Growing up in Bollywood

Aug 21, 2011, 10:07 IST | Lhendup G Bhutia

In a yet-to-be released documentary on the industry, two directors have followed four characters from the industry for four years. These include an Australian actor, a union leader, an item girl and a transgender make-up artist

In a yet-to-be released documentary on the industry, two directors have followed four characters from the industry for four years. These include an Australian actor, a union leader, an item girl and a transgender make-up artist

Adam Dow, a US citizen arrived in Mumbai sometime in 2006, to make a series of videos for RealNetworks. This seven-part video series was to cover various nuances of Bollywood. Almost five years later, Dow is still here, and while the series on Bollywood has been wrapped up, Dow has what he believes is something far more concrete -- a documentary on the faces, often unknown, that make up Bollywood.


One of the protagonists, Ojas Rajani is a transgender make-up artist
who works with some top actresses


Called The Bollywood Project, the documentary has been directed by Dow and Ruchika Muchhala, a documentary filmmaker of Indian origin raised in Indonesia and Singapore. What makes it interesting is the work behind it.

The two directors have followed four individuals, artists and workers from the industry, for the last four years, shadowing them from the sets and make-up vans to the privacy of their homes. Dow and Muchhala say they did not get into the project thinking they would film the subject for four years, but they knew they'd cover their subjects for a substantial period of time, until they were confident that they had their story.

Dow, a fan Hoop Dreams, an award-winning documentary about two African American basketball players that was filmed for five years, says, "Many documentary filmmakers have a tight schedule for their films. Often they are scripted to a large extent. But you can't tell a great story by following your characters for one month."

The four characters in here include Harry Key, an Australian theatre student who was backpacking in India and landed a job as a Bollywood actor; Pooja Kasekar, an item girl from Pune; Ojas Rajani, a transgender make-up artist who works with many top actresses; and Prem Thakkur, a union leader.

Because shooting unfolded over four years, the filmmakers have managed to film instances that are often very intimate. These include scenes of Thakkur in his house, debating with his son, a manager in a large production house. While his son doesn't think much of Thakkur, he says he is not a thug but a social worker.

In one scene, Kasekar is practicing in a dance studio when she is informed on the phone that she is going to play lead dancer in a song. Later on the sets, however, the director changes his mind and gives the part to a Brazilian model.

"We have developed a strong bond with each of them. We used to meet them every now and then, visit their homes and workplace, and they would always open up," Muchhala says.  In fact, Thakkur would call up Dow, every time he had to go to sets and disrupt shooting on account of non-payment of workers' fees.

In the documentary, Key discusses how his fellow actor friends in Australia struggle to bag roles in films, but he had it easy. He was backpacking in India, living in a rundown Colaba hotel when he landed a bit role in the Akshay Kumar-Salman Khan starrer Jaan-E-Mann. He points to a still in a song, saying, "You would not recognise me. Here I am."

He is wearing a wig and a big beard, with just his head visible. From then on, Key has managed quite a few roles, including that of an emcee at a party scene in Karan Johar's Dostana. But in another scene in the documentary, Key is heartbroken. While his casting agent says, foreigners got meaty roles in films during the Raj days, Key is sad to hear about the reviews of one of his Malayalam films, where his acting has been panned.

Key even visits well known actor Tom Alter, on how to improve his performances. Key is currently in Australia and has received a few film offers from the South. When he spoke last with Dow, he was contemplating on returning to work in Bollywood.

Kasekar's character is equally compelling. Her late father worked as a policeman and her sister followed in his footsteps. Kasekar, however, moved to the city and unlike her sister, is still single, wanting to make it big in the industry. She travels wearing a scarf around her face on her scooter, and while she dresses glamorously on set, at home, she is 'simple', her room scattered with large photos of herself lining the walls.

Muchhala says, "All of them have grown during the course of the documentary. For instance, when we started, Kasekar was shy. She had only recently moved to the city. By the end of the film, you see her confident and sure of herself."

When asked if Kasekar has 'made it', having moved from a background dancer to an item dancer, Dow says, "It depends on the definition of 'made it'. For some, making it means just about surviving and doing what you want to."

Dow and Muchhala plan to finish the last leg of their shooting by this year, and release the film early next year. They are currently in talks with producers and actors in the industry to help them with the release of the film.
To know more about the film, visit www.bollywoodproject.net