There’s nary a streak of grey in their hair and one of them graduated from theatre school less than a decade ago, but now that they’re set to assess a new era of Bollywood talent, the freshly minted judges of Bollywood Star are taking stock of their own careers.
“I guess we’re no longer the next cool young hot talent anymore,” admitted Richie Mehta, a Mississauga, Ont., filmmaker who has enjoyed international critical acclaim on the strength of his debut feature, Amal. “Remember that moment, where we were the next ‘it’ thing?”
“We’re like one generation in, we’re looking at a new generation,” said Anita Majumdar, a B.C.-born dancer and actress who has soared to prominence after starring in the film adaptation of Salman Rushdie’s novel Midnight’s Children.
“We’re getting old,” chuckled actor Rupinder Nagra, who was raised in Hamilton, Ont., trained in improv at Toronto’s Second City and starred in Mehta’s Amal.
For the three, who were named on Monday to the panel of Bollywood Star — a North America talent search that will be presented as a documentary series on OMNI TV and offers contestants the chance at securing a role in a Bollywood film — the show offers some much needed guidance to the industry.
“I recognize that this is something that needs more exposure and just information around. There are so many starry-eyed kids, who just kind of run at it and don’t know any better,” Majumdar said.
“Basically we’re like drug addicts, and we’re trying to tell people how to sustain their addiction,” Mehta jokes. “Don’t fizzle out, don’t have an overdose on your first go.”
The show diverges from talent searches like America’s Got Talent or Canadian Idol in a number of ways. Because it will air in a documentary format, Nagra says it will offer an “inside eye” to those intrigued by the global yet growing industry that makes 1,000 movies annually and will mark its 100th anniversary this year. It will also be much more demanding on its contestants: It seeks a triple-threat star, someone who can act, dance, and sing (or at least lip-synch).
“That’s the thing about being a Bollywood star. It’s that combination, it’s that you know how to do all those things, because of the nature of the genre — in Bollywood, you’re doing it all,” Majumdar said.
“And you’re very believable doing it,” Nagra said. “You’re committed, you live in that moment, but you’re so committed that the people watching just fall for it, you fall for that love scene, you fall for that dance scene, no matter how outside the box it is.”
The three (all are “in their 30s”) also see it as an opportunity to see how the scene has changed since they were just emerging. For Majumdar, a graduate of the National Theatre School, it’s been a wild ride. Ever since she started touring her 2005 one-woman show Fish Eyes, the famed academy told her it has seen a marked increase in auditions from South Asian women.
“And they asked them why, and they said they had seen me do Fish Eyes and they had read my bio that I had gone to the National Theatre School. They thought, ‘That’s what I should do, then.’ And I suddenly felt a kind of responsibility that I was starting to move into a juncture in my career where I was passing knowledge down. There’s a kind of onus on me to guide and to have a message for others who want to do this.”
Bollywood Star will follow hopefuls as they take part in an intense Bollywood boot camp in Mumbai — the industry’s beating heart — in an effort to be crowned Canada’s next big star in the genre.
But the judges’ first piece of advice, for Bollywood aspirants? The grand prize is only the first step in acquiring a long-term career in a tough industry.
“You’re constantly reinventing yourself (in Bollywood),” Majumdar said. “So every time you do get any break, it kind of feels like, ‘Oh, this is my big break,’ until the next one … If I want to last in this business, I have to change it up.
“So it feels like a series of big breaks, then you’re 80,” she said, laughing.
“It’s a grind. That never ends,” Nagra said.
Open-call auditions begin in Vancouver on Sept. 21 and Toronto on Sept. 28. The show is set to premiere on Omni TV next spring.