“Beyond Bollywood” is a feature documentary filmed over a period of four years, that follows the journeys of four characters working on the fringes of the worlds’ biggest film industry. In Mumbai, where the stark contrast between the rich and the poor is blatantly apparent, the reality is a grueling process in a cut-throat industry, churning out more films a year than any other film industry in the world. “Beyond Bollywood” intricately weaves together four narrative stories of an Australian backpacker who stumbles upon a career as ‘the white extra’; a powerful Union worker who becomes the ‘leader’ of the laborers on set; a diva make-up artist who is popular for creating the glamorous look of Bollywood actresses; and a small-town girl who holds onto her naïve hopes of one day “making it” in Bollywood, like her favorite superstar. By intertwining the stories, the universal story that lingers deep within everyone that is drawn to the entertainment industry is told: the dream to become somebody; a superstar in their own right. “Beyond Bollywood” offers an in-depth insight into the reality behind following ones dream in present day modernizing India, which in our celluloid era can be dubbed as a culture that identifies itself as ‘Bollywood’.
Like hundreds of young girls from small towns in India, Pooja comes to Bombay dreaming to make it big in Bollywood. The daughter of a police officer who had passed away due to cancer, it is not an easy decision to make for Pooja. The responsibility falls squarely on her as her mother, mentally disabled brother and police-woman sister make the move with her to the city.
Pooja dreaming of following in the foot steps of Madhuri Dixit, Bollywood’s sweetheart superstar of the 1980 and 90s, she has ambitions of one day making it big. After a few months of struggle, Pooja is picked to be part of a well-known choreographers’ dance troupe and this is her first big entry into Bollywood. However reality is not as easy as she hoped when the older dancers in their cliques and the foreign girls who have no qualms showing off more skin make it hard for Pooja to rise to success.
Amidst the struggle of juggling a career and supporting her family, Pooja falls in love with a theater actor who her mother disapproves of. As preparations take place in her family for her sisters’ arranged marriage, Pooja is conflicted between her personal happiness and her responsibilities to her family. Like many others, Pooja’s story represents the transformation taking place in modern day India today, where old traditions and values have to be re-considered in order to survive in today’s new cosmopolitan landscape.
Prem Singh Thakur
Occupation: Union Leader
Prem Singh Thakur, also known as Premji, is a popular man behind-the-scenes. From workers to producers, everyone in the industry knows and somewhat fears this man and his pack of union workers. He travels the length and breadth of Mumbai for daily checks at shooting locations to ensure that workers are being paid and treated fairly. He pulls his weight as an Union boss and is seen as a very controversial character in the Bollywood industry. In fact he even calls himself the “Superstar” for the workers as he calls himself the Amitabh Bachchan (Bollywood superstar legend) of the workers.
But his single-minded dedication to his work comes at a cost. He is head to head with his pragmatic son, Manish, who is a production manager at Fox TV. Manish is opposed to his father’s socialist values and feels that Premji should spend more time with his family, which is being ignored in the process. But Premji is fine with making practically no money and taking on this high-stress job, which over the years, has taken a huge toll on him. His health suffers and he has to undergo a surgery and is forced to take time off from work. However the union elections are due, and Premji is no longer in a position (as he would have been in the past) where his post would go unchallenged. Premji is forced to make a choice – does he wish to look after his health and spend more time with his family or contest the next election and continue to fight for his worker’s rights?
Occupation: Make-up Artist
Ojas is a successful makeup artist who has worked with virtually every famous Bollywood actress in the last two decades. Being the brand ambassador for L’Oreal and regularly appearing in the press, he represents the inner world of Bollywood and speaks with great insight about the industry and how it works. Ojas has had his own struggles to over come in his rise to fame, being born as a man but wanting to become a woman he had to over come a variety of challenges to establish himself as the top make up artist in India.
Ojas, who is quite a diva himself but still manages to fulfill all the duties of the only son in his family. He lives with his parents and looks after them; he accepts an allowance from his dad who handles his accounts, and is chided by him when he overspends. However, because Ojas has a lot to prove to his family as well as the catty backstabbing colleagues in his field of work, he is a workaholic determined to be above the rest. With a hectic work schedule and globe-trotting for bridal make-up jobs, his ultimate goal is to find a sense of home, literally, in a plush apartment in a rich neighborhood of Mumbai. His story represents the need to prove ones’ success in terms of revenue. You can be whomever you want in Bollywood, as long as you have what it takes to pay for it.
Like many foreigners who come traveling to Mumbai, Harry Key is an Australian backpacker who is picked up to be on a Bollywood film set. With quick success Harry is convinced that he can make a career for himself. Given the lack of white or “foreign” actors in Bollywood, Harry is able to find work in Indian films and ads. Enthusiastic about the possibilities, a very young Harry, fresh from a theatre course in Australia, decides to stay on in Bombay to make it as an actor. Harry finds himself doing all sorts of work – from cameos in popular cinema and television to B-grade films and tacky advertisements that he hopes no one shall see.
His dream is to make it like Tom Alter, a Caucasian actor who has been an integral part of the Bollywood film industry since the 1970s. Determined, Harry works hard on his Hindi; he even goes for hypnotism classes to stay focused on the task before him. He is eventually rewarded with a leading role in a film about India’s independence struggle, playing a British officer. Unfortunately the film never actually releases, which leads to a long period of frustration and letdowns. Bad reviews on his acting for another film leads Harry to reconsider whether there is ever going to be a place for him in the long haul in the Indian film industry.