(Keep reading to the bottom and there’ll be a small surprise waiting for you)
Some say India soon will have the biggest middle class in the world, but it’s difficult to get a clear picture of this, while one study says India’s middle class has doubled in size over the last 8 years, another cast doubt over the way the middle class is defined. Even if though the size of the middle class is a bit unclear – it’s clear millions of people have been able to pull themselves out of poverty, and most people now have the ability to provide enough food and clean drinking water for themselves, the sad thing about this is between the 1980 and 2014, the “rich people” got 10 times richer, while those in the middle didn’t even double their income.
When you walk the streets of Mumbai you’ll see thousands of tiny shops – but most of them have men working there – I visited a quite big Saree store in Mumbai, and it only had men working there for some reason. Today barely a quarter of Indian women work — A number that surprisingly has been dropping the last decade. [ 1 2]
When staying in India’s most populated city Mumbai, I meet Yashashri, an Indian actress and who’s been working since she was about 14 years old, and therefore a big exception from that statistic.
“The most common misconception about India is probably how illiterate and poor people are because that’s the way we’re depicted in books and Hollywood movies. But it’s not true, we have poor and rich people just like every other country.” – Yashashri
“I grew up in a little suburb to Mumbai called Vasai where I was in my first real play when I was about 12 – 13 years old. The play was called “Swatantryachi 50 Varsha” (50 years of freedom) and that’s basically when I realized I wanted to become an actor” – Yashashri
I am extremely lazy and Yashashri is extremely not – I don’t even think it’s intentional, she just somehow ends up filling your whole day, like when we went to the Unesco World Heritage protected Elephanta Island where I basically got dragged around by my own personal guide, only interrupted by a selfie here and there… And no, they weren’t asking me anymore – Ha! I don’t care if it’s a man or woman, fat, thin, old or young – but the absolute best way to really experience a country is with local you can consider your friend… Of course… It’s doesn’t hurt that they look like Shri does.
India, with a population of more than 1,3 billion people is predicted to surpass China within the next 4 years. It’s one of the most influential and powerful countries in the world, with a seriously complex and detailed cultural history, spanning thousands of years of mostly Hindu philosophy and theology.
“The most important holiday in India is probably Diwali – Every part of India is lit with colorful lights – People are dressed up nicely, so there’s a festive mood. We have a specific tradition that defines each day, and usually make decorative designs called rangoli with colored powder or flowers outside of our houses.
Diwali is a celebration of the lights victory over darkness, and is said to have started when Lord Rama returned back to his village after killing the demon king Ravana, the people in the village lighted dia’s (lamps) for him – and that’s where it started.” – Yashashri
Modern India is profoundly different with its own colossal film industry, that while it’s still not even close to challenging Hollywoods yearly revenues, it’s still for me almost always a hell of a lot more interesting, because unlike the Hollywood I’ve grown up with and watched so much of, it’s almost impossible to guess how the story of a Bollywood movie will go – One minute the hero is close to death, the next he’s doing a singing and dancing number? WTF??? I love it!
Working as an actress
“Working as an actress is usually great fun, but there are difficulties like you don’t get the script in advance for soaps – so you have to be able to just read it once or twice and then create the character.
For me it’s can be especially difficult because I’m dark colored, and India is obsessed with “fair´´ skin – so I can get rejected for a role solely because of that.
Correct safety equipment and facilities is also a big problem, I myself have worked on a project where one of the guys managing the lights died because of – well because it wasn’t correctly equipped.
For people who lose their lives, there is no pension plan that goes to your family – only the government employees get a pension.” – Yashashri
In the middle of December, I was first-hand witness to some of the difficulties of been an actress in India when I joined Shri for a meeting with the producer and the programming head, basically the 2 guys who ran everything.
“The biggest and most common challenge is getting what the studio owes you. I always have to wait a couple of months to get paid, sometimes 2 – 3 – 4, and sometimes they might even say they don’t have the money, and try to convince you to agree on a settlement – Which might mean you only get 1 Lakh (100.000 rupees) out of the 5 Lakh’s they owe you. So you’ll just have to wait, and hope they give it to you at some point.” – Yashashri
These guys are brilliant at what they do, and here I’m not talking about the actual production of entertainment. They were 2 big intimidating guys, the programming head a chubby guy with a with a blue shirt that is open down below the nipple line, glasses, silver earrings and a big black watch about the size of a teacup.
The producer, a tall guy that had shrunk down to half his size’s, trying his best to signal: “Ooh poor me”, hunched over, with arms between his legs instead of on the table, and occasionally flopping them around resignedly.
Shri first called and started asking for her money a good month a half before I met her. While we were traveling around Mumbai she was calling them every day – trying to get a clear answer that they would actually stick too. But these guys just keep staling, giving her one excuse after another – a process they seem all too familiar with.
“If you do try to complain to the government about it, the studio will label you as a troublemaker, and won’t want to work with you again. It can be a real problem because some of them are well connected, and might not only be able to decrease your chance of getting work elsewhere but also might know the people you complain to, so now you still don’t have your money – and no new work either.” – Yashashri
It feels a lot like there making you beg for something that is already yours. Shri’s passion is acting, and not arguing, especially not just to get something that is owed to her – I on the hand love arguing, and was throughout the whole charade itching inside to give it a go’.
The producer just kept repeating the same offer as the programming head had done earlier, and then finally turned to me, probably because of the misconception that my lack of noise, meant I was a dull and timid guy – instead of just respect for not butting in on Shri’s business. Sadly, having logic, right and cunning on your side doesn’t help much when the guy in front you don’t feel like there is any danger in just denying you your money, but instead actually just sees weeks of toying around with his employes and the 1 hour of arguing as an easy way of “earning” an extra 400.000 rupees.
To cut it short, the producer ends up running out the door with the excuse that he had to go’ see his son’s something something random recital *coughbullshitcough*, after we had been waiting for this douchcanou to show up for 4 hours.
This was the first time Shri had tried to stick to her guns and keep demanding to get her money, mostly because the settlement they were suggesting was such a ridiculously big pay cut, out of something that should already be hers, that it for me seems more like robbery, so she had decided to give it go’. She had already been to a actors union a couple of weeks before the meeting where they had told her the producer was a repeated bad payer – so they could, of course, help her get her money for a fee, but it probably wouldn’t go’ any faster than what she could do herself – quite the opposite actually.
So it ended up with her getting a slightly bigger portion of her money “now” (now meaning 2 weeks of bullshit later) and the rest would be divided out over the next 5 month instead of 6.
So why become an actor?
“Because I enjoy it, I didn’t become an actor to earn money or to become famous – I enjoy getting to play different people, and show the emotions and struggles of someone else – that’s the fun part.
I realized it at a young age, where people usually don’t have an idea of what they’re doing or who they want to become. But for me, I felt it in my heart.
I had been working in call centres for about 3- 4 years, all the while having it in the back of my mind, that I wanted to become an actor – so I was meeting with people and doing auditions in my spare time – but I didn’t know how to put on makeup or how to present myself, and looked very simple in world where you’re always supposed to look glamorous.
So at the age of 19, I entered a beauty pageant to learn from the other contestants and to get introduced to the media world at the same time – but being selected to run, meant I had had to quit my job without knowing if I would get picked or not, because we had to go to a sort of pageant “boot camp´´.
The boot camp took 20 days and I ended up with a 2. place, basically because I had a natural talent for acting and because I had paid attention in school and was knowledgeable enough to give them meaningful answers to their questions.
Quitting my job and focusing full time on acting meant I ended up getting my first lead in a serial called Laxmanresha (It means a line you are not supposed to cross – it’s in reference to Ramayana a Hindu). The role was as a kabaddi player, which is an Indian game I luckily already had loved to play in school.” – Yashashri
Getting anywhere at a reasonable time with a fanatical animal lover like Shri can be quite a challenge. So much so, that you at times have to consider bonking her on the head and throwing her over your shoulder just so she doesn’t stop at every single dog in the street to feed it Parle G crackers while picking ticks out of its fur. And India is with all the trash basically the perfect breeding ground for dogs, so there’s a lot of them. But they’re ‘’mans’’… Or probably more accurately here, woman’s best friend – so I admit, it is difficult to just work past a 100 daily puppy-dog eye.
“The best thing about India is the freedom I have to express my views, and the freedom I have to do and learn anything I want – India has everything, forests, mountains, access to the ocean and a very rich culture that goes back thousands of years. It’s a spiritual country where people still believe in trusting and helping each other.
It’s a very progressive country, but there is still so much we need to change, like if you, in other countries, pee on the street – that would be considered gross and disrespectful, but in India you can spit, pee and litter on the street – but you can not kiss and hug in public. If you do, people will look at you as if you have just committed the greatest sin of them all, and even object and intervene.
So you can spread trash, but not love?” – Yashashri
In the few months, I was lucky enough to spend with Shri, I meet an almost uncrushable spirit and belief in what lies in her future. You don’t need money to be happy, but – it helps – for me if there was a good reason to become ridiculously rich, other than the freedom it would give, it would be to give the support help talents like Shri could use to rise to the future she’s working towards.
“I’ve always wanted to create something – of course the acting is an art in itself, where you are creating something – but it doesn’t feel like it’s enough, I have more to offer – so I see myself creating more content myself, like films, web series or even youtube videos.
And I see myself traveling more, despite the responsibilities I have to my family here in Mumbai, I also have a responsibility towards my soul – which is longing to get out of the city and see the world.” – Yashashri
Over the last couple of month, we’ve tried to help each other out in various ways by utilizing each others experience, my love for everything techy and Shri’s love for everything cinematic – which might even end out in a short film sometime later this year.