Moulding Dharavi’s Bollywood dreams
Mansi Choksi | TNN (THE TIMES OF INDIA; February 26, 2012)
Tamatar Mandir, a Digene-pink shrine in Dharavi’s Shastri Nagar, was a spontaneous pile of waste till a woman stumbled upon a tomato with an image of Ganesh on it. The discovery prompted a god-fearing local corporator to clear the dump and establish a temple. But devotees who began streaming in were usually in pursuit of a nirvana more typical of Mumbai — a break in Bollywood. As it happens, Tamatar Mandir is advantageously pureed alongside Dharavi’s one and only, Baburao Ladsaheb’s Five Star Acting Classes. The shanty-turned-studio is a two-room house where chipped clapboards hang on fuchsia walls, a rusted key light stands alone, steel cupboards hide behind velvet curtains, a wall montage of a 101 facial expressions printed on glossy paper bewilders unsuspecting visitors and an easily angered woman in a floral nighty lords over the rattle of kitchen utensils. Every Sunday, from this humongous receptacle of aspirations known as Dharavi, a motley crew of men in ‘Guezz’ t-shirts, women with blonde streaks and animated children dragged in by optimistic mothers queue up to claim a ticket to Bollywood or its half-brother, the telly soap.
Baburao Ladsaheb, the marquee name adopted by Narayan Pundharik Lad, is the man who promises distinction to the star gazers. His fourcourse recipe to ‘make it’: acting, dancing, fighting and modelling. Sitting beside a crimson refrigerator— there’s nothing if not colour in this room—kitted out with photo albums that catalogue his acting stints, student profiles, photos of foreign journalists and filmmakers who visited his home, a laminated cheque from AB Corp and a red cap to hide his bald patch, Ladsaheb declares that he only shares his Bollywood mantra with “those who have passion and talent”.
In own film, Ladsaheb did TEN ROLES
A school dropout from Ratnagiri, Ladsaheb started his career 25 years ago as a signboard painter who moonlighted as a rent-a-dancer at political and religious rallies. Several Marathi plays, 15 Bhojpuri films, a music video, small roles in Hindi films and one self-produced-directed Marathi film later, he became the man Amitabh Bachchan’s AB Corps and filmmakers like Danny Boyle go to when looking to cast beggars, drunkards and slumdwellers. “I supplied the beggars in Slumdog Millionaire, the jhopadpatti residents in Paa and an extra in Kaminey. Observe their facial expressions and body language, they were handpicked from hundreds,” he says pointing out to the acting curriculum, displayed on a giant signboard. One of the gems: “Prem ke nav ras (Nine formulae for screen romance.”)
Ladsaheb narrates his story of accession to local stardom with the same theatrical range displayed on the wall montage. In 1975, after he dropped out of school, he shot to neighbourhood fame when he was publicly challenged by a girl named Pramila. “She saw my dance and laughed. So I decided to learn dance. From Bharatnatyam to salsa to ballroom I learnt them all and then performed at her wedding,” he says victoriously. In addition to zipping Pramila’s mouth forever, the wedding dance also got him cast in Gopi-Krishna, a stage show that ran to full houses in Dharavi.
“There was no stopping me after that; I was offered role after role. My heroine from Ghar Ghar Ki Batein went on star opposite Govinda in Banarasi Babu,” he says with some pride.
Soon, he was bagging roles in films like Tu Meri Laila Main Tera Chaila and Aandhi Aur Toofan, prompting Ladsaheb to take charge of his career. He did this by scrutinising the guidelines of the Film Federation of India. In the process, he discovered that Marathi films were exempt from tax and producers were awarded Rs 15 lakh to kickstart projects.
Next step: he produced a film starring himself in 10 roles. Baburao Manhtoya Mithia Maroya (Baburao Asks You To Embrace), shot mainly in his shanty studio and neighbourhood, tackles the issue of Hindu-Muslim unity. “The film did not do very well, but it is good for my portfolio,” he confesses.
Ladsaheb, whose passion for stardom even inspired him to write a 560-page how-to-bean-actor manual called ‘Acting Master Ladsaheb’, has 40 students from the area, 20 of whom are trained gratis. “I take fees from those who can afford, but I don’t harass those who can’t. I earn enough from painting signboards to support my family,” he says and calls out to his students to vouch for his claim.
His only peeve, he admits, is when his students are embarrassed about the address of their acting school. “These fools are ashamed of Dharavi when foreign filmmakers come here for casting,” he says, switching on the key light and readying to pose for a photo to be made with this crew. This will, of course, be shown to the next visitor.
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