Bollywood extras dream of stardom
By Sunil Kataria
BOMBAY: Thirty-seven years ago, a starry-eyed, 11-year-old boy ran away from his home in central India to become a film star in Bombay, the home of India’s film industry.
Now a weathered 49-year-old, Hyat Khan is playing bit roles in small-budget Bollywood films. His dream of becoming a star remains unfulfilled.
Khan is one of thousands of Indians who leave their homes lured by the glamour and glitz of Hindi films, only to end up as nameless, faceless actors in the country’s movie capital, Bombay.
“I was mesmerised by film star Dilip Kumar when I was only 11 and that fascination with him brought me to Bombay, to the film industry,” Khan said as he adjusted a police constable’s belt around his bulging tummy while waiting for his next shot. Junior artists, as extras are called in Bollywood, live out their two-minute roles on screen either shaking their hips as part of a large group of dancers or doing death-defying stunts while the film’s main stars hog the limelight.
Khan, for instance, has been a policeman in nearly 100 films. Some extras have acted as factory workers in film after film and others are called when a producer needs to shoot a crowd scene. Most survive on 300 rupees ($6) for an eight-hour shift compared to 4.9 million to 34.1 million rupees ($100,000 to $700,000) that India’s main stars receive for a film.
“Film producers sign up a couple of big stars for an astronomical sum and then cut corners on other fronts. They pay a very meagre amount to technicians and junior artists,” says Abdul Gani, a lighting man with more than a decade of experience. Bollywood’s superstars live in fabulous mansions and drive luxury cars, while in contrast most junior artists live in one-room tenements, wondering where their next meal will come from.
Part of the crowd: According to industry estimates, there are more than 100,000 people working as extras, technicians and stuntmen in Bollywood, the heart of India’s film industry named after Hollywood in the United States.
The most prolific movie industry in the world, India churns out about 1,000 films a year, or almost three a day, for more than a billion home viewers. Most are kitsch melodramas, spiced with gyrating dance scenes, that cost about $500,000 each to produce. Mostly, the stars who get a quick ride to fame are the children of former Bollywood big names. But there are also rank outsiders who slug it out and carve a niche for themselves.
Current heartthrob Shah Rukh Khan, one of the highest paid stars, was a small-time television artist before making it on the big screen. It is people like him who inspire so many wannabes to come and try their luck in Bollywood.
While big stars have a retinue looking after their make-up, hair and holding umbrellas to protect them from the glare of reflectors, junior artists wait for hours with greasepaint on their faces for their two-minute shots. “If we are late by even a couple of hours then we have to face the music from the bosses,” said Prabhu Jain, who has played the role of a college student in dozens of films. Despite the frustrations, the glitter of tinsel town never ceases to dazzle wannabe stars.
Devender Chaturvedi, a dance extra in many of Bollywood’s regular song-and-dance sequences, says it was his love for dancing that drove him to Bollywood.“I was fond of dancing. I used to dance in street shows and then I formed a dance group of my own. Slowly offers started coming for movies,” he said as he rehearsed his steps for his next shot. “My dream is to become a big dance director in a mega film one day.” —Reuters