• Poster of Bhaag Milkha Bhaag

Anirudh Nair ran the distance between the Bollywood dream and the Bollywood reality. Here is his story.

 

I am an actor. It is probably useful at this stage to qualify that statement. I am a stage actor. I don’t say this with any disdain for my fellow actors in cinema but rather to put into context my association with the ‘film world’, which is close to none; my understanding of how the film industry functions, which is negligible, and my expectations of individuals existing in that universe. That is where this story begins.

 

One fine morning I received a call for a screen test for Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s Bhaag Milkha Bhaag. Though I have never had great aspirations as an actor to make the big transition to Bollywood, I would be lying if I said my heart didn’t skip a beat when half way through the audition the casting director whipped out his phone and made a call straight to Mr. Mehra saying there was someone he strongly felt should be considered for the title role in the film.

 

Things moved pretty swiftly from that point on. A week later I was due to leave for London and then onto New York for two months to commence work on a theatre project, when the casting director called me and said that it was imperative that I fly down to Mumbai immediately to meet with Mr. Mehra. So I booked myself on a flight to Mumbai from Delhi and spent the day at Mr. Mehra’s office reading the script cover to cover and then sitting in on a meeting with Mr. Mehra over lunch. We talked about life and the theatre and art and my training and interests in a candid one-on-one in his office.

 

Through all of this I was of course more than a little bit star struck and overwhelmed— in casual conversation over lunch with the director of films like Rang De Basanti and Delhi-6!

 

About a month later I received a call from Mr. Mehra’s PA telling me that I needed to be in Mumbai for a second screen test urgently, within the next couple of days. I told them that it would be very difficult since I was in London, set to depart for NYC the next day. They seemed quite certain that there was no way around it and so I immediately booked myself on a flight from London to Mumbai and an onward journey from Mumbai to NYC. I should mention at this point that all my travel was paid for out of my own pocket with the unspoken understanding that it would be sorted out later. But then perhaps it is my presumptiveness that is the villain of this piece.

 

Mr. Mehra himself was present for the screen test this time round. We worked meticulously through three scenes from the film with Mr. Mehra being very hands-on and pushing me hard to clarify the tiniest details— an experience I value to this day. As far as a day in the life of a jobbing actor goes, this was a pretty darn exciting one. I left for NYC on a high, thinking that the fact that I had come this far was commendable enough and, even if I didn’t get the role, this experience was reward enough.

 

Another month passed before Mr. Mehra’s PA got in touch with me again telling me that Mr. Mehra was in New York with his family and would very much like to meet with me. I joined them at their hotel and once again had a long conversation with Mr. Mehra, this time specifically about the film and my audition. He told me that there would be much to be worked on but that he was definitely keen to take this to the next step. What remained was a final physical audition in which they would film me running since that was such a major part of the film. He explained to me how he was very intent on casting a ‘new face’ as the lead in the film since he wanted the film to be about Milkha Singh, the man and not the actor. In all fairness he did also warn me that the financiers might think otherwise and want an established actor for the lead.

 

I returned to Delhi full of all these thoughts, trying desperately to keep my excitement in check. The running test was soon set up and a crew met me in Delhi. Thinking back now, I wonder at what point all of this started to become real for me. At what point did I stop and say to myself, “Wow! I think this actually might be happening!” Was it at the end of the screen test I flew half way round the world for? Was it when I met Mr. Mehra for coffee at his hotel in New York City? Or was it after the running audition, when I was asked to immediately start training with the national athletics coach who was to train up the actors for the film? Or perhaps it was when I was told to not take up any other big projects as the schedule for the shoot was being decided.

 

And so I started training, turned down what work came my way and prepared myself for what was to come. Writing this now I realize how naïve of me it was to carry on like this with little more than the intermittent verbal assurance that things were delayed but definitely on track. And for this I have no one to blame but myself.

 

In the meantime, among the offers I received, one was to perform in a play that would rehearse in Kerala for two months and subsequently go on tour in South India. The opportunity was far too exciting to pass up so I got in touch with the producer P. S. Bharathi who advised me to go ahead and take up the project, as it seemed that the schedule had been delayed further. And so I did.

 

I was immersed in my new play but couldn’t help notice that another month had gone by without any communication from them. When I eventually did try to get in touch with someone, anyone, from the project, I was met with a week of unanswered phone calls and emails. It soon became clear why. Friends of mine from Delhi soon called to tell me that they had just read in the Delhi Times that Farhan Akhtar had been chosen to play Milkha Singh in Rakeysh Mehra’s new film.

 

Rejection is part of being an actor. The factors that go into selecting an actor, especially for a role in a film are numerous. Height, weight, complexion, age, hair, accent, the list is endless. And finally, if all the above check out, ability.

 

Was I upset that I didn’t get to do the film? Yes, of course I was! But that did not begin to match either my utter confusion at how this situation had played itself out, nor my anger at my own gullibility. Given how much I had invested in this project already (monetarily and otherwise) is it truly unimaginable to have expected a simple call or email or even a text to tell me that their plans had changed? The truth is that it probably was. Working actors in Mumbai will probably read this, scoff and say, “Welcome to my world… ” This probably happens every week to countless aspiring actors.

 

What bothers me now, in retrospect, is only the fact that for them this probably was a complete non-issue. Again, in my naiveté, I had assumed that in the three meetings I had with the director some sort of a relationship had been forged between two individuals. A relationship, which in my book, at the very least warranted a simple phone call.

 

Recently, I chanced upon an article in a daily newspaper. At a talk Farhan Akhtar gave in Delhi he had this to say about playing Milkha: “I must thank all the actors who refused to play Milkha Singh before me; I was sold on it in the first 20 minutes of the story’s narration. Working on the film taught me that there is potential within each human being to achieve anything they set their mind on to if they’re willing to sacrifice luxuries and remain focussed.”

 

I entirely agree. Except that all the actors didn’t quite refuse. In all honesty, by the time I read this article, I had put this experience behind me, but suddenly, I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to feel. It’s not that this experience left me deeply wounded or scarred. If anything it was a sharp learning curve. My grouse in the end is not with any of the individuals mentioned in this story; it is with what we accept as ‘the way things are’. My only question is: Is there a better way?

 

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20 comments
VigneshMadurai
VigneshMadurai

Penned it down very lovely.Wonderful acting with the knife yesterday [23/4/2016 IST] at british council bangalore.I am a big fan of shakespeare and now you,Rudy.I think you should've probably waited and not gone on the south tour.But more doors will open keep rocking.

saifaligo
saifaligo

Brilliant Anirudh. This is a critical question, the one you ended with. Lovely writing and wonderful story though you paid a personal price for its creation. Keep going. 

FiTeyaAL
FiTeyaAL

Loved the way anirudh you have penned it down. you conveyed the harsh reality in such a balanced manner.

i thought of the IRONY here.

'Farhan akhtar' struggler, luck by chance, 'sapno se bharein naina'

VinodSubramanian
VinodSubramanian

courtesy and ethics are not usually a part of Bollywood... 

AmitGoel
AmitGoel

yeah.. expecting a phone call with a final answer is okay for the sake of courtesy... but then, expecting the other person that he'll do what u r thinking might not be okay.. 


yes, i agree you would have spent a fortune of time, money, & effort on this.. but then, as like you, there might be many who would have auditioned for the same role.. 


in every walk of life, for a single opportunity, there a lakhs of people waiting for grab it. 


let's leave the movie alone, there are more than 3 lakh aspirants every year for just a over 800 seats in top 5 IIMs. do you think IIMs inform everyone of the rejection ? only the shorlisted get the call, rest just understand they could not make it. 


Just think of a situation, you get calls from tele-marketeers selling credit cards every day. how many people actually say no politely ? people just hang up the phone on the face or even abuse... 


Accept that what is important for you might not be important for the other person. And , if you traveled half the world just for a coffee, it was your choice. and believe me, every damn person try their best.. 


one day when you'll be famous like Shahrukh , farhan or Modi (election fever), you'll tell this story as a motivator and people will listen to it and talk about it .. 


All the best..

bonymuscles
bonymuscles

@AmitGoel

We are so used to writing off everything as 'This is how it is' - that is what Anirudh is trying to question. And your comments, in a single word, precipitates into a Yes.

1. IIMs 'report' who gets selected. Of course 3 lakh phone calls can't be made by the IIMs. But there is a definitive answer. You know the date of result. You know you have not made it. YOU GET A CLOSURE on your task. You get you score card. What else does one expect? But when you chase down a person, directly asking him to join for lunch/dinner, after multiple rounds of interaction, and (through those actions) indirectly saying that you have the time to chase him for the role, a final call to say 'It is all over', isn't a meeting with Obama. It is just a phone call. A tough one at max, maybe.


2. Tele Marketers. Not the right comparison. You didn't ask for a card (or whichever product it is). So you have the right to say NO, from an intrusion or a privacy perspective. But the being rude part, I am with you. We could be polite. (though that leads to more complications, I will leave that for later)


Anirudh, I don't know if I can do anything more but share a remorse, psychologically from another geography. I do plan to share this on my profile in FB. If not from the smaller banners, I do expect the bigger names to be a little more committed, and appreciative of the efforts. I also think that maybe, MAYBE, the director had outsourced this, as usual, to his assistants who probably thought it was a waste of time (out of common practice).


Nonetheless, good luck to your other commitments. If not for others, it keeps us more driven I guess ;)



NehaChoubey
NehaChoubey

Hi Anirudh,


I am not here to comment on your feelings, the movie, director etc etc. Its all individual perception !! What I really liked about this blog is the general question on human behavior, Why do we always have to accept the way things ? Why do we have to depend on a piece of paper and law for an assurance ? 

There definitely is a.. "Better way" and must be followed at least for the sake of humanity !!

SuryaS
SuryaS

Actually you are saved. That film was a complete bullshit. Fake and artificial  from its core. Everything was awful in it, from script, to story, to vfx, to acting. I don't understand how can people appreciate Farhan's acting when what he did was actually over-acting. And the film was mostly about his six pack rather than his running skill. To be frank, after watching the film I felt, how could such an extra ordinary athlete's life be so boring? And that ever repeating cliche of India-Pakistan tension was added in the end to spice things up, otherwise the film was becoming too boring. But even after that the film sucked and so this romp.

You are lucky that you're saved from all this

sugunadewan
sugunadewan

@SuryaS  Totally agree with you! The film was bullshit. On the other hand, a similar biopic Paan Singh Tomar was such a brilliant film. So realistic and believable. 

danishradical
danishradical

they wanted some one to play 'rocky balboa' in bhaag milkha bhaag' u did not fit the bill i guess.


Dr K M Vijayan
Dr K M Vijayan

Our dear Rudy,

Documentation of your experience is excellent.  The whole episode fulfils the requirement of a good Bollywood movie.

We share your pain and anguish.  But we all know your calibre and attitude towards creative art and life per se.  The whole life is a learning curve.

How many young and budding artists may have fallen by due to the lackadaisical attitude of such film makers?  There are cases in bollywood where  rejected people have subsequently come on top. Never give up.  You have the talents.  We all are proud of you.

Vijayans

Dinesh Chugh
Dinesh Chugh

Hi Rudy


A very impressive documentation of your experience, it is indeed really sad that in Bollywood most of the budding talent has a tale of their own to tell. Just stay focused, determined, resolute in what you have set out to achieve and remember one thing, "HE never lets Hard Work go unpaid" and am sure sooner rather than later you will have the last laugh. I am sure through your dedication, commitment and hard work the loss of ROM will be somebody else's gain. Better things are yet to come and are just round the corner.


Don't let this experience dampen your spirits. Take care, love and best regards

AdwaitInamdar
AdwaitInamdar

Hey Rudy,


Very Well Written !! 

I actually imagined the trailer of the movie starring you...  It would have actually been about Milkha Singh, the man and not the actor, as intented earlier by Mr. Mehra, and even Better because of your dedication. 

Better luck Next Time.

wingedream
wingedream

yes,Jayashree quite a constructive take.The suggestion to forwardthe piece to the director is also worth considering.

But was Anirudh just another small sidey?Not from the attention he got.Only a case of missed opportunity.Who knows hewould have perhaps bettered Farhan and been a real Milkha and not the celluloid fake as Naseer so famously underlined.

anishasharma86
anishasharma86

I am so very glad you wrote this. I think their behaviour was appalling, and cannot be excused by the fact that this may happen to other people too. It’s so easy to be cynical and accept this as the way things roll in Bollywood, and so much harder to commit to a thoughtful and sincere stand against this terrible unprofessionalism, as you’ve done. I’m sure there are many, many actors who are glad you’ve spoken for them. Why just actors, though; this toxic culture of entitlement seems to have settled into most professions in India - thank you for calling it out.

jayashreekurup
jayashreekurup

Anirudh, 

Extremely well-written piece and written from the heart. I feel your indignation at someone repeatedly meeting you and disrupting your planned schedules and requiring you to travel half the world to suit his schedules and then not even bothering to communicate with you when the part went to someone else. 

I need to make a confession. I am an editor and not a film maker. There have been many times when I have had conversations with people and either wrote about them or concluded the assignment and forgot to mention it to people who walked some part of the exercise with me. After reading your piece, I feel sometimes we forget the smaller characters and take them for granted an sometimes forget about them, not intentionally but because something else came up. I for one will take special care to make sure this never happens to anybody I speak to again. 

I think you should forward your piece to the director too, not as a complaint but as something that reminds him that it was a talented actor he was speaking to, even if the connection did not materialise. 

wingedream
wingedream

very well written !I love the style and can feel the indignation.You have it in you for being so subtle and yet an anger coiled within unworthy of restraint.Being wronged is hyperbole in your context but you leave us meloncholicaly to wonder the morality of it all.

Strangely I feel you are gifted and you are simply not just an actor.Much more and wish you well for all that !

anirudhnair11
anirudhnair11

@wingedream  I dont think of myself as a writer and putting this down on paper was a bit of a task for me! So your words are much appreciated.

Thank you.

Anirudh 

srijithunni
srijithunni

Farhan did do a good job, but yes I think you deserved a phone call. Dont worry, these little failures are what go on to become the greatest victories.

The Actor Who Prepared

Article
April 2014
By Anirudh Nair

Anirudh Nair is a theatre practitioner based in New Delhi. He completed his MA in Theatre Practice at the University of Exeter, UK, in 2008. In 2005 he set up Wide Aisle Productions (WAP)