From Mumbai to Dubai to Bollywood to Hollywood by Rustom Mistry. Published in 2018 by Notion Press, Old No. 38, New No. 6, McNichols Road, Chetpet, Madras 600001. Pp: xiv + 108. Price: Rs 200.
Mistry makes it clear in his preface that this is not a work of fiction and is a truthful and honest account of his life. Some editing would have helped as what is significant for an author may not interest the reader.. There is nothing really memorable about his childhood which is narrated in too much detail and in flat prose. A resident of Malcolm Baug in Jogeshwari, he attended the St Blaise’s High School which was located near the Filmalaya Studio. Mistry devotes several pages in describing the usual childish pranks, driving his car surreptitiously while he was still underage, cycling with his friends without informing his parents, visits to the cinema hall which seem to be an obsession with Mistry since childhood.
His next stop was Dubai where he worked successfully for several years and drove fancy cars, till he was forced to return to India as a result of the Gulf war and personal circumstances. Then follows a never-ending laundry list of all the films in which he has taken part. Often titles of films and roles he has played are merely mentioned without any anecdotes to make them interesting. Whereas it is evident that Mistry holds Bollywood actors and actresses in great awe and respect but the constant practice of following their names by “saheb” and “ji” as well as the repeated reference to him and his friends as “devils” or the strange expression, “with due respects to everyone” becomes a bit repetitive and monotonous.
The most interesting part of the memoir are the difficulties he faces as a minor actor and the demeaning and atrociously inhuman behavior meted out to him. He is called for shoots at unreasonable times, made to wait for his turn for hours. Very often he is not paid by unscrupulous coordinators and has to make repeated calls for his payment; the coordinator frequently shuts off his cellphone or does not respond to his calls. On one occasion, fairly late in his career when he is in his 60s, to get his dues, he had to wait at the bank from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. when rain was pouring and he was running a temperature; the amount, he wryly remarks, has yet to be received.
Mistry describes two similar incidents vividly and in great detail when he was shabbily treated. When a leading actor suddenly could not be present for a shoot, a coordinator called Mistry and asked, at short notice, to step in. The appointment was for noon and Mistry waited patiently to be called but none was forthcoming. Finally, when lunch was served at 2.30 p.m. on a “beautiful buffet table,” he was stopped and curtly informed that he could not eat with the other actors even though several other background crowd actors were helping themselves at the table. He was led down a narrow pathway to a spot where “the film’s miscellaneous workers, like carpenters, painters, light men, helpers, etc were already having their lunch.” Mistry went on a hunger strike and refrained from eating. On one of the occasions, Mistry went off in protest and refused to return to the set, in spite of several calls from the coordinator as well as the production team.
Compared with the chaos and disorder of Indian auditions, Mistry describes an occasion when he was called for The Letters, a Hollywood biopic on the life of St Teresa. The audition was carried out in a polite, orderly and efficient manner, there was no waiting around pointlessly doing nothing, the script and the scenario were provided to him and he was given a short time to prepare. When he did finally get the role and was called for the shoot, the foreigners were very friendly and time-schedules were strictly maintained. “It was really an amazing, enriching experience to work with this professional and meticulously organized Hollywood team.”
It is this glimpse into the life of a small-time actor, narrated without bitterness or complaint, which makes the memoirs interesting.