Bollywood is a fascinating industry that makes some amazing web series, TV shows, serials and films…but also a bunch of horrible ones.
Every day hundreds if not thousands of people flock to Mumbai to see if they can make it on the evolving silver screen.
But unlike Hollywood (which is also difficult to get into), there is less of a process and no direct entry for Bollywood registration. This isn’t like engineering or medicine, where at least some path into breaking in is structured.
The good news however is that it’s never been a better time to try and be an actor in Bollywood or the rest of India. Amazon and Netflix are pumping loads of money into the country, along with the other studios like Hotstar, Zee5 and Alt Balaji.
If you have a flare of being charismatic or dramatic on screen…and you work hard, you can make things happen thanks to the good old internet.
Just remember, medical school is easier than making it as a superstar actor. Acting isn’t an easy profession to easy money, despite what society tells you…which ironically, is all an act.
So as someone who gets called almost weekly for some TVC (TV Commercial) or Web series audition or the other, I thought I’d share my experience, so you, the newcomer can know how to become an actor with no experience in Bollywood.
How Do You Enter Bollywood? First start recording yourself/posting on social media and shooting small films like YouTube or Instagram sketches, then sign up for local theater classes, and then use either platform to message contacts virtually or in person. You can also emcee or do stand up comedy, magic, singing or other creative things to grab interest from casting people.
Most people move to Bandra or Andheri East or West and think they’ll start taking acting classes and figure it out. But I can guarantee you while that might have worked at one point, these days you have a much better shot with doing that plus also staying busy with digital platforms.
Most casting directors and agents care about how you look on an expensive video camera for an ad they’re shooting, not how great your theater skills are to hold a bag of Doritos and say “wow yaar, yummy.”
They’ll also likely check your Facebook and Instagram anyways to see how you look in your latest stories and posts, so you may as well treat that as a resume.
Once you start getting basic ad work or small YouTube screen time, then you can increase your skills with acting workshops and drama. After that go ahead and try to find contacts at agencies like Kwan or whoever.
There’s a lot to consider as you learn how to become an actor in India let’s go!
How To Get Started in Bollywood
If you haven’t even messaged somebody who does theater in Bangalore or Chennai or Delhi, or attended a workshop, or watched many plays…why would you move to Mumbai and just think somebody is going to put you in a commercial because you have nice abs?
I’m not saying it won’t happen, but just like college kids make apps so they get a taste of the technology career lifestyle, you should also know what acting is REALLY all about right?
For the newbie with no acting experience who wants to get started in Bollywood, here’s a rough playbook of what you could do, whether you already live in Mumbai or are in another Indian city like Hyderabad or Pune.
- Get involved in local theater. Message those people who do it on Facebook or go to some play for a 100 rupee ticket, trust me, they need the audience as most theater plays lose money and any audience, even yet another acting hopeful is fine.
- Learn Hindi. If you’re Hindi is not great, start practicing it to make sure it is. Bollywood actors need to speak Hindi, whether for ads or small roles and eventually the movie gigs.
- Know friends or distant people who make YouTube videos or small commercials? Ask them if you can act in any, or hold a camera, or help with sound, or even serve tea. Yes, I get asked these things all the time and when I do need somebody, I look in my spam folder to see who recently emailed me rather than try to call 10 friends and see which one is available.
- Learn the basics of filmmaking. You can take a course on Udemy for like 500 rupees or start taking 100s of free courses on YouTube already. Don’t see a channel in Hindi? Go ahead and make one!
- Start making sure you have a nice Instagram feed, and put “aspiring actor” in your bio. IF you don’t believe in yourself, how will anybody else? And yes, casting people sometimes search based on that also!
- Get familiar with the acting lingo. Self test, sides (the script they want you to read), reference take, non compete (e.g. if you’re auditioning for Samsung they want to make sure you never did an Ad for Apple), etc… You can look at websites like Backstage to figure all that stuff out. TVC, Print, Digital, slates…all stuff you need to know.
- Try to work at a radio station as an RJ or producer. Try to join or start your own improv team. Talk to restaurants to let you do events there and invite your friends and record it.
- Eventually you will get called to audition for a commercial, whether on TV or YouTube. Then when people know you do this, you might get called to act in a web series or serial or TV show. From there, you’ll be on your way to small roles in films and more!
The majority of my friends are stand up comedians and all of them walked into Bollywood not by just trying to be an actor, but by building up a resume of talents for which Bollywood then called them.
Don’t just ask yourself “How Can I be an actor?” but also ask yourself “How Can I build up my portfolio online and in person so that people want me to be in their work?”
How Kubbra Sait Got Into Bollywood
Kubbra Sait is a friend of mine who I know through her brother Danish Sait.
Both of them interned at radio stations in Dubai and India.
From editing small commercials at a radio station on a slow Dell PC they eventually got to talk on the radio after a year or two, even recording jingles which are simple musical ads.
The work was probably peanuts but good experience in a medium that is now moving online.
Danish went on to make funny pranks on his Soundcloud, and Kubbra moved to Mumbai and started to get Emcee work.
She did any work, including:
- Shopping malls,
- company events…
- Earning 500 rupees emceeing thankless marketing activations (another thing you need to google)
- to then saving some cash to take acting classes in Mumbai,
- to then being a full time emcee who was eventually #paidToTalk and later #paidToAct.
Once the emcee stuff got her bigger projects, she then started hosting events and award shows where producers and movie people “Hey we should use her for that TV anchor role in our show” or “Hey she would be good to be a sports announcer in this film!”
While continuing to emcee as her full time job, Kubbra slowly landed roles in Salman Khan’s movie Sultan, Gully Boy and of course her breakout role as Kukoo in Sacred Games Season One.
Her brother Danish more or less did the same thing by leveraging Emcee and Radio work to start hosting IPL events and then move into the South Indian film industry.
The point is, in the Indian film industry everybody has their advice on how you should make it or try it. But when you have no experience the only technique is to make your experience and then things happen.
I know people who do hundreds of acting classes and land no work, and people who have never done any acting and get tons of roles. And everything in between.
How To Market Yourself in Bollywood
Once you have built a good Instagram following, taken a few acting classes and learned the ins and outs of the industry, now the real hustle begins.
If you don’t know anybody, try emailing casting companies in Mumbai directly off their website with professional photos and list of things you’ve done.
You’ll probably get 1 response out of 100, but it is a start.
From there, message small time actors or producers on Facebook and Linked In.
But again, the most important thing you can do is also try to write and shoot things on Instagram, Facebook, or whatever else. This is a sure shot way to get ahead and also give you experience you’re going to learn on set anyways (shooting, rehearsing, editing, angles, lighting, etc..)
How To Respond to an Audition
When you’re new, you can feel intimidated or nervous if somebody is calling you to audition for some Samsung or Godrej ad. Casting agents can also easily determine that based on the questions you ask and if you call them “sir,” even though many of them might also just be 21 or 25.
My suggestion, if you’re able to…act like you’ve done this 100 times. You’ll get a call like this:
“Hi, we saw your profile on Facebook (or Instagram or YouTube) and have a requirement for a TVC (Television Commercial). Can you come in for an audition?”
“Sure, can you send me the audition script or reference take on WhatsApp?”
A reference take is just somebody in their office doing the same audition so you get an idea of what they’re looking for.
You can also ask them (if you’re really confident) how much is the role, what language is the role in (Hindi, English, etc…) and if you can just send a self recording.
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These days you can make your own way as the gatekeepers no longer have as much power and a TV commercial will easily take the guy with followers and good theater credits than somebody who just knows the producer but otherwise only hang out in Santacruz coffee shops.
If you have specific questions comment them below and I’ll update this post with the answers!
Plus most people with large social media followings end up making more money through their influencing than even some of the TV shows!
They’re many ways to get into Bollywood, or Tollywood or even Hollywood so this post was just meant as a way to guide you on your options. I’m sure many people who went the theater/Mumbai dreams right probably have different viewpoints, but there is no one size fits all approach.
If there was, we’d all know about i by now right?
Auditions for Acting in Bollywood Movies
Most auditions for Bollywood films take place at offices in Andheri or Juhu, or via sending an audition recording via WhatsApp.
While casting couch days should be long gone, you should always exercise caution when going to some random building or studio.
Major casting companies that I know include Piyush Raina Casting and Casting Bay, although I’m sure they’re many others.
If you get a call, google them, check their Facebook page, look up the person’s number on TrueCaller and just do your general research to make sure the person seems sorted.
Direct Entry Into Bollywood
But what about that girl who got into a big movie at 21! Oh you mean Ananya Pandey or somebody else?
Well I’m sorry to tell you, but nepotism is alive and well. Just like your uncle got your cousin into Infosys, we as Indians network to our heart’s content.
Kangana Ranaut isn’t crazy, she just speaks the truth about people pushing their family favorites.
I’m not saying products of nepotism can’t act well (I’m sure some do), but for the average person with zero contacts, you have to build a portfolio on your own.
That means learning to do small roles in digital stuff that propel you further up.
That is exactly what folks like Nidhi Singh and Sumeet Vyas did with The Viral Fever (and more folks do daily) as well as Mithila Palkar with Dice Media and Filter Copy.
They probably made nothing or just 5 to 10K per video, and then went from there since people saw them act well. Ditto with Mallika Dua and AIB sketch videos and others who are making leap from YouTube to your local multiplex.
Bollywood Film Industry Jobs
If you’re reading this article you probably want to be an actor, maybe a director or producer. I would suggest if you have zero experience to make short films on YouTube and master your camera, whether it’s an iPhone, Canon 5D or Sony A7S (or whatever the newer ones are).
A basic 30,000 rupee camera or even less is enough to show your skills, and you can learn film editing for free using Premiere or other tools.
Another good way to break into the production crew, although doing sound and lighting in India aren’t the respectable union jobs they appear to be in the west, is to apply to production houses like Nirvana Films or Yolk Studio (both in Bangalore) or Supari Studios in Mumbai.
Sanjay Manaktala is a stand-up comedian, author of the Harper Collins Book “My Beta Does Computer Things: You’re Guide to the IT Industry” and digital content creator. His latest effort is the Birdy Num Num podcast, helping you learn creativity in life after engineering. You can learn about Sanjay here or check out his stand up comedy YouTube channel here.