A new insightful four-episode documentary series, Bollywood Dreams, launched at Mumbai press club by Al Jazeera Media Network

A Potpourri of Vestiges Feature

House full at Mumbai Press Club Al-Jazeera documentary Bollywood Dreams. Courtesy: Anmol Saxena Twitter Timeline

Talking about Bollywood dreams Anjum Rajabali, President of Screen writers’ association said, “for every person who makes it, there are 10,000 who are looking at that thinking that this is what I would like to be, Rajni actually is a spirit and is rare. As far as the atmosphere of fear is concerned, let’s face it we need to raise questions which actually challenge their status quo which perhaps go against the perceived dominant belief in the society that’s causing anxiety…As a result of this there’s a lot of censorship. Anything can be twisted and there can be a case in court.”

“Don’t take anyone’s’ bullshit” Radhika Gopal, senior manager of an artist management company Tulsea says, Advising the young talent, “don’t feel the need to bear it, Don’t consider it to be the dues that you have to pay.”

For those dreaming of celebrity and stardom, the bustling metropolis of Mumbai is the destination. For those who flock here, the dream is to make it in Bollywood. The world’s largest film industry produces over a thousand films a year: a multi-billion-dollar business with some of the most recognized faces in the world - but for most, reality is much harsher. The dreams of very few ever come true...yet young and continue to hustle for their big break. 

Bollywood Dreams shines a light on the struggle of those still trying to become big stars and those behind the scenes who are the vital cogs keeping the industry going. Behind the glitz and glamour, the reality for most is unforgiving. Whether it be up-and-coming actors, background dancers or stuntmen, very few manage to eke out a living in Bollywood, and many struggle to survive. Despite this, thousands across India leave their homes for Mumbai, desperate for fame and success. What begins as chasing a dream often ends in tragedy. This four-part series goes behind the silver screen to meet some of these dreamers. Their stories reveal what drives them - offering insight into their lives. This series explores why, despite the challenges, they are so desperate to make it in such a cut-throat industry. 

Al Jazeera English’s talented multi-award-winning filmmaker Gautam Singh, who himself wrote and directed a Bollywood feature film - explores the hopes and dreams of those who are looking to make it. In this four-part series, the lens not only focuses on a few heartfelt individual stories but also reflects the wider India and the lives of some of its communities and artists in the context of the big Bollywood dream.

“With a yearly revenue of over USD 2.7 billion, Bollywood is flourishing. Yet, the majority of its workers live and work in pitiable, highly insecure and unhygienic conditions. Most struggle to eke out a living and are denied basic human rights and dignity,” says Singh.

Big Dreams is the inspiring story of Rajini a woman of very small stature who dreams of seeing her name all over the billboards of Mumbai as Bollywood's next big 'little' actor. However, the cultural expectations of being a woman from a small, traditional village add to an already tumultuous journey. She navigates her family's traditional expectations while she searches for fame and success in the world's biggest film industry. 

Bollywood’s biggest blockbusters are often action-packed with death-defying scenes. But behind the big screen are the stuntmen and women who risk life and limb to give these films the ultimate thrill. With hardly any safety measures in place on set, many of these unknown and underpaid performers often end up injured, or worse. Daydreams and Nightmares is the tragic yet hopeful story of Vidya Shetty. Once a stuntman in Bollywood, an accident on the job leaves him paralyzed. Now penniless and reliant on his family for everything, Vidya's life is not how he dreamt it would be. Yet despite his situation he hopes to return to Bollywood and reprise his risky profession one day. This is also the story of Narisha. Single and a woman in Mumbai, the cost of fame for her mean she is vulnerable to the advances of men who promise to make her a star. 

Dare to Dream,  is the story of Vijaya – a woman who lives, eats and breaths dance; her love being a traditional folk dance called Lavani. But her choice comes with consequences, especially as a woman in India. We watch as she chooses her passion over her parents and continues to dance despite traditional and cultural expectations.

The final episode, Recurring Dreamsis the story of Sunny and Prashant; one a young man at the start of his career and the other pushing 70. Both are struggling to realise their lifelong dream of finding stardom in Bollywood. Yet despite neither of them getting their big break, both maintain a façade of optimism, telling their families that success is ‘just round the corner’. Nothing could be further from the truth. 

“One thing AJE does well is to look at some of the major businesses and industries that are critical to a country, and delve into how they function- and what it means to the people in and around them and the impact it has on their hopes, dreams, and livelihoods. In this case, we look at Bollywood as it has not been seen before,” says Farid Barsoum, Executive Producer of the series.

“Through the series I aim to showcase the dark underbelly of India’s film industry in a unique manner,” says Gautam Singh. “Each film explores the painful realities of Bollywood’s struggling artists using the wide scope of the human experience from tragic to comedic and everything in between. The whole series offers an insight into a complex, diverse and unequal country, through the lens of one its most famous industries.”

Catch Bollywood Dreams on Al Jazeera English globally from October 2022.

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