Inside is a real life rendition of four women who share(d) a room, and a life in a paying guest accommodation in the suburbs of Mumbai and their struggle to get their foot in the door of Bollywood showbiz.
In a world of the Indian silver screen where everyone sparkles, the backstage of the world of Indian television is contrastingly gritty. The four girls coming from different backgrounds, though, share not only the same flat but the same dreams too.
Told from an outsider’s perspective who shares the room with these girls, Inside is a story that subtly shatters stereotypes and humanizes the coldest lengths the women get into, for their one shot at third grade fame.
Told from the third person’s perspective- an unassuming ‘nobody’ watching from the sidelines, we uncover the starlets’ road to hell often paved with good intentions.
In a world perceived by most as murky- reeking of the struggler’s angst to make it to the world of showbiz and the stereotypes that come with the obscurity behind the world of page 3, the outsider, finds an underbelly of kindness, of dream’s that’ll probably never be attained, and an unlikely family who let her in. For real.
Its 9.15 PM in Anand Nagar, Oshiwara, the smallest suburb of Andheri West and the local dhabas dotting the main road are at their peak hour of business. There’s Delhi Durbar serving up the best tikki’s in Oshiwara, the smoky aroma which wafts towards the buildings around it. On the opposite side, Hotel Amber, the competitor is giving them a run for their money, their ‘sous chef’ Ali is busy rubbing spices on the skewers of tandoori chicken that hang artfully from the windows of the hotel. Next to it, Ambika mobile store, a ‘fancy’ store selling latest imitation mobile accessories has business in full swing, and most of Oshiwara’s poster boys are hanging by the doorstep, headphones in place, grooving to Baadshah’s latest hit ‘she move it like…’… while sipping oversweet cutting chai from the Nagori tea point adjacent to it.
It is nearing night in the rest of the country, but in Oshiwara west Andheri, the night is just beginning. So is mine.
The subject of my story is the old apartment complex that stands on the fringes of Oshiwara just before the road leads off into the grimy gullys of Behram Baug, colloquially called the ‘Karachi’ of Andheri. It is here that goats are slaughtered during every other full moon and their blood paints the town red, while mountains of left over khuboos on the streets tell a ghastly tale of last night’s dinner. More about that later.
The apartment I’m walking into was once Air India’s prestige HQ that housed cabin crew and up and coming air hostesses. Now a dilapidated three tower structure, generously divided as per class and rent paying parity into A, B and C is home to Andheri’s up and coming starlets on the fringes — the blood thirsty 21 somethings with wine red lips, tired locks and a perpetual urge to please who flock to Mumbai in search of their big break. But their first home is always Vijay Vishal CHS, now a paying guest service apartment with relaxed rules, and no curfews — the ideal sorority house for Andheri’s waitlisted
3 years into my life in Mumbai city, and two failed attempts at a relationship with my job, my social life or even with the city, I find myself back at the apartment complex I started my life in Mumbai at as an intern, probably hoping to find the romance in the city one last time.
This is the part of the city I’m most familiar with. As a struggler earning 12,000 a month, 6500 of which went on rent, I found my first rite of passage in Andheri’s Oshiwara, a little away from Lokhandwala, any struggling Mumbaikar’s downtown . Lokhandwala is a model’s cookie land, selling imitations of almost everything, Gucci gowns in cheap sequins, tight bodices, today’s latest fashion imitations in under five hundred bucks , tummy tuckers, fancy earrings , tattoo parlors, edible lingerie that you can try on for free while sipping sugar free protein lattes from cafes dotting the street , you name it- Lokhandwala has it.
More about that later.
Back to my apartment.
There are however success stories to this apartment too- boasts my broker, a lanky man-child with a questionable moustache who leads me into one of the apartments. Maneesh Raina , today’s esteemed ‘TV God’ and most eligible bachelors in TV town lived in this room, and it is deemed lucky, though your ambitions might not be the same, he states matter of factly, taking me in properly for the first time.
He asks for my rent parity and in a surge of panic, I blurt out the first figure that comes into my head. As a 23 something in a corporate job at a Television house, I can clearly afford more than most.
He smiles, he’s clearly found his A lister. he leads me into A block, the upper east side of the society, up a sloping flight of stairs and onto an apartment that looks relatively newer than the rest.
The living room is done up in purple ‘disco’ lights with a disco ball taking up the center piece of a chandelier. There are three beds placed adjacent to each other, a wooden cupboard placed beside each- the best market rate of a makaan for a struggler in Mumbai city. This is yours, he says gleefully, bouncing off on the bed adjacent to the door, he tells me my perks- I can get in and out and right into bed without anyone noticing, the TV is within craning distance, the disco lights will make me feel like I’m at a party all week long, the ventilation, vantage view into free bathrooms, first one waitlisted to access the master bedroom provided the girl who lives there wins this years’ Miss Grand International contest… he goes on and I tune him out. The unfamiliar familiarity of this place is already turning me on..
He leaves and I’m left in my 4” by 4” space , looking out the Andheri skyline in the distance for company. Its nearing 10 PM , which means my flat-mates busy lives are starting, opening for business, manager’s and pimps alike calling and bookings for parties or sightings beginning shortly as midnight on a Saturday night looms. i open my bag, pick up the two maggi packets stored in there and head for the kitchen. Just as my water is coming onto boil, in walks my flatmate from her room , a leggy anorexic prototype of a Mumbai model struggler, first copy Michael Kors bag in hand, face made up heavily with besan, curds and god knows what, hair in a bun and chai cup in hand. The thumb rule of living in these paying guest society’s is that no stranger is actually a stranger. Deep in the pockets of our complicated lives, we embrace each other, find allies, seek acceptance and validation. This particular prototype was no better.
She gives me a warm smile, and points to her patheli… chai? I make some really good adrak chai, just like my mother in Delhi.
I shrug, and point to my maggi.. want some?
No, today is my fast! Only chai, and maybe some lines later tonight. She smiles.
We sit across each other in silence, slurping chai as she tells me about the other roomates — Monica, the model cum actress who gives auditions day and night ( she is never home at night, you know why) , Samiksha the 16 year old, who has come to Mumbai to become a musician ( avoid her at all costs, she reeks of garlic!), Sana her best friend, the darker model with bleak chances of making it, ( I love her, but she’s just not fair or classy enough to cut it), Shefali, an advocate who left her job to model ( you MUST see her, she has no chance in hell) , and she- Akansha, I act in short films, yoga videos, the works.
She looks at me silently appraising me.
I work in TV, behind the camera.
Her frown clears and she smiles. “I love your bellies, they’re aww so cute”…
I smile back. She found a confidante in me, I found my escape in her.
The tone of her mobile brings us back to now. The clock ticks 11: 10 PM, and her manager Is calling.
To outsiders of this world, managers for waitlisted starlets are the voices without faces that thrive in the insides of Juhu and Versova who score them the latest spots at parties most of which happens in Bungalow 69, as eye candy on Saturday nights
They work the party, pouting their way through it- lines and alcohol keeping them on their cheap bejeweled heels all night, their twenty something youthful faces heavily made up, every inch of their body tweezed and waxed and open for inspection by the ‘insiders’ of Indian television biz. If they’re lucky they don’t make it back to their flat until tomorrow morning. A jackpot is a triumphant Sunday evening return, heels in hand, fake tans smudged off just in time to watch Dance India dance on television.
No arbitrating, Just empathy.
My latest friend was just getting her call for one. The night in oshiwara is still very young.