Many years ago, Asrani, fresh from his FTII stint, portrayed a character in a Hrishikesh Mukherjee film of a man who comes to Bombay with dreams of becoming a big actor in Bollywood. Later, we see him reduced to a junior artiste in the same industry his dreams of stardom reduced to desperate poverty and frustration. A documentary called Clap Trap that explored the world of junior artistes in Bombay’s film industry struggling to gain a footing, features a strong man who confesses that he came to the city to become a hero but over time, when his hopes dashed, he made compromises and is happy as a well-paid junior artiste. But few stories have happy endings like this one.

In Luck By Chance, the stars who play themselves show wonderful sporting spirit – Abhishek Bachchan, Akshay Khanna, John Abraham, etc. point out that their acting in real life is sometimes better than their acting on screen. The falseness, the arrogance, the jealousy, the coy maneuverings, the pain, the one-upmanship, the film school lecture, the party scene filled with memorized lines from Rani Mukherjee and the rest, come across through subtle, light touches. Anurag Kashyap as the scriptwriter forced to rehearse the actors, is called ‘Institute’ by Romy Rolly (Rishi Kapoor) is a potshot at FTII graduates by industrywallahs who have never been to a film institute.

Manzil to mil hi jayegi, bhatakkar hi sahi,
Gumraah to wo hai jo ghar se nikle hi nahi

This is the bottom line of Bollywood Calling, a film directed by K.D. Satyam and dedicated as “a tribute to passionate aspiring actors.” Produced by Sattar Diwan, the film tracks the journey of three different individuals from three completely separate backgrounds who never meet during the film but are bound by one crazy passion – to make it big in Bollywood. They are ready pay any price to become that star they see on the large screen, imitating them in their personal lives, quoting from memory some of the famous dialogues from famous films and living in the present dreaming only about the future.

What future? Imli is a prostitute who practices her trade in the infamous Sonagachi pocket of Kolkata. But she thinks that if one has talent, be it bedding customers or acting in front of the camera, one can certainly make it to the large size posters of every city in the country. She has a little daughter who is not prioritized in the script but appears rarely to establish that Imli is also a mother and needs money to put her daughter in a respectable boarding school. Can she really become a star in Bollywood?

Raima Sen, who makes one of her occasional appearances in Hindi cinema, says, “Satyam’s approach to the script was very realistic. His way is not conventional neither does he sensationalize the film in any manner. He has not gone into the melodrama of Imli’s backdrop except as reference to her dreams of making it as a singer and then cheated into this trade by a man who promised her a break in singing. The second man is the 50+-year old Vishnu Srivastava, an ordinary accountant in a government office in Bhilai portrayed brilliantly by Ashish Vidyarthy who, for once, gets the rare chance of igniting the screen with his performance of a frustrated-yet-dreaming-of-D-Day even when his days are numbered and he is diagnosed as dying of pancreatic cancer. Says Vidyarthy,“ We know the name of big actors and stars, but this story is about those people who have come from little places to make it big. We want to express something of the real life. This film is about the extent people are ready to go to realise their dreams.” As the veteran actor puts it, “it is a film about everyman.”

The third is a young man named Rohit who works in a call center in Delhi and thinks he is the next best thing that is to happen in Bollywood. He gatecrashes into a five-star hotel, approaches a famous director lounging near the pool and begins to demonstrate his ‘talent’ till he is dragged away by the hotel security as he continues to spout dialogues from Devdas. Salim Diwan, who amazes with his debut performance, asks, How important are dreams? They are very important. It is important to dream and dream big. And whoever has been in a dream would love Bollywood Diaries.”

It is truly difficult to portray a character who thinks he is a great actor but in reality (in the film), his acting capability is zero as a judge in the reality show he participates in tell him straight to his face. But the same judge has also egged him on from the first elimination round that helps him reach the fourth round insisting that he has never seen such passion! This offers an insight into the brutally cruel ways of people who manipulate the naïve and the innocent as their own way of entertainment from a show that pays the judges the earth!

“I loved to work with K.D. Satyam and I also loved the story. Bollywood Diaries chronicles three separate stories about three different individuals who never meet. The character I play is ready to bend every rule in the book, to bend over backwards to pay any price to find her place in Bollywood,” says Raima who, however, looks-wise, does not quite fit into the Sonagachi scenario because she is too beautiful and looks just too classy and educated to mould herself into the Imli character. But to be fair to the actress, she unfolds the different layers of her role with great depth and conviction. When she realises that the ‘director’ who took away all her savings to prepare her portfolio for a film offer in Bollywood which never happens and a television news byte shows that the story she had narrated is being filmed with a big star, she shuts up completely and stops talking to anyone right till the last scene when she decides to take the Dubai offer of Rs. 5 lakh she had refused in the beginning of the film.

The production design creates a beautiful symbiotic relationship with Vishnu Srivastava whose room, all four walls and the ceiling as he waits for death, is completely wall-papered with huge posters of the biggest of stars of Bollywood. Inspired by a spiritual guru, he ceaselessly chants a mantra that goes Bollywood Namaya Namah Staraye Namaye Namah and the walls begin to act on their own, closing in on him, his eyes shimmering with tears and hope in the strong belief that he will surely realise his dream of becoming a Bollywood star in his next birth! When Rohit is cruelly dismissed in the fourth round, he loses his mind, goes home and goes completely berserk.

One of the most powerful statements the film makes is the support each of these families give to these dreamers. The sex workers of Sonagachhi including the brothel madam boost Imli all the time and begin to participate in her process of creating a portfolio as if it is theirs and they are with her right till she steps into the airport but never turns back even to wave at them. Vishnu’s wife, daughter and son-in-law are ready to bend backwards and fulfill every wish to his to allow him every crazy wish he indulges in, in the false belief that doing these things will make him a star. Rohit’s middle-class family is agape that he has won three rounds and is convinced that he will reach the finals. When jumps up and down the city wearing red underpants over blue jeans like Superman, the whole family chases him to calm him down. Bollywood Calling is definitely not an award-worthy film. But it is strong and portrays characters who believe in the worlds they create out of pure fantasy.

The statement at the end of the film says: “This is a tribute and homage paid to the iconic personalities for being an inspiration to Vishnu, Rohit and Imli and many like them.” It adds that there a millions out there waiting for a Bollywood break. But the question that keeps haunting us is – should such dreams be encouraged by the respective families who take it in their strides? Think about it.