A dear director friend asked if I could meet with a young Canadian woman contemplating moving to Mumbai to get into acting here. Mostly from the perspective of how I’ve adjusted, my experience with visas, etc.
Now it isn’t completely unheard of.. after all… in a country of a billion plus people there is a ONE new TV serial that actually stars a blonde haired blue eyed new bride “Firangi Bahu.” I’ve been a bahu or daughter-in-law and survived to tell the tale! It isn’t a completely preposterous idea…
But breaking into ‘The Bollywood Biz” ain’t easy… and while I’m no expert, I have watched on the sidelines off and on since 1990 with friends and family (partner) who have struggled and sometimes succeeded in film, TV and stage. Along the way have picked up a few insights and stories behind the stereotypes….
Yet I still felt like such a nasty horrible person dishing out the following reality check dashing starry eyes and hopeful smiles:
- Casting Couch - It is live and well and thriving in amchhi Mumbai! Even men aren’t immune… my partner has rebuffed his share of… shall we call them improper propositions? But being a woman, a virtual ‘nobody’ wanting to jump ahead of the queue to stardom? Hmm… might be considered easy pickings! Beyond the casting couch, many well known faces in the industry are rumoured to significantly supplement income with the occasional ahem… extra curricular activities!
- Who you know - Trained in Canada, UK and Australia… So what? Talent, brains, beauty and spirit alone ain’t enough… It is who you know, where you are spotted that catches attention and matters. In other words, who wants to be your vehicle to fame…
- Firangi = white, blonde & blue eyed – Sorry… as utterly lovely as you are, being ‘fair’ enough to pass as a firangi (foreigner) essentially translates to the image you see above… With a mixed heritage, one just might manage to make the cut for the utterly repugnant ‘fairness’ cream adverts… Gawd help you if you are a gorgeous Nigerian!
- Only models need apply - Not a 6′ foot ex miss world? (Or porn star in the case of Sunny Leone) Not from Brazil, willing to work without complaint for cheap? Who can stand a chance against long leggy scantily clad goddesses!? I’ll admit I know a few folks in this category and it is a refreshing change to go dancing with them as, for once, I’m the one everyone will utterly ignore as short n dumpy 5’7″ silver haired foreigner.
- Hindi nahi aathi?? Don’t speak Hindi? Um… jaw drops… you really don’t just ‘pick up’ a new language!! Shared the tale of an Australian who invested a full year learning Hindi, dropping the Aussie accent and meeting people… no attempt to go for parts as knew she wasn’t ready.
- Paise hai? Have a million dollars kicking around to finance your film? Oh goodie! No? At least enough to bank roll a year or so while working into the “right” social circles, “right” parties alongside auditions after auditions….
- Wanna work in theatre?? Time to start rolling off a chair laughing… because while it just might be possible to crack… how on earth will you pay $1,000+ rent let alone everyday expenses when paid maybe $50 for that oh so coveted role?! And it isn’t like you can get a ‘run’ of dates… perhaps a day or two at NCPA this month, then maybe another date at Prithvi a six months from now…
But is it really such a crazy idea? While likely hard work, little pay and small parts fewer and far between… sometimes things just work! In this case, it is too soon to tell. I secretly kinda hope the lovely lass who inspired this rant actually DOES make it despite the odds. Let’s see!!
A couple of years ago, my partner got a real kick out of seeing this billboard plastered around Mumbai…
Why? Though he spent 30 years in the ‘biz’, I was the one getting a tiny slice of ‘fame’ (notoriety?) thanks to the small square with my photo.
Today, he’s having the last laugh as billboards for a recent TV commercial he did can be spotted all over the country! And the ad is running not just in India but also in South & South East Asia, Africa and the Middle East.
Behind the billboard for me?
When Aalim asked to do a shoot with my snazzy new hair cut, it had to be that very night as I was flying off to Singapore the next day! We began at midnight and I don’t even remember when it finished…. and the poor make-up artist really struggled as I had a nasty sun burn from a day spent splashing about at the Breach Candy club.
Behind the billboard for my partner?
Aside from all the rehearsal time, the 30 second commercial was a physically demanding two-day shoot. While there were stunt men, most was all him, with the bruises to show for the harness shots (leaping & jumping) and a nasty knock from the door flip shot (no he didn’t to the flip!). He was definitely stiff for a couple of days after, but enjoyed the doing all the whacky moves and the experience working with a top-notch team.
And here what all the fuss is for - Blue Star’s Daddy Cool advert:
What I personally love about the ad is it plays on his character – a seemingly serious exterior hides a zany interior. Enjoy!
A friend sent a link to a new online publication he started called “Scroll.in - News that matters”. I love lots about it and while the current focus is on the Indian elections, an earlier article on domestic matters caught my eye:
Growing up, we were used to our parents both doing housework and putting us to work too! For a time, Saturday’s were even ‘Dad days’ when he taught us how to make bread, chilli and oat cakes or blow up home-made volcanos while my mother went to the University to study.
My sister is a veterinarian and her partner a drummer. When they had their 1st child, she stayed home for a couple of months and her partner the balance. At the one year mark when paternity benefits stopped, her partner remained home as the ‘primary’ parent. Having the father stay home and the mother work seemed perfectly normal.
But it is not…. It remains an anomaly globally.
OECD recently did a study examining how many minutes per day on average men spend on unpaid domestic work.
According to the report, men in Slovenia are stars and do the most with 118 minutes of household work per day in the world! Cheers! Danish guys aren’t far behind at 107 minutes.
Slipping further down the ranks, Canadian gents fair marginally better than American at 83 instead of 82 minutes, however certainly well above their erstwhile colonial parent – British men who clock only 66 minutes.
Men in China are under an hour a day at 48 mins, from Japan even less at half that!
But here is the kicker – of the 30 countries considered, guess where India landed?
Dead last – at only 19 minutes / day!!
So what does this mean for a woman and man who grow up with very different expectations around household work? Talk about a cultural battleground behind closed doors!
The first time in Delhi I saw a man order his mother / wife / sister to get water / beer / chai, I was aghast! This issue of who does the work at home is easily one of the most telling and personal of issues.
What is an unspoken element in this equation is that in places like India, behind most successful men AND women are very efficient PAID domestic support!
And while I am blessed with a partner who is incredibly considerate and currently spoiling me rotten while I’m down with a busted ankle, he can barely function in the kitchen. Who stepped in? Our delightful maid added cooking to her other duties. Naturally for us it is boon in our time of need and for her, we’ve increased her salary.
So ladies and gents… when looking for love, consider the not so small matter of mutual expectations on who keeps the house clean!
Wouldn’t it be convenient if I could use that excuse? The challenge with going independent is when things go wrong…. they go wrong!
And while a busted ankle isn’t a complete disaster, my immune system also took a beating with a crappy cold then yucky migraine (is there any other kind?).
Well…. I am in the midst of opening three companies and all are affected plus personal stuff!
1. International (Asia)
The company set-up is on hold as I can’t get around to do any of the “hoop jumping” documentation hopping on one foot! However the work is not faring so badly as I’m not completely on my own here. The project guys are all pitching in to cover the on-site stuff and I’m on top of the balance remotely. The guilt factor probably equates to actually doing MORE than required but all that matters is the client deliverables are not negatively impacted even a smidge by my being incapacitated.
2. Domestic (India)
This new venture is definitely suffering. The company start-up is sputtering at the initial steps. The trial project is already late at the sample stage. And while I was smart enough to enlist support early - this hasn’t quite worked out. No ones fault, just fitment and my levels of concentration and focus are shot. May not be able to pull off a miracle here but not giving up quite yet!
3. Partner Project (Mumbai)
This is the biggie. And yes the details are still “hush hush!’ No progress on company set-up and I’ve done the bare minimum here… largely watching from the sidelines as our dreams are being dashed by the crippling corruption and obscene obstacles India (and Mumbai specifically) put in the way of attempting to build a legal business. As one local official stated: “It is impossible to obtain all requisite licenses. A fully legit business? It can’t be done!”
4. Personal Front (Home)
Naturally what suffers most is the personal piece. In this case, my original plan was to fly to Canada two weeks from now to join the anniversary celebration of a late night vegetarian café I’d started with friends in Winnipeg 25 years ago – Emma G’s Deluxe Eatery. The bonus was timing the trip to coincide with my sister’s birthday and was sooooo looking forward to seeing family and friends!
In reshuffling things, guess what was the 1st to go? Yup – Canada trip! However, in fairness, if I can go anywhere it needs to be back to tackle on-site client work. Sigh…
There remain oodles of ‘up sides’… aside from being pampered silly by my partner, I should be able join the April whisky tasting, catch my partner’s new stage production Jazz and much more!
So while “cabin fever” is scratching at my door, I’m hoping the specialist sez on Friday “Go forth and begin non-weight bearing physio young lass… and commence your journey from one-foot jumping to two-legged hobbling!” OK, he probably won’t say it like that, but you get the message!
No impish puppy dog to blame for my current circumstances. Just need to buckle down and get done what can be done and admit to what can’t, exploring options to get on track or give up to fight another day!
Anyone else pine for the days when a teacher would actually accept your silly excuses??
There is a reason for my ‘radio silence’… just not a very good reason.
I came back from Jakarta early with a nifty new acquisition and insight into a very different mode of travel.
Re-wind… exactly what happened?
Let’s just say in a contest with Jakarta’s treacherous footpaths, it is obvious who is gonna win! And it ain’t me…
Don’t get me wrong. I have a healthy respect for Jakarta’s walking conditions. Before this trip, I went out and invested in a pair of super comfy, highly practical walking shoes. The kind that have great grip so don’t slip. The kind that are light, compact and durable and can be easily chucked into a bag.
Not only that, my office shoes were also carefully selected for their sturdiness and sensible low heel. No fancy party shoes these – I truly did go for practicality over fashion.
My pattern was to don the office shoes only in office. Even if popping next door for a coffee, the shoe switch happened and voilà! Walking shoes replaced pumps.
Until one time - just one time – I decided stepping over the bridge to the mall across the street for lunch with an ex-colleague SHOULD be safe. Right?
On the walk back I turned the corner coming down the stairs and… went down. As in way down full frontal fall with a fabulously twisted ankle, banged knee and all! Spectacularly splat!
Stunned, I honestly didn’t realize it was serious until I tried to pick myself up… ouuuchhh!! Who knew the steps were riddled with potholes with nasty surprises in store?!
Good news is a cohort was with me – ever so gently, he helped me down the last few stairs, plunked me at a nice seating spot, went next door to grab my things and came back with a cab so I could return to the hotel.
Turns out that was only the beginning… Long and short is:
Diagnosis – Badly torn ligament that apparently has a longer recovery than a broken limb!?
Discovery - Fabulous support from friends, colleagues and strangers… including an introduction to the joys of airplane travel with wheelchair support from Jakarta – Singapore – Mumbai
- Delight – Being thoroughly pampered and indulged at home with my partner – gotta be some silver lining in the disaster!
Anyone else have an accident away from home – especially a foolish one like mine? How did you get back? Any interesting tales to tell?
Being away from home isn’t easy… however sometimes being at home isn’t either.
Though we rent, we’ve put effort into making our apartment a home - a peaceful sanctuary…
A couple of months ago that changed.
We were invaded! Sonically invaded in the worst way!
Two flats above decided to gut their apartment and completely remodel. As in 4-5 months of constant pounding, drills whining with the only respite the building “Quiet policy” between 2 – 4 pm.
When we moved in, we thought it a bit silly to have such a rigid rule of “no music / noise” between 2-4pm for the elderly to nap and youth to study. And no music / noise post 10 pm.
As I work from home, that ‘fuddy duddy’ quiet time became my one chance at sanity daily!
Then it all that changed… again…
The building behind us is being completely demolished bit by bit, bang by bang, pound by pound… and they aren’t restricted by our building’s policy.
And then it all changed.. again…
The flat in the building across from us is similarly being gutted and remodelled, but with no building “Quiet policy” on noise. The constant inflow of dust and dirt too is also a battle.
And then it all changed… yet again…
The building on the other side is also getting work done!
And then the entire building behind is being rebuilt. Arrgghhhh!!!
Now I’m all for the idea of repairing, fixing and making things better.
But try living with a constant cacophony in your sanctuary. And multiple the noisy invaders will not be done any time soon!
A sage piece of advice given by a fellow Canadian in Bangalore to any newcomer – when looking for a place, find one with the maximum construction around it.
Why? Because at some point it will be over!
Risk a nice quiet place and it won’t be long until there will be a pile of rubble and the work begins.
We found a lovely little place on a peaceful street… we thought!
And now we don’t see this changing for many months! Nay years for the building re-construction.
So while it is tough being away from home, I’m revelling in the bliss of a quiet noise free Sunday in Jakarta.
Um… er… maybe it is a bit too quiet. Time to blast my music and liven things up a bit!
If I was in Mumbai right now (not Jakarta), would be enjoying blind sampling of whiskies in our monthly private whisky club.
Alas I’m missing it! So have pulled out tasting notes from our ‘archives’ - courtesy of another member as this was another evening that I missed! The dratted down-side of travel ;-)
Tasting Notes from April 2012
The evening was delightful with a very special malt selection comprising of Auchentoshan 12 year 40%, AnCnoc 40%, a not so common Deanston 46.3% and a Tomatin 21% received as a gift from the distiller.
One found the AnCnoc was almost like Compass Box’s Spice Tree with it’s spice burst. Another loves lowland whiskies so anything from there makes a good after dinner drink for him, whereas yet another chose the Tomatin as his repeat drink.
We also discovered the dramatic difference in the overall experience of tasting the same whisky in two different glasses – a regular tumbler styled glass and the recommended nosing glass by Glencairn.
While I missed samplings with our merry group, I managed to taste them at a later point… most recently the Deanston in Kuala Lumpur.
So… I can’t wait to find out what has been tasted tonight and hope to track them down to try too!
- Whisky Tasting (20 Feb 2014) – Jura Superstition, Glen Garioch 1797 Founders Reserve, Ardbeg Corryvreckan
- Whisky Tasting (19 Dec 2013) – Food + whisky pairing with Cragganmore, Talisker, Lagavulin, Springbank 18 year
- Whisky Tasting (Nov 2013) – Jameson, Green Spot, Redbreast
- Whisky Tasting (Oct 2013) – Balvenie Triple Cask, Wasmund’s, The Speyside
- Whisky Tastings (Sept 2013) – Glenturret, Auchentoshan, Kilchoman Machir Bay
- Whisky Tastings (Aug 2013) – Glen Breton, Bruichladdich, Bunnabhain
- Whisky Tastings (July 2013) – Glenlivet, Edradour, El Dorado
- Whisky Tastings (June 2013) – Oban, Deanston, The Six Isles & Yellow Spot
Before I flew to Indonesia, there loomed the 15th March deadline for “Advance Tax” payment - a critical “To Do” task akin to getting a root canal. Ugh!
While I have no regrets about going ‘independent‘, the simplicity of a salary is something I sorely miss.
So decided to share my pain by sharing my warped understanding of the Indian taxation system:
1. If salaried:
Declare salary and expected additional income, investments, at the start of the year
- Based on anticipated income, Tax is Deducted at Source (TDS) every paycheque – typically 30.9% of earnings
- Say ‘hello!’ to quarterly Advance Taxes for Fixed Deposits (like a GIC in Canada) where long before you ever see the interest at maturity, you pay tax!
- There are very limited ‘tax breaks’ to mildly mitigate your tax burden. Such as an ‘investment’ of 1 lac (USD 1,600) in insurance, reduces income. Not a heck of a lot of money in the grand scheme of things, eh? I long for Canada’s RRSPs – seriously!
Needless to say, the Indian taxman is now rather clever at getting money from salaried folks immediately. There was a time when a company could structure salaries to be ‘tax smart’.
The legacy of a small ‘basic’ salary with a heavy ‘special allowance’ remains – it confounds those from outside India without actually resulting in any significant advantage for those within India.
However the beauty of this approach is that when it comes time to file taxes – your company form 16 sez it all! If you have other sources of income, download your consolidated TDS form from the website, factor it in and voila – c’est toute!
2. If in ‘business’:
Gaze into a crystal ball and predict your earnings for a year… Seriously! Now I don’t know about you, however I have no clue one year in advance which assignments I will be lucky enough to land!
- From these gloriously confident estimates, pay Advance Tax each quarter
- Plus also pay professional tax, Service Tax, etc
- Keep meticulous track of ALL items that can be claimed as business expenses. Little did I know that some new conservative clothes bought for appropriate dressing in largely Muslim countries could be claimed. Naturally this became known AFTER throwing out the receipts… Sigh…
- Which brings me to the next point… The less than honest find all sorts of creative ways to pad expenses as a well established and accepted practice. CA’s will ask “well how much tax do YOU want to pay…. hmmm??”
And as a good corporate citizen of the world, I DO pay appropriate taxes. However want to be smart about it too.
Free advice welcome! Comiseration too!
When away from ‘home’ it is easy to forget the rhythms of ‘home’ festivals and celebrations.
Like missing Chinese New Year celebrations in India… and catching the tale end in Malaysia.
And Holi suddenly hit when I saw the full moon en route back from Bandung to Jakarta and advance Happy Holi messages flooded my phone.
However celebrations with an attractive marketing angle seem much more apt to cross borders, well fuelled by consumer connects. Green beer for St Paddy’s, prezzies and a fat white dude in a red suit for Christmas, etc.
Am I just being a bit cynical? Or just not into the colour throwing green beer swigging celebrations?
I’ve mentioned – more than once – that I’m a highly reluctant entrepreneur! However by some brilliant stroke of luck (or two!) am somehow surviving with independent work.
Knowing there is nothing certain in life, I’ve been preoccupied with – don’t laugh – opening 3 companies! Yeah, like the paperwork and hassles for one isn’t enough, hmm?
Sounds fancy but isn’t really. Just have 3 very different types of work on the go…
1. International Independence
For projects in Indonesia and Malaysia, am fortunate to work with a great gang of experienced, talented guys on interesting consulting assignments. Our Jakarta “Take 2″ project is expected to last until end September.
However this isn’t my only independent international activity. An ex employer is a favourite client and we are planning programs in May and June – bringing me back to familiar favourites like Shanghai, Manila, Bangkok and Singapore. And a new opportunity to touch down in Japan!
It has now reached the stage to formalize this element in the equation so figuring out how best to do this…
2. Domestic dilemma
I don’t want to lose touch with the country I call home – India. So am exploring a few smaller flexible projects that can work around my bigger assignments. Also looking at what can be sub-contracted, where appropriate, with obviously my taking the fall – I mean oversight responsibility!
Bottom line – I’d sure love a little domestic income! It would just spiffy to have SOME cash coming in not just going out! At the moment, I pay for everything in India for work done everywhere else BUT India. Hmmm….
However the economy isn’t exactly healthy in some sectors and HIGHLY price sensitive (as in – do this practically free to demonstrate you deserve the work??). My approach to the old ‘We don’t have money but we want the services’ deal is generally to build a business case together with the client… but even then, sometimes the economics and effort just don’t make sense.
Throw in the massive rupee devaluation against the dollar, and it honestly doesn’t PAY to get PAID in my adopted home.
However home is home. And I do need a medium and longer term strategy… so setting something up to hopefully help with that!
3. Partner Plans
The most significant development is that my partner and I (with other friends) are cooking up something really exciting. Waaay too soon to spill the beans… but if everything goes well, there will be a major announcement later this year!