Tracing the 'Struggle' of emerging actresses from Mumbai's film industry
German photographer Yana Wernicke's photo series on emerging actresses in Mumbai exposes an alternate reality of the entertainment industry
After her weight reached a massive 96 kilos, following a severe bout of typhoid in 2015, Arrtie Gupta had almost lost all hopes of gracing the stage and becoming an actor. Two months later, she slipped into depression, but was made to take up a regular 9 am to 5 pm job to keep her worried doctor parents happy. "After completing physics honours and an MBA in finance in 2014, I got a job in a German automobile company in Pune. While I was good at my work, I hated every second of it. I dreamt of pursuing fame in the Hindi entertainment world instead," recalls the Delhi girl. As every part of her screamed inside for help, her family based in the capital city remained oblivious. "This was when I caught the fever and was battling for my life. My parents rushed to Pune, got me the best treatment and took me back to Delhi," she adds.
As she continued to gain weight, Gupta had a greater war to win. "One day I looked at myself in the mirror and said enough. I cannot keep living for others. I lost 35 kilos by doing yoga in the next few months. And finally, I put my foot down and told my parents I had to go to Mumbai to try my luck in the entertainment industry," the now 24-year-old says, adding, "I lied to them saying everything here had been taken care of, including my accommodation, food and an acting opportunity. But in reality, when I reached Mumbai airport in April 2016, I had no place to go to."
Like Gupta, there are hundred others who come to Mumbai for the rush, the shove, the long queues and the chaos that lead very few to stardom. In search of these stories and faces behind, German photographer Yana Wernicke landed here in late 2017 and started her self-funded project, Bombay Dream. "In 2015, I was invited for a three-month artist residency in Pune by the Goethe Institut/Max Mueller Bhavan. During this time I worked on a different project, but in the process, heard of young people moving to Mumbai in pursuit of an acting career. I was intrigued by this topic and the idea developed over time. Since my work often revolves around femininity and identity, I focused specifically on women in this project. Three years after my residence in Pune, I decided to turn the idea into an actual project," says the 29-year-old Frankfurt-born.
Bombay Dream looks at the individuality and circumstances of young women, who have come to the city to make it big in the acting/modelling industry. Wernicke, who exhibited this photo series in a show held in Amsterdam last year, met multiple models for the project. "I aimed for a work that speaks about Mumbai's magnetic pull, but also the great pressure and often unrealistic expectations that are involved with the business of acting. I chose to address these issues by creating images that allow for a far more modern, female counterpoint of the industry," she explains.
Yashodhara Deshpande stars in two Marathi movies releasing this year
Like Gupta, Yashodhara Deshpande of Pune is another emerging actress who Wernicke shot for the series. A fashion styling graduate, Deshpande says, "I wanted to be a model since I was a kid. After graduating, I got my portfolio done by Bunty Prashant, who eventually offered me my first shoot. Since I was closely connected to people in the Marathi industry, it was not difficult to get referred to casting directors. But Pune has fewer opportunities, so I decided to trade my fancy lifestyle with a dingy room and endless rounds of auditions in Mumbai."
Since her first trip to Mumbai in 2017, 24-year-old Deshpande has managed to get two big Marathi films in her kitty. Only child to a CA father and MSc graduate mother, Deshpande shares, "Both films are yet to be released. I play the lead character in Bhurji, which has been nominated in the 56th Maharashtra State Marathi Chitrapat Mahotsav. The Bawdy House, on the other hand, is going to international film festivals this year."
Arrtie Gupta does a yoga pose during a shoot with Wernicke
While Deshpande's journey has been relatively smooth, Gupta is still struggling to hold the ground. The money isn't great, she adds, saying, "Through a friend, I managed to get a rented flat in Andheri. The next day on, I looked up on the internet for casting directors. After rounds of audition for a week, I got my first break in the form of a print ad shoot in Chennai. A few weeks later, I did a play, Dil Leke Dekho. Not many know this, but theatres in Mumbai don't pay their actors. I did this one just to meet new people and improve my acting skills." The next few months Gupta did print ad shoots in Surat. Here, too, monetary satisfaction was a distant dream. "If you are changing 40 to 50 sarees a day, you get about R5,000. Things are not too great in TV serials. I was playing an undercover cop in Sarojini and was paid R3,500 per day," she informs, adding, sexual exploitation is another hurdle emerging models face in the industry.
"I remember when a casting director asked me for sexual favours to bag a project. I yelled and stormed out of the room, only to go home and cry myself to sleep. This repeated for a long time, until there came a point when I overcame this fear. What is the worst that could happen if I refuse, I asked myself. They won't give me the project, but I won't sell myself to become an actress," Gupta, who today handles multiple anchoring assignment, shares. "I have not given up on acting yet. Nor am I leaving the city. I enjoy anchoring, but I love acting more. And I will soon get a big break," she says.
While many people think this struggle is only for outsiders, 32-year-old Mumbaikar Farrah Kader begs to differ. "After I lost my father in 1999, I had to take charge of our financial situation. Acting was never on the cards, but one day, after a friend asked me to audition for her, I realised I had a hidden talent. In the past five years, I have slogged to get good projects. My biggest break was Om Puri sir's Project Marathwada in 2016, in which I played the role of a mass media student. While the movie was not glamorous, it hit the right chord and addressed farmers' suicides." Today, Kader is mostly known for her nude photo shoots in the industry.
Wernicke has shot all these models in private rooms and apartments in Goregaon, Andheri and Versova. "The intention was to allow an intimate exchange and creative photographic collaboration based on trust and respect. I feel it is important to note that my gaze is of course that of a foreigner. I think having an outside perspective and experiencing these things for the first time might have helped in making these photographs," Wernicke adds, concluding, she hopes to publish the series as a photo book and showcase her work at an exhibition here in Mumbai.
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