A Passage to India
My journey started out as what I thought would be a fun post-bar excursion: travelling to Mumbai, a place I had visited many times with my parents. This time, however, I would go alone. My agenda was simple. I would visit family, explore the city, and eat delicious food. Way in the back of my mind was a childish fantasy that, one day while sitting at Leopold’s Café, I might get picked up to be an extra in a Bollywood movie.
Armed with red jasper (supposedly a lucky stone for actors) and a desire to forget everything I never learned while studying for the bar, I set off for India.
The very next day, a twist of fate led me to find myself at the home of a major Bollywood film family, who happened to run a large production house. Our chat turned into a visit to the studios, which then turned into meetings at the office and, finally, those turned into an audition for the role of a foreign girl in an upcoming soap opera.
Sadly, I think the producers overestimated my ability to speak Hindi, while I underestimated the language requirements for playing a “foreign” girl. In the words of Howie Mandel, we had no deal.
But it wasn’t a total loss.
By some fluke, they decided to offer me a talent management agreement instead, assuring me that it was nothing a little Hindi practice couldn’t fix.
Is This What You Want?
On everyone’s advice to “think with a cool head” I dutifully returned home, contract in hand, for some soul searching. Weeks of deliberation led me to the obvious conclusion: this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I had to see where it went.
So, once again, my red jasper and I hopped on a flight to Mumbai.
Walk like an Egyptian
This time I landed with no plan except to become local enough to pass for a foreigner on TV.
My first order of business: obtain shelter. Airbnb proved unaffordable, Craigslist turned up empty, and I struck out with brokers. I was starting to lose hope when a desperate Google search finally landed me a flat shared with an established actress near all the production houses and their auditions. Weird.
From then on my days were filled with Hindi, Hindi, and more Hindi. The production house set me up with an amazing teacher and I studied the language 8 hours a day. During this period I was little more than a bumbling fool, getting laughed at by rickshaw drivers and relatives alike. At one point I even changed my Tinder status to “Hindi mein message kii jiye” (please message me in Hindi), to get as much practice as possible. The struggle was real, my friends.
It wasn’t all work, though. I managed to travel a little and hosted some visitors from back home. I also explored the city and made a fun group of friends.
All I want for Christmas is…no, definitely not that
After months that felt like years, my formal Hindi training ended. It was finally time to start looking for roles! As promised, the production house set up a meeting to discuss one possibility with me on Christmas Eve. I had heard that this movie was intended to launch new talent, which the director had done successfully in the past.
Unfortunately, when something sounds too good to be true…
The movie was — how to put this delicately? — a bit indelicate. I declined and left.
Home for the Holidays
The next day was Christmas Day and I was suddenly feeling incredibly homesick. Not even my friends kidnapping me to feed me donuts could cheer me up. (It’s a proven fact that donuts make everything better, so this was serious.) When I caught myself playing Michael Bublé’s “Home” for the thousand-and-first time, I decided it was time to change my ticket and head home.
New Year, New Approach
Freshly recharged from 2 weeks of gorging myself on Chipotle and sushi, I returned to Mumbai determined to find my way in Bollywood, with or without the production house’s help. Of course, I promised my mom I wouldn’t spend more than 6 months waiting for something to happen, and 4 of those 6 months had already passed so I needed to hurry.
My first order of business was to have my portfolio done by a local photographer. Then I would send it out and go for as many auditions as I could. Get ready, Mumbai!
Well, after hurrying to get started, it turned out there was nothing to do but wait. More friends visited. I practiced my Hindi, took on some freelance consulting projects, and kept waiting for the auditions to work out.
A month passed. But finally…
Things Start Falling into Place!
One of my auditions came through and I was selected to dance in a music video for a Punjabi movie! I couldn’t believe it — this was even better than my dream of being an extra!
After that, the tide turned. People started calling me for auditions instead of the reverse. I did about a half dozen ads that month, was selected for a movie, and was even in talks with two other production houses about potential movie roles. In my wildest dreams I never would have imagined this.
This surprisingly busy month ended with the 6 month “deadline” I had given my mom. I took this chance to visit Kerala and meet a celebrated life coach for some perspective.
Sonia the life coach was lovely. She conducted extensive spiritual analysis before finally concluding my life path was that of an artist.
A weight lifted. I felt peaceful.
That night during my celebratory “I found my life path” dinner, I checked my messages and discovered I had been offered another music video as well as a freelance consulting project. Naturally, the dates directly conflicted with each other so I could pick only one. Real subtle, Universe.
The choice was obvious.
If I’m definitely going to be an artist, I thought to myself, I had better start saving up some money. Consulting it was.
Season Finale: Mama, I’m Coming Home
Eventually the project ended and it was time to return home. I gathered my worldly possessions, said my goodbyes, and headed to the airport.
But what season finale would be complete without a twist?
I reached the airport on time, only to learn my flight was oversold and I was the lucky solo traveler who was bumped to the next flight. My disappointed groans were cut short by the airline representative handing me a voucher. I read it and did a double-take. It was a free one-way ticket back to Mumbai.
That, my friends, is where the story ends for now. I’m incredibly grateful not just for a Bollywood adventure beyond my wildest dreams, but also for the growth that happens when you’re completely outside of your comfort zone. In the process, I fell in love with a city and finally connected with my extended family in a meaningful way. It was a magical year, indeed.
As for what lies ahead, in the immediate future I predict a date with Jon Snow tonight at 9 PM. In the more distant future, will I use the ticket or not?
Well, your guess is as good as mine.