Saturday, April 20, 2013

My 'so called' TV struggle

I am superlative emotional right now. For as long as I can remember I wanted to be on TV. I still remember I must have been four or five. Our landlords in Delhi had a friend who was remotely connected with the film/TV industry. I don’t remember his name. We used to call him Hero uncle. He had once come to our house and suggested I should be on TV. Not because I was a ‘cute’ kid. Far from. Because I guess I was a performer even then. Like all moms pushy, my mom had proudly exhibited my singing, dancing, drawing, painting and all kinds of talents in front of the ‘hero’ uncle and impressed the living daylights out of him.

Sometimes dreams come true when you stop chasing them. After trying at every vague opportunity to romance the camera, I had given up. Not really given up but made peace with it. I am an extremely practical guy. I had set 2010 as my deadline. I had resolved I would give my best till 2010 and let destiny take over post that. And boy I tried very hard. But when nothing materialized, it hurt a bit for sure, ok who I am kidding, it hurt a lot but I decided to move on in life and shifted my base to Dubai and joined a radio station here. In fact a month prior to taking up my job at City 1016 (the radio station I work for in Dubai) I had gone to Mumbai to try for one last time and met people at MTV, Zoom and various other channels. All of them told me to stick around; stay in Mumbai for 6 months and something would come up. It was a gamble and the safest guy in me wasn’t quite ready to play.

So here I was in Dubai, happily shooting my mouth off on radio, dear TV dreams long forgotten, that my radio station runs into a deal with a TV channel and a radio station goes visual. Yep it sneaked up on me when I least expected. It was like running into an old flame, with the same passion.

And now when the first episode will go on air this Saturday, my struggle to be on TV runs in a flash, like a show reel, few of I which I remember so distinctly.

My first audition was at one of the news channels. I was 19 then, in first year of college. I saw a bunch of nervous wrecks at the audition. I walked around like cat whiskers. Cool, calm, composed!! You are most confident in your teens I feel. At least I was. My name was called out. I went into a room where I didn’t see anyone, just heard voices, voices that talked to me and voices that talked to each other. I adjusted the lapel mike on my shirt and looked in between the camera and the auto cue. A voice instructed me then-

“Say something.”

“Something.”  My baritone voice boomed.

“Hahahaha..funny!! No as in give your levels.” The voice said. I also heard a faint female voice whisper in the background- ‘he is funny, cute and sounds so hot!’ That boosted my confidence. The rest of it was easy as a cake. I was confident I had cracked it. Alas! It was against company’s policies to take under graduates.

Then there were auditions at DD sports for a show called ‘Crossing the line’. I shot a couple of episodes, mouthing tongue twister of names that I neither could understand, nor phonetically articulate. I was paid a handsome amount. For the next three weeks DD sports had the highest TRP; the only time that had any TRPs. My friends and family assiduously watched it every evening sharp at 8, with cola, popcorn everything arranged. The episodes were never aired. 

And then there was this audition in the interiors of UP, a small village off ‘Noida.’ The word is ‘ghetto’. I was working for a radio station then, got a call from someone who told me a news channel in UP was hiring. I didn’t have a vehicle then. I took the metro, got down at the station and hailed an auto. The rickety rickshaw ride had me at the mouth of a filthy, narrow lane. The autowala refused to go in, so I walked, tip toeing around cow dung, slush and general rubbish. A stray dog stretched in the distance and a stay cow looked at me curiously. I reached the end of the lane, outside a dilapidated building, about to crumble any moment. It was more like a house, with a verandah that had a rusted iron gate that creaked the moment I pushed it. Three cycles and two scooters were parked in the porch and a cooler grumbled in one corner. A man sat at the table chair planted in the middle of the verandah. A table fan pretended to run. He looked up and shoved a register in my face. Before I could ask anything, he mumbled through his pan chewing teeth and drool –

“Fill up your details in the register and take the stairs for the audition room.”

The audition room was dark and dingy. A tube light hung loose on the wall. It flickered aching to come to life. There were ten to twelve odd people waiting for their turn. A man came and handed me the daily newspaper. He said like he had by hearted the line-

“Read the headlines, prepare your news and you have exactly 20 minutes.”

I saw a man with a hand held camera in the corner of the room. He shot all the candidates. I wondered if it was for real.  I didn’t judge. I auditioned. The results came almost instantly. Not at the cost of sounding too brash, I was the best they had auditioned in a million. They told me I would read the morning bulletin for a local cable news channel in Ghaziabad and be paid 15 thousand rupees every month. The funniest bit was that they said it with a sense of arrogance, like doing me a favor. It was a choice between my awesome job at radio that paid me five times more or reading news on ‘Tez news’, badlav ki lehar. It didn’t take me a second to decide. I looked at their smug, haughty faces and humbly declined the offer. Their jaws kissed the floor and I kissed another TV opportunity good bye.  

Once I had even travelled the lengths and breaths of Delhi to land in some godforsaken place in some remote part of Gurgaon. It took me 2 bus rides, one sharing cab, one cycle rickshaw ride and two hours to reach that place. The production house was in the basement of a house. I had no idea what shows they produced. Clueless I walked in and met the person concerned. He gave me a three page print out, asked me to get the gist of it.

“No worries, say it in your own words. We believe in being natural, so don’t be afraid, you can improvise.” He winked at me. Except how much could you really extemporize while explaining the functions of a Photostat machine? The script gave me a headache. “Electrograph, semi conductor, high voltage wire…” my head span! Yet I didn’t give up. I badly wanted to be on TV, even if it meant explaining how a photocopier worked on a channel called TOPPER. Dah!

Then there were some serious auditions at serious entertainment channels that very seriously rejected me.

Like NDTV good times.

I was doing the breakfast show on a popular radio station. I was quite a name to reckon with in the industry. Fuck that came out pretty immodest. I once spoke to the head of programming at NDTV good times and she asked me to come and audition.

It was a Saturday. I couldn’t sleep the whole night. I went up on the terrace and practiced my lines, rehearsed for a couple of shows; bollywood, lifestyle. I didn’t sleep a wink. I left for my radio show at 5 with a stupid grin on my face, thinking how I was just a few hours away from living my dream. I was very hopeful. After finishing my day at work, I reached NDTV’s office in Okhla sharp at 12. The office was almost empty. They had a five day week. I already loved ‘my’ new company. The Nepali officer at the reception asked me to wait for 5 minutes. No one attended me for almost 45 minutes. I called the Programming head up and finally a girl in typical NDTV attire; striped kurta, jeans, black rimmed glasses and floaters appeared from the glass door.

“Today is a bad day. The auditions can’t happen.” She was rude and distant. I could almost hear her say-

I hate this office, had a date with my boyfriend today, my boss is an arse and I have to work on a fucking Saturday…go hide your I-want-to-be-on-TV-face somewhere.

I was not ready to give up so easily. I hadn’t prepared all night long and travel to the other side of the world to hear this. She asked me to wait. And so I did. For EIGHT long hours.

Every half an hour I was told how they had only two camera people that day, one of them had fallen ill, and the other one had gone to shoot Deepika Padukone at the Oberoi hotel. The rude girl suggested me to go back at regular intervals but I didn’t budge. She finally melted and gave me a computer to surf on and a cup of tea. I youtubed songs, checked my mails, chatted with friends and whiled away my time.

I was sleepy, droopy and all things fatigued. I went on the terrace of their office, drank in the Okhla greenery and repeatedly practiced my script.

The camera man finally arrived. At EIGHT FUCKING PM. He was more pissed than the rude girl. My auditions meant more work for him on the weekend. He looked at the rude-girl-who-finally-melted and said-

“This (my audition) wasn’t even scheduled.”

Fuck it was. Talk to your fucking programming head, you retards. If there is someone who should flip his lid, it should be me, you grumblers. I thought.

“I told him to postpone.” She defended pointing towards me.

He looked at me from tip to toe, like most Delhiites do, gave me a disapproving look and almost sniggered. I didn’t react. He took ten minutes to set the frame and I was asked to shoot.

In that domineering, so oppressive air, fighting those patronizing smirks, I auditioned. Barring a few fumbles, I did pretty well. Three days later I heard the politest no in so many words-

“We are looking for a more mature face; you know that’s what ‘Good times’ is all about. You have a face for MTV or a Channel V, very young, very college. You would make a perfect fit there. We are sorry.”

Ironically three months later I went to audition for NDTV Good times’ youth show called Cool Q and they didn’t even let me test because I was 26 and the age cut off was only 25. And the TV dream eluded me one more time.

And then there was my visit to Mumbai when I met people at Zoom. Before flying to Mumbai, I spoke to their head called Vishnu. He is a thorough gentleman, a professional except he doesn’t easily answer his phone. But he would treat you like human beings and speak to you politely. He had set a date for me when I could go and audition. Also he had asked me to carry a show reel for uncalled for circumstances. So I landed at Zoom’s office in Mumbai. Vishnu had to rush for a meeting so he fixed my meeting with a chick called Roma who could redefine ‘being late’. If she was a period, no one would ever pregnant. She reported to work hours later I had reached their office, with NO APOLOGIES. She met the likes of me on a daily basis and tried her best to avert the audition.

“The studio is not available today.” She informed.

I gave her my show reel on a pen drive that she tried transferring on her computer but in vain. Some format incompatibility or some technical glitch that was beyond me. She asked me to reshoot myself and drop the CD. She was mad. She didn’t know what she was saying. She expected me to hire a studio, a camera person, and a camera, prepare a script, shoot the video, edit it and burn it on a CD and drop it at their office all in span of 2 hours.

I called Vishnu up. Ofcourse he didn’t answer. I tried frantically and pretty pointlessly too. Droopy shouldered I walked out. I had no clue what to do. I hit the Lower Parel market for some help, went to the Kodak photo studios, and asked them if they could burn my show reel on a CD but the file had gone corrupt. So Roma wasn’t really bullshitting. That meant a reshoot. HOW ON EARTH? I checked my bag and fished out my tourist camera. Not a professional one, but what the heck? It was time for some adventure

I kid you not. I actually explored the market area for a quiet spot in some corner. I actually stopped random people, people who were getting late to work/college/class/meeting to hold the camera and shoot me. Most of them declined. A couple of them who indulged me were so bad that it almost cracked me up; tight close ups, tilted shots, shaky shots, you name it and I had it. Finally a young college lad showed enthusiasm and we shot against a building under construction. It was a superb frame. Except we had to shoot a thousand times, every time a BEST bus honked by or a stray dog decided to bark or a nearby temple bells went berserk. And mind you I didn’t have the luxury of an edit, so I had to shoot everything in ONE GO!

After almost three hours, I finally had my show reel ready. I went to the same KODAK studio and got it burnt on a CD and made many copies. Right then my phone buzzed. It was Vishnu. He returned the call. I told him how Roma was acting pricey and said the studio wasn’t available for the audition. He lost it. He said he would get back in 5 and so he did with the good news- the studio was ready. I had to report in half an hour for my auditions. Dah. SO MUCH FOR MAKING A NEW SHOW REEL!!!

I auditioned and two weeks later I flew to goldener pastures- Dubai. I would like to believe they liked my auditions, called me up on my deactivated Delhi number and never got through. And yes I am very conveniently ruling out the possibility of tracing me down on facebook or gmail. I would rather believe I was way too good for them. Actually it doesn’t even matter now. It was never meant to happen then.

What matters NOW is my first TV show, my segment- The DVD store where I talk about movies, 13 movies that I watched, observed, made notes, researched and now tell you why you should watch them on a DVD if you missed it on the big screen.

All my life, I had shared my TV dreams with most of the people I got in touch with, thinking if I put it out in the universe it would come back to me. It has, now, so beautifully. Like the famous poem goes-

Success is counted sweetest
By those who never succeed.
To comprehend a nectar
Requires sorest need!