The Brotherhood of Struggler’s.
Mumbai City is like a holy book. The more you travel thru its length and breadth, the more you discover. Every street holds unearthed knowledge on human nature that big classrooms, books or teachers can never give you. The beauty of its rich human resource lies in the power to fight any odd for higher levels of success.
The biggest contribution to the Mumbaiya aura comes from its recognition as the entertainment capital of the Hindi-speaking universe. The world of Hindi motion pictures (commonly referred to as bollywood) and its new sibling the world of Hindi television have a combined consumer base of over a billion people all across the globe. The Midas touch of this industry reflects in the shine of its glamour, aesthetic and fashion sense that colors throughout the landscapes of Hindi-speaking population. The fame and power that actors, directors and producers of this industry enjoy within its spreads, is comparable only to that of gods.
The Hindi motion picture industry is very much like the Caribbean Sea. It’s instantly appealing and mesmerizing from the outside, but very dark and extremely dangerous as you dive deep into it. As a mental health healer, I often get chance to connect with people of this industry who find it difficult to cope with the emotional and psychological pressures of the dark side. Recently I had once such opportunity, were for the first time I got to interact with the darkest link of this industry, the struggling actors.
I vividly remember, it was Wednesday morning and the first showers of monsoon were taking baby- steps towards cooling the badly sun-burnt Mumbai. After finishing with my morning appointments, I turned the 11inch blingy bright screen of my laptop to indulge into some online psychological fire-fighting. The magic of eye-brain coordination was exemplified when my attention suddenly got diverted towards the 3rd email from the top. The subject boldly proclaimed “please help us”.
Mostly the subject of email’s I get, point towards the personal problem of an individual. This was a rare time when it would mention “us”. The swift movements of my fingers thru the mouse-pad instructed the cursor to open this email. My ultra-slow internet-connection took enough time to increase my inquisitiveness and elevate the level of excitement attached to it. The screen refreshed to show a white background with multiple black spots. Slowly the black spots merged to form letters. The screen shrank to bring these letters closer and spell out the sad and loud cry for help from 3 struggling actors, Rohit, Ankur and Faisal.
After a quick telephonic conversation, an appointment was fixed to meet at a suburban coffee shop to discuss their issues. My earlier experience with people related to the field of glamour had conditioned me to expect a half hour delay. To kill the time, I launched into surfing the online world thru the 3inch display of my mobile phone.
“The three stooges” as they loved to call themselves, walked into the coffee shop exactly at 8pm. Contrary to my thought they had turned up perfectly on time. I took a second to close my mini-communication portal a.k.a mobile phone and come back to reality. After the formal introductions and exchange of pleasantries, we all sat down with large mugs of cappuccino plowing the way for a long conversation.
On first look, the triad of RAF or Rohit, Ankur and Faizal were like triplets. All three towered around 6ft, had huge biceps, their mannerisms while talking, walking were identical, and all 3 had prominent emotional pain reflecting in their eyes. It would take some “intelligent” conversation to realize that actually they where three very different personalities bonded by the glue of friendship.
Rohit was a 26yr old NIFT (national institute of film and TV.) graduate. After 3yrs of theatre and a thousand “connections” he still was struggling for that major break. His diary was full of countless and hopeful meetings with artist coordinators, assistant directors and pseudo-agents, who all promised the sky in exchange of a piece of land. His theatre jobs earned him just enough to support his basic needs but to sponsor these “all-important” meetings he worked in a BPO. The art of juggling between jobs, the gym, maintaining a social life and attending these meetings had created enough stress to break his back a 100times. The dream of becoming a superstar was slowly fading into oblivion and the pain of not being able to accept that was killing him from inside.
Ankur was a 24yr old B.com graduate from U.P. His good looks where always an envy among his family and friends. Boasted by his family astrologer’s predictions, he had come to Mumbai in search of his destiny. Supposedly his nakshatras (planetary alignments in his astrological chart) were similar to those of Mr.Amitabh Bachchan. Loaded with rings and amulets, he had landed in Mumbai with dreams of the day he would drive thru the city skyline, with endless billboards flashing his photo. In the last 2yrs, his dreams had slowly been replaced by the hard facts of reality. The frauds, cheats and deceptions he faced were countless. He learnt two very important facts. First that struggle is a constant journey and secondly everyone in Mumbai is a human-vulture waiting to feed upon a weak prey without any remorse or compassion. He recollected how he had been cheated for thousands to make a portfolio. He had nearly been trapped within the “male casting couch”. And numerous times people had to sponsor food, alcohol and sex for dubious agents who claimed to get him that dream role. He was still supported by his parents. He was the most confident of the lot, but wanted a medication that would allow him to break his inhibition to a consented homosexual relationship. He believed that it was the final frontier and once crossed over, his guru’s words would come true. Clearly it was evident, that such an outrageous demand originated from the fear of accepting failure and returning back home. I was sure he had nightmares of the same, and these thoughts resounded in his mind more often than not.
Faizal was a 27yr old from Jammu. During his studies at Delhi University he had been approached by a model coordinator to do a small ad campaign. The taste of fame among his friends and university mates had left him wanting for more. He had landed in Mumbai with some reliable contacts. Over the last 5years, these contacts and more had got him several print media ad campaigns. Unfortunately thou his career graph had never peaked beyond that occasional photo in the corner of a magazine. The inconsistent flow of money, made him depend upon loans from friends. His family didn’t support of his decision. His adamancy to continue his struggle had left him in Mumbai with his friends as the only support system. He seemed to be the most relaxed of the lot. I guess because he was a few steps ahead of them in this unsaid hierarchy. His endless stories about the struggler’s campaign were an enlightening experience. He was battling an aging body and mind. The success of his college friends in various fields of life continuously made him questions his own decisions in life. He had come far enough to let the gains go, but couldn’t face himself when thought what others had achieved. This internal battle had taken over his mind.
As the conversation moved further, the 3 avidly shared with me, some funny anecdotes from the life of a struggling artist. I was enlightened on what I call the “great brotherhood of strugglers”. They told me how the community of struggling artists was a huge family. A family that had thousand’s joining it daily, while only a handful would resign from their dream of stardom.
The long audition queues outside a film studio were a family gathering of sorts, most of them knew each other and it was perfect time to catch up on the latest gossip. The western express local trains, tea-stalls and cigarette kiosks next to big production houses, were hot-spots for exchanging “useful” information. Money, alcohol, food and sex was the currency of their trade. Everyone and anyone from the tea-stall boy, to the teacher at the acting institute or the trainer of the gym would exploit your needs. The only person who could be blindly trusted was your own self. Talent was a myth built in acting and dance classes. Looks were a design carved out expensive gyms and plastic surgeons. And the only proven formula for success was to have a very reliable and influential “god-father”.
The final part of our meeting compromised of me customizing some treatment modalities for them to use in battling their emotional and psychological problems. Unfortunately I couldn’t give Ankur a medication to erase his inhibition, but I spoke to him on accepting failure. Rohit and Faizal needed guidance in re-defining their goals and accepting reality. Both were at a chronological and psychological age where change in a positive direction was possible.
Finally we finished our coffees, shook hands, and promised to keep in touch.
As I moved into my car, the respect for this brotherhood of strugglers in my mind, reflected as a smile on my face.
Dr.HEMANT MITTAL (MBBS, PGDPM)