticed at the right time,” says Tina, who first played a key role in ‘Koi Aane Ko Hai’ and never had to look back after ‘Uttaran’.
Gateway to stardom
Sreejita De, who attained fame with her portrayal of the lead role in ‘Annu Ki Ho Gayee Wah Bhai Wah’ has a diametrically opposite story to narrate. She came to Mumbai from Haldia in West Bengal for higher studies and then drifted to the world of acting. “I came to Mumbai to study mass media, but I always had this urge of becoming an actress. Coming to Mumbai and being so close to the entertainment industry only increased my interest. So immediately after the first year in college I started looking for opportunities and landed a small role in ‘Kasauti Zindagi Ke’. After that, I got an opportunity in ‘Annu Ki Ho Gayee...’ and then decided to move to acting full time. Sometimes when I look back, it really looks like a dream come true for me,” adds Sreejita.
After finishing her Class X in Kolkata, Wasna Ahmed moved to Mumbai to study. She aspired to become a chartered accountant when the glamour bug bit her and she joined the television industry with a role in ‘Kasauti Zindagi Ke’.
Though the television industry offers many more opportunities these days and seems like the obvious choice for wannabe stars, it is not necessarily a break in television serials that they are looking for. A toehold in the glamour world — be it a fashion show, cinema, serial or play — and fame and money is what they are looking for.
Take the case of Sachin Chhabra (he has played the lead roles in ‘Mera Doli Tera Aangana’ and ‘Main Kab Saas Banungi’) for example. A typical Delhite, Sachin moved to Mumbai to do something in the glamour world and started to make two ends meet through modelling assignments. “Getting into acting was an accident for me. My uncle is an actor and he had been after me to try my luck in acting. The first good television offer that I got was to replace Gaurav Khanna as the lead in ‘Meri Doli Teri Aangana’. Unfortunately, the show went off air a few months after I joined. After that, I played the lead role in ‘Main Kab Saas Banungi’,” explains Sachin, who started getting noticed with the Tata Tea Jaago Re campaign.
In fact, even if someone comes to Mumbai with a focused mind of making it big in movies or television, beyond a point finances become so difficult that any break that offers some money looks like the gateway to stardom. It ceases to matter what you had come to the city for.
There are too many expensive habits that a wannabe star needs to follow to ensure that they get the right break. To ensure that they are noticed at the right places at the right times, most strugglers (as the newcomers are called in the industry) stay in and around Lokhandwala Complex in Andheri West, despite it being one of the most expensive places in the mega city. Add to that the expenses of going to a gym, wearing good clothes and travelling the length and breadth of the city and you will realise why they settle for any job in the glamour world.
“What followed after we moved to Mumbai was not exactly as per our plan. We were rejected by everyone and since we were running out of funds, we decided to return to our home town,” remembers Parul of ‘Bidai’ fame. “It was a very embarrassing situation since everyone would make fun of us. But it was our father who stood by us and encouraged us to continue and return to Mumbai,” add an emotional Parul, who moved to Mumbai with her brother.
“I made my portfolio and used to visit production houses almost every day. Life was very difficult in those days and we had to count every rupee we spent. We even starved during those days and there was a week when we hardly had anything to eat. I didn’t want to call my parents because they would feel bad and start worrying. But my brother called them as a last resort and my mother sold some of her ornaments to send us money,” says the actress, who finally got a small role in ‘Kayamat’ which helped her make two ends meet. “After that my mother came to stay with us for some time and I managed to get the role in ‘Bidaai’. Things changed completely after that,” says the actress.
Sachin’s story is no different. “After moving to Mumbai, I stayed with my uncle for a month and then moved to an apartment in Lokhandwala Complex as a paying guest. I used to give around 40 auditions every month and had to really struggle hard to meet my expenses. Making a portfolio and living in Mumbai were very expensive and thus I was forced to take up a night-shift job in a call centre. But after a few months I had to leave it because of the stress. I developed dark circles under my eyes and as a struggling actor I could not afford to have that,” he explains. But the lure of the industry made Sachin hang on and do odd modelling jobs till he got his break in television.
Aditya Redij, who plays the role of Raghav in ‘Laado’, has another story. “I am from Kolhapur and wanted to make it big in the entertainment industry. After moving to Mumbai, I realised that expenses were prohibitive and life was very difficult. So I decided to take up a job in Dubai and spent close to two years there. I returned to Mumbai with decent savings, and could afford to wait for six months to get my first break in television,” explains Aditya.
Karan Sharma, who is playing a key role in ‘Baa Bahu Aur Baby’, also decided to play it safe. The son of a farmer from Hrishikesh, Karan did a workshop from National School of Drama in Delhi and was into full time theatre before moving to Mumbai. “I did a number of commercials and saved some money before moving to Mumbai,” remembers Karan. “Even though I had some savings, I had to start doing cameo roles for survival. After many years and hundreds of auditions, I finally got a break in ‘Baa Bahoo Aur Baby’.”
Sachin, Parul and Karan’s experiences are not isolated cases. This is the usual grinding most have to undergo to get a toehold in the industry. What makes matters worse is the cool-dude façade one has to maintain. You have to sport expensive brands, you have to party hard and you have to act engrossed in a business discussion in a coffee shop, even if all you are doing is begging and pleading with your agent to give you a good break!
The coffee shops in Lokhandwala Complex never struggle hard for business. Ironically, it is the patrons who struggle for business! It is always filled with good-looking fashionable youngsters and wannabe stars discussing careers with agents and producers. Perhaps, it would not be an overstatement to say that most new protégés are found and television careers made in the coffee shops of Lokhandwala Complex!
But sometimes being at the right place does help. Take the example of Smriti Kalra, the latest sensation on Indian television courtesy her first serial ‘12/24 Karol Bagh’. She was spotted by the producers in a coffee shop. “I was in the midst of my coffee when a group of guys from Sunshine Productions approached me. They wanted to know whether I would be interested in acting in a television serial. They had observed me for some time and felt that I suited the character best. My first reaction was obviously not good. But when I realised that they were representing a genuine organisation, I went for the audition and got selected!” says Smriti, who was a radio jockey before she became an actress.
The other tried and tested route is through theatre. Since it is considered to be a notch above films and television on the intellectual scale, coming from a theatre background helps in gaining instant critical acclaim and get some good breaks. Take Sumeet Vyas for example. The hero who got his break in ‘Palkon Ki Chhaon Mein’, entered the television industry through the theatre route. “I am from Mumbai so the usual struggle of finding a house did not happen with me. However, I had to struggle a lot in terms of finding a good role. I did theatre for more than five years with Nadira Babbar and even directed a play called ‘Namak Mirch’ for close to two years. After seven years of struggling, I got my first lead role in ‘Palkon Ki Chhaon Mein’.” Sumeet had even tried his luck with films and did a small role in Mahesh Bhatt’s ‘Jashn’.
Whatever the reason, there is no denying the fact that the newcomers have given a fresh lease of life to Indian television. Producer Rajan Shahi of ‘Yeh Rishta Keya Kehlata Hai’ a popular serial, says, “Traditionally the Indian audience has been used to glamourous lead pairs. The situation has changed now and with new concepts coming into Indian television, viewers are more open to new faces. When I had introduced Sara Khan and Parul Chauhan in ‘Bidaai’ both of them were in their late teens and looked raw and fresh. But, most importantly, they did not have the conventional look. Look how popular they have become now.”
Sunjoy Wadhha of Sphere Origins, (producers of ‘Balika Vadhu’ and ‘Jyoti’) corroborates, “Indian television today is represented by fresh, young faces. And this is happening due to the new realistic approach to serials and fresh concepts that the Indian viewers want to watch now. I am happy that we made this switch because the newer lot of actors is much comfortable to work with.”
It seems to be a win-win deal for all. The producers are happy because they are saving on costs, having actors who are willing to put in their best without starry tantrums and also getting the credit for introducing new faces. The viewers are happy to see fresh faces. And the actors are obviously happy to get the much-needed break in the entertainment industry.