My popularity as a Bollywood baddie did not stop my yearning to evolve as an actor and venture into new avenues. That’s what took me to the West. But my confidence quickly faded as the offers back home started to dry up. There were times when I would fly in from LA but say that I had been in Hyderabad because, unsure of the reactions, I was afraid if I told my colleagues the truth, it would only put them off.
In Hollywood, you can’t make any inroads without an agent or a manager and those I connected with were unwilling to represent me because I was an actor who was always in transit. They wanted me to leave my country and settle down in LA, as others had done before me, so I would always be available for meetings and auditions, which, they pointed out, could happen at an hour’s notice and slip out of my fingers in the time it took me to fly down from India.
Others even suggested that I take a weekly crash course, or one that was a few months in duration, at one of the many acting schools in LA to learn how to make an impression at auditions. At these classes, some guy who had done a handful of films would take US$200 to guide you on how to pass the Hollywood acid test. ‘Wear clothes like these . . . Look the person in the eye . . . Fold the pages properly . . .’ The instructions, often banal and not offering anything I hadn’t known, would go on and on. After all these tips, they would read the scene with me and tell me how to act it out. Back in my country, I was a big star, but in the US, I was being asked to learn acting like a novice.
I was also directed to acting cafés where if I hung out, I was told, I stood a good chance of catching the eye of a casting agent. It reminded me of my struggling days in Mumbai and all the posturing outside Pamposh Restaurant and in the Mehboob Studio car park. The ploy hadn’t worked in Bollywood and I knew it wouldn’t work in Hollywood either.
In the early days, like so many of my Bollywood counterparts, some of them A-listers here, I did go for a few auditions. But I found them to be lacking in creativity and humiliating. Forty or fifty actors would gather at a Hollywood studio, casting building, or a casting agent’s office. After you registered yourself, you were handed some sheets detailing the scene you were to act out. On occasions, your agent would have faxed you the scene before the audition so you were better prepared. You were then directed to a room upstairs where other hopefuls were waiting. And in that instant, you became a face in the crowd.
Standing or sitting in a corner, you learnt your lines, praying you wouldn’t fumble. You worked on your moves even as you watched the other actors, many far from perfect for the part, do the same. Everyone was vying for the same role and the cold vibes were all too evident. Exuding presence and confidence that came from the hundreds of films in my kitty, I posed a serious threat to them. I could almost hear them thinking, ‘God, if you are in my corner, let that bloke suffer a heart attack this very moment and die before his name is called so he doesn’t cut me out of a lifetime’s chance.’
The competitiveness, so blatantly palpable, made me blanch, and on many occasions, I’d make a dash for the washroom. When I asked one of the aides where it was located, I would be pointed to one on the ground floor that had a handwritten notice and lots of instructions, both outside and inside the loo, including ‘Don’t carve scenes in my toilet.’
The process was all the more demeaning for someone like me who was a superstar back home. On one occasion, I turned up an audition to find myself in the midst of ‘fans’. They were mostly NRIs living in LA. Some had come down from Orlando, Arizona and New York to try their luck. All of them had regular jobs and had come to audition for a lark. When I strode into the room and took a chair, they recognized me immediately. From the puzzled looks on their faces, I knew they were wondering what a star like Gulshan Grover was doing there as they queued up for my autograph. To begin with, they believed I had swung by to meet the boss, but when they realized that I too was in the running for the same role of an ‘Indian guy’, I could clearly see that they were disillusioned. Unable to face them, I had turned tail and ran out of the studio.
Excerpted with permission from Bad Man An Autobiography, Gulshan Grover with Roshmila Bhattacharya, Penguin Random House India.