Many people dream of being actors or models. They want to achieve glamour, fame and stardom. I was one of those people. I always dreamt of being an actress, of achieving fame, of being called a celebrity. It was probably for the wrong reasons, but that dream never left me. When I became disabled I thought I’d never be able to achieve my dreams. But then I decided that I want to be a part of Bollywood because I want people to know that a disability cannot control your dreams.
Fast forward a couple of years. One of my friends gave me a number to a casting agency and told me to submit my photographs. She assured me I’d get something out of it – at least some hotshot contacts, if nothing else. My mom and I decided to visit the agency in a suburb of Mumbai. I dressed to kill. I straightened my hair, wore a casual outfit that showed that I’m sophisticated but fun, did my makeup to perfection. I wanted to look great because I thought that maybe after seeing me they might offer me something right on the spot. When we got there, we were escorted into an office and instructed to wait for a woman named Mansi (name changed). Her office was small but comfortable. It had pictures of all these famous actors that the agency had helped into stardom. I was impressed. I felt I was in the right place for my career.
A woman, maybe in her mid-30s, walked in, wearing a simple kurti and leggings with some wild accessories. She introduced herself as Mansi. We shook hands and I saw her glance over me as if I was a piece of meat. Her attitude became snooty, her body language indicating she wasn’t looking forward to the meeting at all.
‘So what can I help you with?’, she asked.
‘Actually I wanted to show you my photographs to see if you have any work for me,’ I said hesitantly. She looked through them slowly, one by one. She’d keep looking up at me, then back down towards the photographs, tapping her foot ever so slightly. She suddenly stopped.
I dressed to kill. I straightened my hair, wore a casual outfit that showed that I’m sophisticated but fun, did my makeup to perfection. I wanted to look great because I thought that maybe by seeing me they might offer me something right on the spot.
‘What happened to you? Why are you on a wheelchair?’, she asked in impeccable English. She looked back down at the photos, tapping her foot again.
‘I had a fever and the doctors couldn’t find the cause. They still haven’t made a diagnosis.’ I was frightened by her but I tried to say these words as calmly as possible. She looked up and gave a slight sigh.
‘Well you are pretty, no doubt about it,” Mansi said. ‘You definitely have the looks. You should register yourself with our company and we’ll send you audition tips where you can go and audition for a role.’ I was so excited that she thought I had the looks to be an actress. I couldn’t contain my excitement, and gave a tiny squeal.
‘Sure, where can I register? What’s the procedure?’, I asked with a smile.
‘You’ll have to pay ten thousand rupees. We’ll circulate your pictures around the industry and once you’re shortlisted you’ll get either a text message or a call informing you of the audition details,’ she replied.
I reluctantly paid the ten thousand rupees. A couple of days after I registered, I got a message informing me of an audition near my residence. I called the person who sent me the text to check that the venue was accessible for me. The person apologised and said that I couldn’t audition because this part wasn’t for someone on a wheelchair. He took me off the audition list. I called Mansi back and told her about what had happened, and she assured me that she had informed the man about my disability. She said she couldn’t do anything and asked me to wait for more auditions, which never happened. Nor did I get any further audition tips or messages.
I knew I had the looks to be an actress and was confident I could act well, but I wasn’t given a fair chance to be part of a simple audition. I was left broken, because I wasn’t treated equally.
Featured image credit: Upasana Agarwal