A gainfully employed TV actor, now in his late 30s, has a quintessential Bollywood story to tell of a missed golden opportunity. Spotted as a dancer at a Shah Rukh Khan concert tour, he was auditioned nearly a decade ago by a director to play the lead in a romantic musical designed to introduce talented freshers.
The director asked the actor to formalise a contract with the producer of the musical, which incidentally turned out to be an enormous success. While handing over the contract across his office desk, the big shot producer had caressed the newbie’s hand, looked him in the eye and said, “Is there anything special you can give me in return?”, a catchphrase frequently used to solicit a sexual liaison.
Today, the TV actor smiles wanly, “I have nothing against gays at all. As it happens, I’m heterosexual. I was going steady with a girl from my hometown in Hyderabad. Instinctively, I turned down the producer’s proposition. If I had played along, I would be among the A-list of Bollywood actors today.”
The incidence of encounters on Bollywood’s casting couch has been on an ongoing incline. The actor from Hyderabad could realise the option to take the route towards the small screen. By contrast, hundreds of wannabe actors –especially from the north Indian cities – who flock to the nation’s Cinema Paradiso linger on as frustrated, jobless fringe-dwellers.
Around noon, Mumbai’s Lokhandwala-Four Bungalows- Oshiwara ‘golden triangle’ becomes one big studio lot – dotted with airless audition studios, where hundreds of aspirants pose like convicts before video cameras: profile, full face and then ‘full body’. The auditions are for films ranging from the B- to Z-grade, TV ads, serials, web-series and and short clips uploaded on Youtube.
Ace action director, Sham Kaushal, states, “I’ve seen countless boys from remote towns and villages who don’t get a break. Some of them become stuntmen, sustain grievous injuries and just fade away eventually. There’s no way they can return home, they feel they will be shamed and laughed at even by their families and close friends. Sadly, it becomes a no-exit situation for them.”
Zoya Akhtar’s auto-critical Luck by Chance (2011) had effectively treated a theme on the same lines. Way back in 1971, in Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s film Guddi, a struggler enacted by Asrani, had underscored the fact that Bollywood dreams for the majority only lead to heartbreak and entrapment. Strugglers can’t renew either their personal or professional lives.
Driven to the point of no return, currently showbiz aspirants are being propositioned to freelance as male escorts for men - on the condition of strict discretion - within and outside the film industry. Clearly touts, fly-by-night casting agents, secretaries, dubious fashion designers and more sleaze vendors have steadily set up the casting couch syndrome for male wannabe actors.
An accomplished stage and occasional film actor in his 40s, requesting anonymity discloses, “ The male casting couch in this town is an open secret. And why be prissy? So many strugglers are quite willing to go with the flow.”
Next, he laughs self-deprecatingly, “Unfortunately, no one has hit on me, be it a filmmaker or supplier. The preference in the trade is for Gym Barbarians, hunks straight out of a muscle magazine. You can see dozens of them hang around the gyms in Andheri hoping to be noticed. On the part of – what do I call them? – seekers of fame and fortune, they prefer senior guys. The inside term for the oldies is ‘silver daddies’ and ‘matures’. I would too…but kya karen?.. I don’t have a smooth-as-silk complexion. The flavours of the season are still fair-skinned guys with facial evening shadows.”
Over to a documentary, titled Bollywood Strugglers. In the course of its making some five years ago, with media students, I’d met Raju Kariya, a fairly well-known 50-plus publicity agent. Attired in a shiny floral shirt and jeans, he had chortled on camera, “You want the real lowdown? Aaj kal to ladkon ki bauchhar ho rahi hai (Today it’s raining boys).”
On being asked whether the ‘demand’ was more for young men than for women, he had shown the docu crew, a voluminous photo album of gym-sculpted men (some with their faces pixelled beyond identification) and had added, “Rate ranges from Rs 3,000 to Rs 3 lakhs, full night.”
Vis-à-vis himself, he had remarked, “What I do in bedroom is no one else’s business but mine. All I’m saying is that no one’s safe from the couch – male or female. Sex jaari hai.”
Back to the here and now, a model from Chandigarh admits, “Unless you’re a son or nephew of an established film family, unless you can land a sugar daddy, it’s a no-win situation.”
A practising doctor, in his late 30s, who is also chasing the Bollywood dream, says scores of strugglers take to drug abuse and become ‘escorts’, “How else can they pay the rent for a room, their daily fix or an idli dosa lunch?” he asks rationally, noting that landlords keep increasing the rent every six or nine months.”
A theatre actor from Delhi, seen in the character of the leading lady’s father in a popular film last year, comments, “It’s not easy to get supporting roles. I’ve had to say no to quite a few interested parties looking for an escort.”
Of late, there have been inside stories of secret late-night gay parties hosted in an abandoned bungalow in the eastern suburbs. Cabarets and ‘mujras’ are performed by film hopefuls to entertain prominent film producers and directors who have opted to stay in the closet. Can one check this out? No way! Entry by invitation only.
To wrap, at a dance coaching class in Juhu I meet a 30yish NRI business executive from the US, who sold his home and ‘luxury’ car to realise his Bollywood dreams. Over five years, he hasn’t found a toe-hold in the show world. He’s gay and has been invited to hush-hush parties.
He’s been promised roles, but then as yet another catchphrase goes, promises are meant to be broken, aren’t they?
. Read more on Bollywood by The Quint.Latest News: FIR Against Ram Kadam for Offering to Kidnap GirlsWhy It Has Been Raining Boys on Bollywood’s Casting Couch . Read more on Bollywood by The Quint.