Once you’ve made it big, the opportunities become abundant, the so-called struggle to find your next project disappears and the focus changes from making money to challenging creativity and pushing your limits. At least, that’s what people say. The truth of struggle, perseverance, challenges and success is different for every artiste. But the fact remains, very few actors or celebrities choose to leave Bollywood behind, once they’ve attained a certain stardom or fame.
Priyanka Chopra Jonas stirred up a tsunami of speculation when she recently spoke of her ‘exit’ from Bollywood in a podcast in the US. She was quoted as saying, “I was being pushed into a corner in the (Hindi film) industry. I had people not casting me for reasons, I had beef with people, I am not good at playing that game so I kind of was tired of the politics and I said I needed a break.” People started asking if Bollywood’s elite and mighty stars had ganged up against PeeCee and showed her the exit? Shekhar Suman added fuel to fire as he came out in support of Priyanka’s words and said, “Priyanka Chopra’s sensational revelation has not come as a shocker. It is well known the way the cabal within the film industry functions. It will oppress, suppress and persecute you till you are finished. It happened with SSR (sic).”
Shekhar went on to elaborate that he and his son Adhyayan Suman had also been victims to ‘Gangs Of Bollywood’. He wrote in his twitter thread, “I know of at least 4ppl (sic) in the industry who have ganged up to have me n adhyayan removed from many projects.i know it for sure.These ‘gangsters’ have a lot of clout and they are more dangerous than a rattle snake.But the truth is they can create hurdles but they cannot stop us.”
Sensational claims aside, leaving a flourishing career, uprooting one’s self and attempting to restart in a new country, new discipline or new direction can be a daunting task. And yet, people have done it. In this week’s Big Story, ETimes looks at the reasons why a star would choose to move on. We also analyse what it takes to restart and rebuild. And of course, we also look at the proverbial return (or comeback as they say). Read on…
Does Bollywood have bullies, camps and gangs?
Shekhar Suman explains his stance in detail when he says, “We have talked about this clique that functions within the film industry. It’s almost like the Mafioso who control everything in terms of production, casting, everything. They cast from within their clique. If they see outsiders coming in and racing ahead then they make sure that they’re stumped. That has been going on for some time now. Sushant Singh Rajput was a victim of that. Despite doing well, suddenly he felt that his flourishing career had suddenly come to a halt. Probably that lead to his depression.”
Actress Somy Ali, quit her Bollywood career to settle down in the US. She has since become an activist for women’s safety and rights. Somy believes bullying and competition isn’t exclusive to Bollywood. She explains, “It is difficult in any field for someone who is a newcomer and unfortunately bullying and taking advantage of people is not a new phenomena. It has been there for generations and cruel people are a harsh reality of every realm in life. We have to take a stand for ourselves and find solace or seek advice from someone who is genuinely good hearted, because not everyone is malicious or else our world would fall apart and we would be leading a barbaric existence. No matter how talented one is, fate and destiny play a pivotal role in one’s success with the inclusion of pure luck. We have seen many super stars and how their children or siblings were unable to obtain the same kind of success.”
Actress Meera Chopra, cousin of Priyanka Chopra and Parineeti Chopra had come out in support of her sister stating what her illustrious sister has achieved in Bollywood and Hollywood is a ‘tight slap’ in the faces of her detractors. Speaking about B-Town’s unforgiving environ, she says, “To make a mark in any new industry is a scary proposition. Bollywood gets a bit tougher because it’s extremely camp oriented. Breaking into a camp is tough. You constantly have to work hard to make opportunities for yourself.”
Shanthi Priya, who gave up her acting career after she married actor Siddarth Ray in 1999 also affirms the thought that Bollywood has it’s camps and they make a difference in the success or failure of an artiste. She says, “New artistes have to know this very clearly, once you want to step into Bollywood, despite your talent you will need to have a group or a camp that keeps promoting you. You’ll at least need to be in an inner circle.”
Shanthi Priya also explains that the ‘camp’ advantage pales in comparison to the film industry’s reliance on pure luck. She says, “It can be scary because you don’t know which group or camp you fit in. If you don’t fit into any group or camp, it can be a scary position for newcomers. But even if you fit into a group or a camp, it is your luck that also matters. There is no assurance at all in Bollywood or for that matter any other film industry in India.”
End of the road versus beginning of a new adventure
Any professional nearing the end of their career or facing challenges with new opportunities usually has a choice with their endgame. You either hang your boots and retire, or you pick up the gauntlet again and kickstart a new challenge, forge a new path into a new career. The choice is always personal. Actor Kabir Duhan Singh, who was supposed to debut with a Hindi film alongside Shiney Ahuja was left at the crossroads when his very first film was shelved. Instead of giving up, he pivoted his career to theatre and that led him to becoming a sought-after name in Telugu and Tamil cinema, playing roles of menacing antagonists.
Kabir subscribes to the thought of finding more work instead of quitting and says, “There are a variety of options available for artistes to explore if their career in Bollywood slows down or comes to a halt. They may consider working in other film industries such as Tollywood, Kollywood or other regional cinemas in India. Alternatively, they may look to explore opportunities in television, theatre, or other creative fields both within and outside of the entertainment industry.”
Shekhar Suman had branched into television in the 90s, making a successful second innings as a talk show host. He feels reinvention and a second career are an absolute must. He says, “Unlike earlier actors who were only confined to acting, today’s actors are also entrepreneurs. They’re looking at all aspects. Like Shah Rukh Khan buying a cricket team or Ajay Devgn getting into directing films. Adhyayan is an actor but he’s also a singer, director and a fantastic editor. I tell him to put all his talents together and see if he can add more feathers to his cap. You should always have something to fall back on.”
Meera Chopra has decided to turn producer to ensure she makes the kind of films that she wants to and doesn’t have to rely on other producers to get good roles. She lists the merits of actors-turning-producers once the prime opportunities dry up. She says, “Production is definitely more sustainable. One is not dependent on outside forces to decide what’s best for you. An actor can make their own content and thus have more freedom of creativity.”
Model-turned-actor Aseem Merchant who was reportedly dating Priyanka back in their modelling days feels turning to production is a very organic process. That’s exactly what he’s done and he explains, “Like in any business, there is only a certain amount of growth after which you need to diversify into connected avenues. In case of actors, it can be production, branding or marketing. It’s always better to plan your future and lay a stronger foundation that doesn’t depend on just your popularity. A self sustained business model is always reliable and future proof.”
Personal battles, relationships and family life are big influencers
Whether you’re in the corporate world or in the creative sphere, maintaining a work-life balance is crucial. More often than not, career changes and retirement decisions are influenced directly by what’s happening in your personal life. Priyanka Chopra was slated to appear alongside Salman Khan in Bharat back in 2019. But she had to opt out of the film because she was getting hitched.
Karisma Kapoor quit acting completely for almost a decade after she married and had kids. In a recent interview with ETimes she had revealed, “It was out of my choice. My kids were young. I wanted to be at home. I started working at an unusually young age. I was working right out of school, literally. And I’d done so many movies back to back. I had worked four shifts a day for multiple years. The point was that I had done a lot of work and I think it reached a kind of burnout. And then it was my choice not to keep at it. I didn’t want to leave my home and get hurt. I didn’t want to go to an outdoor location for 100 days. It was my choice to take it easy.”
Actress Zaira Wasim who was seen in Dangal and Secret Superstar, both massive international hits, chose to walk away from the limelight in 2019. In a detailed Facebook post, Zaira had said that she would rather focus on her religion and self-growth than be an actor. In her post she had written, “For a very long time now, it has felt like I have struggled to become someone else. As I had just started to explore and make sense of the things to which I dedicated my time, efforts and emotions and tried to grab hold of a new lifestyle, it was only for me to realise that though I may fit here perfectly, I do not belong here.”
Somy Ali feels life always gives you a sign when you have to quit and move on. She explains, “It takes a tremendous amount of sacrifice to succeed. As Shah Rukh has always said, if you want to succeed forget about eating, sleeping, slacking and spending time with your friends, and even your own family. There are many sacrifices to be made in order to succeed and if you have given 100 percent and you still have hurdles, it’s more than a sign to choose another career.”
Speaking out could mean ending your career
Big names like Priyanka and Oscar-winner A.R. Rahman have acknowledged that life in Bollywood is no cake walk. They’ve revealed that other people’s perception and actions end up affecting a person’s career prospects. While stars of the stature of PC and Rahman can probably get away with speaking the absolute, unfiltered truth, others might not be as lucky.
Meera Chopra feels only a select few can air their outrage and still expect to work in the film industry. She says, “There is no open environment that can ever be achieved in Bollywood. Only those come out and speak who have nothing to lose or have achieved a status where talking against the system will not harm them. It’s difficult for a person to bash the system and still harbour aspirations of working here.”
Shanthi Priya gets worked up at the thought of her voice being muzzled. She declares confidently, “Actors who give 57 takes are called superstars but the actors who have worked in this industry for 30 years and proved themselves with their acting skills, someone like me who has also done 35 movies in a span of 4 years, has to still go to auditions to prove their acting skills. This is what our industry is all about. This is how difficult it is to come back again after you’ve quit.”
Aseem Merchant has a more conservative approach to the matter. He feels artistes owe some allegiance to the industry and says, “I believe it is not fair to throw brickbats and malign the industry that gave you so much. Success and failure are both part of the game and should be embraced gracefully.”
Never say never, comebacks are always around the corner
Despite the brouhaha of Priyanka Chopra versus Karan Johar in the past few days, speculations came to an anti-climactic grind when videos surfaced late evening yesterday, featuring PC and KJo hugging, laughing and enjoying at the party of Nita Ambani’s Cultural Centre opening in Mumbai.
History has proof that even the most disgruntled of people have mend bridges and gotten back to their careers once the hurt and pain has settled. Kabir Duhan Singh says, “The industry has a history of welcoming back established stars and there have been numerous instances where actors have successfully revived their careers after a hiatus. Ultimately, the success of a comeback depends on a variety of factors including an artiste’s talent, public image and market demand.”
Somy Ali reasons that people skills matter the most when one decides to return to the profession. She says, “Making a comeback depends on how that actor left the industry. Whether or not they continued to maintain certain relationships with producers, directors and even their co-stars. All of this comes into play if one wants to make a comeback to the Hindi film industry. It’s not feasible or helpful to burn bridges if one wants to return, but not at the cost of one’s self respect and dignity.”
Meera Chopra puts it succinctly when she says, “Comebacks are difficult merely on the basis of your talent.” Shanthi Priya seems to agree as she lambasts the lack of opportunities. She says, “It becomes very difficult to move back into the industry even if you’re a talented and sincere actor. You need a group or camp to back you, promote you and get you to work. I get pissed off by this question, ‘Is it easy to make a comeback?’ I am slogging my butt since 2008. Everyone talks about my acting and my movies but I have only got a chance to work in Dharavi Bank on MX Player. I am still struggling my ass off to get offers. I’m still going at it.”
Aseem Merchant though, tries to sum up the situation by citing Zayed Khan’s return. He says, “If you have the potential you will always bounce back. Look at the case of Zayed Khan who is making a comeback with a film produced by my banner. We chose him because he was the only one who could do justice to the character. If you’re deserving, you will always matter!”