15 Seconds of Fame: Extras in Bollywood

Abstract: The second time I met Chunky, he seemed different, more distant. This time I asked him more personal questions about his family, about his running away from home, and his initial years in Bombay. He replied in a cut and dry manner. I was beginning to feel embarrassed to be a witness to his humiliation to accept his failure all over again that I could see he was trying hard to hide. He kept saying that he’s not the naïve boy he once was anymore and has learnt to accept the harsh truths of life, “ab to aadat si ho gayi hai”. And it struck me that Chunky had internalized the film culture to an extent where even his pain would come out in the form of a Hindi film song.

Bio: Vasundhara Prakash has an MA in Arts and Aesthetics, School of Arts and Aesthetics, J.N.U, New Delhi. She is soon lLeaving for a Phd. in Communication at the University of California, San Diego.

Email: vasundhara.prakash @ gmail.com

Blog: 15 Seconds of Fame

email: vasundhara.prakash @ gmail.com



15 Seconds of Fame!

Lives of Bollywood Extras: Junior Artistes in Popular Hindi films

My project aims to explore the world of extras, to uncover their space in films. Though this goes against the whole concept of an extra, a faceless, nameless entity that merely fills the celluloid space without imposing its identity, it would be interesting to explore how some have unknowingly broken the boundaries of being restricted to the non-entity status of an extra and through their quantity as well as quality of work taken that leap into the world of recognition though still far away from fame. I would like to examine the “faceless” world of the extras by focusing on a number of themes. How does gender inflect the extras’ relations to the film industry? How are women treated differently from men? How different are their expectations and responsibilities and how that affects the choices they make? My concern is also issues such as prejudices and biases against the extras, their treatment on the sets. There are also class and linguistic hierarchies at work – the stars are middle and upper class and English speaking while the extras are lower middle class and non-anglicized. We have very little understanding of how these factors play into the experiences of the extras on the set.

I would like to be able to combine historical and biographical study with ethnography and textual analysis of a select body of films and will study junior artistes as “subaltern” stars that provide a counter narrative to the dominant figurations in Indian Cinema.

I would appreciate any comments, suggestions, contacts or references that could help my work.

Vasundhara Prakash


Hi, since this is technically my first update on my work I thought I’d start with the basics, so here’s an FAQ compiled on the basis of several meetings/chats/interviews with the people I’ve met so far. More soon! Vasundhara Prakash

Frequently Asked Questions

What are Junior Artistes?

Junior Artistes are employed to create authenticity, an appearance of reality in a film, television, advertisement scene. An atmosphere of say a market place, or a pub scene is made believable by placing appropriately dressed, junior artistes in the background.

What is the difference between a Junior Artiste and a Senior Artiste? What is a Character artiste then?

A senior artiste is the same as a character artiste. A character artiste has a role, not a main lead but gets lines to speak. A character artiste earns from somewhere between Rs. 25,000- Rs.2 Lakhs and may take months to get paid.

Is ‘extra’ a derogatory term?

Yes it is. Junior Artistes is an accepted term. It was a senior actor of old times, Chandrashekhar who demanded a change in name from Extras to Junior Artistes.

Are Junior Artistes different from the dancers that dance behind the main leads or the men who get beaten up by the Hero?

Yes, those are dancers and stunt men, very different than junior artistes. Though incase the junior artistes are required to do a little dance or be punched they are paid extra. They also have different associations of which the dancers and stuntmen are members of.

What is the Junior Artistes’ Association?

Junior Artistes’ Association (Tala no. 3, Navakalvari, Municipal Market, Jogeshwari East) is as the name suggests the association that supports/helps card-holding (members) junior artistes find work. Though the membership card very clearly says that there is “no guarantee of work”. There are about 700 to 800 members, who elect a-11 people committee out of which there is one President, General Secretary, Joint Secretary, Treasurer, 1st Field Officer.

What is the Mahila Kalakar Sangh?

The Mahila Kalakar Sangh is the female counterpart of the Association. Earlier both the organizations were one, but it’s been 35 years since the female wing broke away from the Association and demands a separate identity. Apparently the women junior artistes are not called junior artistes but members of Mahila Kalakar Sangh. The Sangh also has a 11 member committee elected by the 700 members. The committee comprises of a President, a Vice President, a General Secretary, a Joint Secretary, a Cashier/Treasurer and 6 others who share the responsibility of an field officer.

What is a field officer?

A field officer is a committee member, who has many functions. He/She informs members about the work that comes to the Association through the producers. It is also the field officer’s responsibility to make rounds to the various film sets to make sure everything is going ok and that there are no non-members.

What is the membership fee?

Rs. 1 lakh for men, Rs. 60, 000 for women. Though the fee is negotiable as per the applicant’s requirement and need. The membership is not transferable.

What happens when they retire? Is it voluntary? Or are people asked to step down?

Retiring junior artistes(men) get Rs. 80,000 and the card gets transferred to an new member who pays Rs. 1 lakh for it, while the remaining Rs.20,000 is kept with the association. The retiring women junior artistes get around Rs. 70,000 when a new member gets registered. Though these figures are not constant, there is also a contributory Trust set up by actors like Chandrashekhar, Dilip Kumar, Dimple Kapadia, which ensures that atleast 3 retiring members every year get Rs. 15000.

What is a “Classification”?

The members of the Junior Artistes’ Association (men) are classified into Class A, Class B. As Mr. Aziz Khan said, the Class A men are “high-fi looking”. This class comprising of both young and old are required usually for hotel scenes, airport scenes. Class B men are used for playing villagers, constables etc.

The equivalent classification in the Mahila Kalakar Sangh (women) is into Super Class , Class A and Class B. Super Class members are required for parties, wedding scenes, airports etc, Class A members for a regular crowd in hospitals, market places etc, Class B members are those who can pass off as villagers, beggars etc.

There is a classification that is supposed to happen every five years if not every year. All the members are called in the office one by one and two producers, two Federation officer-bearers; two Agents/Suppliers grade them into different classes.

Are these two organizations affiliated to a bigger organization?

Yes earlier the Mahila Kalakar Sangh was affiliated to the Indian Motion Pictures’ Producers’ Association but now both the Sangh and the Junior Artistes’ Association is affiliation to the mother organization the Federation of Western India Cine Employees. The Federation holds 3-monthly if not monthly meetings to discuss issues of the 21 crafts’ associations that are affiliated to the Federation.

How much are they paid? How long is a shift?

There is Rs. 50-70 difference in pay scale of the Classes.

Decent Class male junior artistes are paid Rs. 570 per shift for a serial and Rs. 615 per shift for a film. Super Class members of Mahila Kalakar Sangh are paid Rs. 650 per shift for a serial and Rs. 690 for a film. Inclusive of food allowance (Rs. 38) and travel allowance ( Rs.39).

One shift is of 8 hours:

7a.m.- 2p.m- morning shift

9a.m.- 6p.m- normal shift

9a.m.- 9 p.m- 1 ½ shift

There are also:

7p.m.- 2a.m.( Rs.60 Taxi allowance)

9p.m. – 5 a.m. (No Taxi allowance)

Extra ½ shift money :

If the shot requires getting wet in the rain

Playing with colour/gulal ( Holi colour)


Fight ( like a punch or kick)

Riding a bike

Extra 1shift money:

Duplicate/ Stand-in

Dialogue (of 5 lines)

They also get Rs.30 as dry cleaning allowance for formal clothes.

Who pays them?

After pack-up it is the supplier who pays the junior artistes. They are always paid in cash. And it is later that the supplier gets money from the producer with his commission.

Do agents also have an association?

Yes they do. Their association is called Cine Agents Combine which is also affiliated to the Federation of Western India Cine Employees.

What is “completing a board”?

A producer or a production manager contacts the supplier/cine agent with their requirement of number and type (the kind of crowd required, for what kind of a scene). The supplier either contacts the artistes directly or the Association with the requirement. Once he (always!) he is able to get his requirement “the board is completed”.

Do all junior artistes work full-time?

Not necessarily, some do some don’t. You would find regular college kids being card-holding junior artistes, or some having a side-business in finance while there are many who earn a living from working as a junior artiste.

What are “models”?

Models are not men and women that walk on the ramps but non-members, better looking, usually English-speaking, men and women that work as crowds. They work for 12 hours and are paid Rs.1000. They are usually hated by members because they take away work from the members. Though there notices in large fonts saying “non-members not allowed in the studios” models are still getting work.

Why do they exist if they are not allowed to work?

It is said that the ratio of junior artistes to models is 10:4. It is because the stars and producers demand for models, they get work. The supplier needs to take a permission from the Junior Artistes’ Association and Mahila Kalakar Sangh before completing the board with models. Also, models are usually young college kids who are getting mere pocket money for a 12 hour-sitting around-and-6-second-shoot. When completing a board models turn out to be cheaper because they are paid less and don’t create a fuss about it.

Are the junior artistes same in television as in films?

Yes, they also work in television soaps, advertisements, info-mercials and as TV live show audience. About 100 junior artistes get their daily wages by working in television soaps. (Thanks to Ekta Kapoor).

How many come through acting schools to become Junior Artistes?

There are a few who get desperate to start work instantly and get registered into the Association.

Why do people want to be junior artistes? What sort of people decide they want to be extras?

There are a few think becoming a junior artiste is an entry into the industry and hope to get noticed by some producer. But this rarely happens, so even if they come with a dream to be famous, it becomes a means to earn a decent living.

What is a “compromise”?

A compromise is accepting to go out say for drinks with the director/producer.

What qualities would make a good junior artiste?

Good height, good built, patience, flexibility, eagerness to work, decent wardrobe and make-up, punctuality, resilience to bounce back even after being yelled at, building good relationship with the suppliers, the right attitude.

Who tells them what is to be done on the sets?

It is the assistant director who tells either the assistant of the supplier or the junior artistes directly what is to be done in a shot.

Are they provided costumes? What about make-up?

They are provided only special costumes for constables, nurses, waiters etc. They are required to get their own otherwise. They do their own make-up and hair.

What is a “passing”?

A passing is when a junior artiste is supposed walk across the frame in a shot.

What do they do while waiting for their shot on the sets?

Eat, sleep, chat, gossip, listen to music, and talk on the phone. In the old times especially on outdoor shoots playing cards used to be a favourite past-time.


Trivia: According to the U.S. Labor Statistics, the average wage for a movie extra tends to be approximately $13 per hour, depending on the medium (it is higher for movies then for other mediums) and go as high as $36 per hour if you have the experience, union membership and are on a big-budget feature film roster.

An entry-level extra based in the Los Angeles area at the $31,000 to $38,000 range annually, assuming steady work.

Special Thanks

Chunky, Uttam, Mr. Bikram K. Singh, Anurag Kashyap, Deva, Babu, Darya, Mr. Aziz Khan, Shamil Aunty, Kitty, Abu, Apu, Norma Aunty, Rohan Sippy, Shashi from IMPAA, Jyoti Jha, Alok Sinha, Shama Aunty, Nirmala Aunty, Amritraj Kapoor, Asha K.Chandra , Vinay, Peter Fernandes, Zuleikha ji, http://www.stylecareer.com/movie_extra.shtml


I’m sending a link to my third posting http://vasundharaprakash.blogspot.com/ It’s bottom to top……:) Vasundhara Prakash

Reflected Appraisal is the perception of how others perceive us and evaluate us. This theory suggests that we see ourselves as others see us, or as we think they do. It is perceived reactions. The operative word here is “perceived” because research has demonstrated that a person’s interpretation of others’ opinion is conditioned by self analysis and may not necessarily be accurate. The research also suggests that the extent, to which this perception of external appraisal shapes our judgment of ourselves, depends on the importance to us of the people providing it. Particularly influential are the reactions of “significant others,” people whose opinions make a difference to us.


January 23rd, St. Carmel School, Bandra, Mumbai. This was the first time I was going to meet junior artistes shooting for the film, ‘Marathon’. The first person I met was Kitty, an English-speaking, well-dressed, Catholic girl in her early 20s. After having struggled to explain what a fellowship meant, in the course of proving that I wasn’t a journalist, Kitty told me how they all hated journalists. “Many of the people have families in villages, but we live with our families here who read the kind of stories that journalists write about us, that spoils our reputations.”

They fear being misrepresented. XYZ told me about an article that had been written about dance bar girls which featured photographs of junior artistes. They felt cheated, betrayed and completely misrepresented.

From day one when a person comes to either the Junior Artistes’ Association/Mahila Kalakar Sangh office s/he is judged on the basis of looks and age ie; their exterior selves and classified into grades. The Junior Artistes Association (men’s wing) has the following grades:

Grade A: This class comprising of both young and old are required usually for hotel scenes, airport scenes.

Grade B: men are used for playing villagers, constables etc. The Mahila Kalakar Sangh (women’s wing) has the following grades:

Super Class: Class members are required for parties, wedding scenes, airports etc,

Grade A: members for a regular crowd in hospitals, market places etc,

Grade B: members are those who can pass off as villagers, beggars etc.

Members are to be classified at least every five years if not annually. All the members are called in the office one by one and two producers, two Federation officer-bearers; two cine agents/suppliers classify them into different grades.

When one does become a member a lot depends on your relationship/rapport with the Junior Artiste supplier/Cine Agent. If you’re in his (almost always) good books, you are bound to get more work. Therefore a supplier’s opinion about you gets you all the work.

So in a junior artistes’ life others’ opinions, judgments, classification, appearance, grading, reputation are crucial. While a group of psychology students engage in finding answers to “Where do judgments come from? Are they based on human instincts or are they influenced by outside variables? If they are influenced, what is most likely to have an impact on judgments and what had the strongest impact? What are the patterns of judgment of others based on their own gender and other personal traits? Do people think they have the right to judge others more in one field if they believe themselves to be superior in that field?” I will share with you what the “significant others” really think about junior artistes. The following is based on meetings, interviews, chats, arguments and counter arguments with various people from the Hindi film industry on their experiences, treatments, grouses, perceptions and opinions of Junior Artistes.

“The irony of being recognized”

Anurag Kashyap is one of those directors who casts junior artistes in major roles. Junior artiste and Assistant Supplier, Deva was cast as a police official in Black Friday. Anurag refuses to work with the top classes of the Association members because eventually it is the same people who are sent for work. And a recognizable junior artiste makes a film look unreal and unauthentic. There are many who get stuck in this sort of a phase when they are relatively recognized but precisely because of their recognition nobody wants to give them work. Anurag feels a huge difference in the way junior artistes are treated in India and in the treatment abroad. “Gai bhains ki tarah haankte hain” He adds that it is more difficult for women because they are assumed to be prostitutes. One often hears of such incidents concerning female junior artistes and production people, even big time stars at times. He adds that a lot of female junior artistes even get opt for C-grade films.

Anurag narrating his own experience of working as an extra in ad films and a feature called Chirantan for pocket money says that there are many people who eventually become members of the Association because it is difficult to go back to your homes with the humiliation of not being able to make it.

Anurag Kashyap

Writer: Love Story 2050 (2006) (announced) (dialogue), Fool and Final
(2006) (pre-production) (dialogue), Guru (2006) (filming) (dialogue), Water (2005) (Hindi dialogue and script consultant), Main Aisa Hi Hoon (2005) (dialogue), Yuva (2004) (dialogue), Black Friday (2004) (screenplay), Paisa Vasool (2004), Paanch(2003), Nayak: The Real Hero (2001) (dialogue), Jung (2000), Shool (1999) (dialogue), Kaun
(1999), Satya (1998), Kabhie Kabhie (1997) (TV series)

Director: Gulal (under-production) Black Friday (2004), Paanch (2003)

Actor: The Maharaja’s Daughter (1994) (mini TV series) as Lt. Sayed, Chirantan()

“Lower Depths”

Debu calls the junior artistes the underbelly of the Hindi film industry, drawing a parallel to Maxim Gorky’s Lower Depths. Because of their backgrounds, many being slum-dwellers, junior artistes are looked down upon. He says that it’s not about the profession that much as is it about the class they come from- exploitation of this class is rampant, anywhere and everywhere. One hears of female junior artistes being taken advantage of, especially on outdoor shoots, some women are specially brought for this. When I ask him if it is forced, he says money is an indirect force.

Other people on the sets have notions about junior artistes that they dirty the toilets, make a mess of everything. Debu believes that an orientation of junior artistes as well as about them is extremely necessary for promoting professionalism in the industry. Bombay film industry is all about the money, there is no dignity of either art or the artistes. “Jo sabse zyada paisa leta hai, woh Boss hai, Junior Artiste sabse kam paisa leta hai, to woh naukar hai”. There are many directors who don’t even bother to find out the actor’s name. And Debu should know since he has himself risen from the ranks.

“Yahan Art nahi hai, yahan pet hai”

Debuyandu Bhattacharya

NSD Graduate, Actor: The Rising (2005) as Krupashankar Singh, Black Friday(2004) as Yeda Yakub, Ab Tak Chhappan(2004) as Zameer’s Gang member, Aetbaar (2004), Maqbool (2003) as Chinna’s killer, Monsoon Wedding (2001), Divya Drishti (2001) as Hawaldaar

“I felt humilated….”

Richa was auditioned and signed for the original Munnabhai MBBS, when Shah Rukh Khan was supposed to play the main lead and the setting was supposed to be of a chawl (dhobi ghaat later). Ultimately her role was reduced to that of a Junior Artiste. She started being treated like one on the sets. She confessed to have felt extremely humiliated. Soon she walked out of the film.

Richa also told me that to know more about their lives it would be interesting to talk her TV actor friend’s driver, because the junior artiste interact mostly with drivers.

In the Indo-french film Hawa Aane De, Richa plays a bar dancer. She wonders why on one hand she was very proud to get the opportunity to portray a different kind of role, the junior artiste in the background would hide their faces.

Richa Bhattacharya

NSD Graduate, Actor: TV serials,The Rising(2005), Hava Aane De (2004), Dhoop(2003)

“Gender Stereotypes and expectations”

There is a stereotype about the women junior artistes. They are expected to “compromise”. Since everything eventually comes down your rapport with the hand that feeds you, in the case of a supplier, he always tries to please the production by offering women to the assistant directors and production managers.

Apu recalls instances on the sets when women were thrown at him, so that the supplier could get a better cut or the Mahila Kalakar herself would be able to stand in the centre, near the main leads.

Apartiem Khare

Associate Director, Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam(1999), Devdas (2001/2), Black (2005)

“The problem is with us”

Devang says that we can’t blame the junior artistes who are anyway extremely underpaid and ill-treated, for not being involved and responsible on the sets. Instead he takes the blame saying that there is a need for better planning and organization at the higher level. He suggests that the supplier should be involved in the pre-production stage and then it should be the responsibility of the supplier to make sure that the environment/ambience is created appropriately by the junior artistes as per the requirement. He proposes an orientation of the junior artistes about their work.

Devang Desai

Assistant Director: Bhoot(2003), White Noise (2005), Kaal(2005), Salaam-e-Ishq (under production)

“Many experienced veterans”

Talking from experience Rakesh thinks that if one treats junior artistes as humans, they are fine. Unfortunately they are not usually treated as human beings. On the sets mostly their identity is from the colour of their clothes, “Oye! Red shirt!”, “Green pant, tum idhar se idhar passing dega!”

Rakesh also narrates incidents when some of the veteran junior artistes have displayed a far more informed technical knowledge of camera angles, lenses and frames than the technicians themselves.

Rakesh Sain, Assitant Director, Tragic Comedy

Most junior artistes come to the industry to become stars but unfortunately nobody tells them that they can’t, ultimately it’s a gradual acceptance. According to Vikramaditya junior artistes are an extremely important part of the film but sadly they don’t get the respect in return. They are treated badly, yelled at, many a times not provided with basic facilities such as toilets.

The junior artiste group is an extremely close-knit group, actually the only group that doesn’t interact with anybody else on the sets. Vikramaditya points out that the older women especially can be quite grumpy and uninvolved in their work probably because they are the most affected by trend of non members being roped in for their work.

When asked if he thought women were treated any differently he said “they’re all one”. Though what interests him about junior artistes is the relationship they have with the suppliers; suggesting obvious sexual undercurrents.

Vikramaditya’s favourite junior artiste moment was when he shot the rock song in Paanch. The song was shot in very long takes and therefore the crowd (junior artistes) got quite involved and started reacting to the performance (by actor KayKay) and the song like they were actually in a rock concert. “It looked right, it felt right”. He thinks the more involved they are, the better they work. He considers junior artistes to be both insiders in terms of their importance and outsiders in terms of their treatment and involvement.

As we step out of the coffee shop, Vikramaditya says he always wonders why ‘extras’ is a derogatory term just for Indians who are doing “extra” work while everywhere else in the world it is an accepted term?

Vikramaditya Motwane

Executive Assistant: Deepa Mehta, Water (2005), Director, songs and Sound Designer: Paanch (2003), Associate Director and Sound Designer: Devdas (2002/I)

“I don’t find anything to romanticize about”

Prawaal thinks that there is nothing to romanticize about junior artistes, they are well-paid and well-treated. Everybody is here to do their job; a film set is not a family, it’s not supposed to be. “You do your work, you get paid, and you go home.” According to Prawaal junior artistes are not supposed to be creatively involved in the film, they are merely moving props but are just as much a part of the film as anybody else is.

A director/writer/actor is committed to or belongs to a film at least till the film is released but a junior artiste has no-sense of belonging to any film that is because they work in different films every shift, it would be ridiculous to expect them to be involved.

Prawaal Raman

Director, Zabardast (underproduction), Darna Zaroori Hai(2006), Loot (Stuck/On Hold) Gayab, Darna Mana Hai (also the story writer)

“Baithe Hain Rahguzar Pe Hum, Koi Hume Uthaye Kyon?”

It is probably because of the fact that Imtiaz is so fond of junior artistes that he had so much to say about them. As a director, he compares junior artistes to props, they are numbers that one uses to dress a frame. Their treatment as mere objects that can be quantified causes further angst to their misery of shattered dreams. He says one has to be careful when it comes to junior artistes, you have to understand why they are the most seemingly desentisized people in the industry. The primary cause of their bitterness is probably because almost all junior artistes have higher aspirations which with time get crushed. The journey to become a hero and the feeling of self gets trampled along the way. Imtiaz believes that they are always wearing their armours, ready for combat, almost fortifying themselves against any possibility of being hurt. You can’t expect them to enthusiastically participate in your collective dream of the film because for them their biggest dreams have already been shattered. They put their guards down only when you make them trust you that you acknowledge the fact that they human beings too. Little things like who gets a chair, how many times does one can get chai and who can talk to the director are the kind of things junior artistes are sensitive about. He points out that interestingly the different grades determine their treatment and the demands they can make. Imtiaz argues that one can understand that the main actors are important but that doesn’t give anybody the authority to defile anybody’s sensitivity. Though it is difficult to be friends with junior artistes especially girls because they always think one expects something in return. As far as the girls are concerned, he hasn’t had any direct experience but he has reasons to believe that there are many “informal prostitutes”. He explains that he understands why a woman junior artiste would be attracted to prostitution that is because she shares the misfortune that a film heroine has. Her film career span is very short and at the time when she is at the prime of her look, she tries to make the most of it. They have to be content with the fact that as the years go by the money be less. One often hears of women junior artistes being full-fledged prostitutes and ‘kepts’.

Then Imtiaz fondly remembers Saira, a junior artiste who turned out be a talented actress. After having given her a character in the TV serial, Imtihaan, he would encourage her to take the leap and try to become an actress. Since a board consists of only numbers of the requirement, you cannot ask for a specific junior artiste. “When I would insist on her the word got around that I wanted to sleep with her.” When Imtiaz met her after a few years, he realized that Saira was already on her journey down. Imtiaz realizes that there is a certain comfort in not having to go from one director to another with your photographs and resume to be an actor but being a junior artiste. He says that it is almost like prostitutes where there are no pretensions; their worth is on their faces (different grades). “Main 600 wali hoon!” “Main 400 wala hoon!”

“Jo hain yehi hai” He quotes Ghalib saying, “I am already at the lowest point, who is going to put me down further”

Imtiaz Ali

Director and Editor, Television for 7yrs, Socha Na Tha (2005) Actor, Black Friday as Yakub Menon

“The obsession with the stars: a vicious circle”

Earlier there used to be three kinds of junior artistes:

1.In the crowd, 2. near the Hero/Heroine 3. saying dialogues. Now one usually finds crowd scenes being given to Association members while the better looking models are placed near the main leads and the talking roles are given to either struggling actors. One also finds a trend of special appearances by stars becoming a favourite.

It is an extremely sad story that film journalism is completely centred around the stars because that is what the masses are interested in while the other aspects of cinema are of academic interest only. Popular writing comprises of rumours, gossip and trivia about the stars.

~Legendary gossip columnist Liz Smith of the New York Post, author of
Dishing, argues that gossip builds fame and legends: “I always say to people when they object to the things that are written about them, ‘Accept it as part of your myth.'”~

According to Ajayji every junior artiste comes to Bombay to become a star. Though many people from Bombay who become members are slum-dwellers and for them this is a job opportunity that pays like any other B-grade C-grade job. There is no aspiration or a higher goal for stardom.

Ajay Brahmatmaj

Film journalist, Dainik Jagran

“Models do exist”

Navdeep after having admitted that he knew very little about junior artistes agrees that especially in ad films because of their glossy and glamorous look they usually require better looking junior artistes (Super Class and Grade A) and models. It is not a social judgment but

just a requirement.


AD filmmaker, Red Ice

“The Model Game”

Jordyn dedicates a chapter on models in his book, Backside Bollywood. “This chapter details an informal system of how in-front-of-the-camera talent operates, displaying the internal dynamics of a huge chunk of the film world which receives scant attention.” He rejects the popular belief that almost all junior artistes come to become stars, his observation is that serious and able aspirants choose the model route instead. Going through model coordinators models get better work, better treatment, better exposure and also better money.

Jordyn Steig

Author, Backside of Bollywood: Hindi Films Up Close and Personal In Mumbai (unpublished)

Actor, Mitti (2001), Page 3 (2005)

“Most helpful….”

Shubhankar narrates various incidents when the junior artistes have stood out to be the most helpful and giving people in the industry.

During a Sanjay Leela Bhansali film shoot, the producer Bharat Shah had been jailed, Bhansali informed everybody that he would not be able to pay everybody right away. Inspite of the fact that junior artistes are paid daily, they were the first ones to come forward to cooperate with Bhansali, and worked for months without money.

According to Shubhankar they’re an extremely close-knit community and he thinks them to be complete insiders of the industry.


Assitant Director, Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam(1999), Haasil(2003), Devdas(2001/2)

“Parallel narrative”

In Nikhil’s 8-year experience as an assistant, while the director concentrated on the foreground with the main leads, he enjoyed constructing his own stories in the background. He believes that the foreground and the background should blend smoothly without either of them sticking out as a sore thumb. He doesn’t believe in unimaginative passings from one side of the frame to the other like zombies. He says he always encourages his assistants to develop corresponding stories in the background. A good example of this is the scene from Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, where the actress Neelam, playing a TV host, asks the crowd for love messages to be aired live on television. This is right before Kajol’s character Anjali finds out that the little girl, Anjali in the summer camp is her college friend’s (Shah Rukh Khan’s character) daughter. Interestingly, it is Nikhil Advani (assistant in KKHH) who comes out of the crowd and gives a nasty message to his wife saying he’s dumping her because he has found somebody else.

Another thing that he encourages his assistants to do is to find out the names of the junior artistes. In long schedules he would always make it a point to either find out their names or give them names lovingly. He realized that by doing so the junior artistes felt as if they were part of the film not just notionally but substantially.

Unfortunately junior artistes are usually treated like cattle in this industry. Comparing them to extras abroad, Nikhil jokingly says that if they were to be treated the way the junior artistes are treated here, they would shut us down immediately. He says that the disparity is of course because of the difference between a developed country and a developing country. He adds that though there is no excuse for it, most of the production is treated like that.

Finally Nikhil shares his major grouse against the Junior Artiste Association. He argues that for a cinematographer to get work, s/he needs a degree from a recognized institute say the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), work under an established director of photography, who writes a recommendation and it is only then that s/he can become a member of their Association. The same goes for dancers, make-up artists, set designers etc. “So how is it that a junior artiste is not expected to act? How is that everybody behind the camera is supposed to have a certain skill but the people who are going to be seen on camera require no qualifications?” Besides, becoming a member of the junior artiste Association is a mere fulfillment of the Bombay dream of becoming a star. Therefore there are 800 members out of which only a small percentage know how to act.

He agrees with his assistant, Devang’s suggestion that there should be an orientation for the junior artistes that would equip them to understand the basics of the work better.

Nikhil Advani

Director, Kal Ho Na Ho, Salaam-e-Ishq(under-production) Assistant Director, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai(1998), Mohabbatein(2000) Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham(2001)

“Those who get desperate, join the Junior Artistes Association”

Interestingly, Asha K. Chandra aspired to become a star herself but now she runs an acting school that trains aspirants in film acting, dance and fighting. Ashaji tells me that there are people who after having struggled for sometime give up and become members of the Junior Artistes Association as a way to sustain themselves.

Asha Chandra

FTII Graduate, runs a film acting school in Juhu, features in Lalit Vachani’s Star Maker

“Bas Ek Parivar Jaise Hain”

Deva insists that nobody becomes a junior artiste in order get a break into acting. Earlier only Muslim girls used to join this line but gradually people realized that it is a decent way to earn a living, now there girls and boys from all kinds of backgrounds and families that come.

According to Deva, the struggling actors and even the assistant directors should become members and work for at least six months, he believes the kind of exposure and access one get to the industry and the people would be useful for them. For him, it is a perfect platform for learning and experience.

Coming back to the question of how many junior artistes think this line to be an entry into the industry, he insists that our junior artistes have no such ambitions. Many times junior artistes don’t want to be in the centre, be seen or given lines that is because once a junior artiste is seen in a scene, s/he will not get more work in that production. How things work here is that a particular supplier has his set of junior artistes that he sends to X,Y,Z production. If a film is being shot with junior artistes for 100 days, a junior artiste normally is used for various scenes say, railway station, market place, airport etc, so consistent work for 100 days is assured. But once a junior artiste gets a line say as a ticket collector, he is seen and therefore cannot be used again.

When I tell Deva that one thing that everybody says about junior artistes is that they have an extremely strong Association, he immediately corrects me saying that is us who are strong and always looking out for each other, the Association does its work in pulling out non-members from film sets.


Junior Artiste and Assistant Supplier, Guddu Suri, Suri & Co. Actor, Police official in Black Friday

“Better facilities”

It was in the office of the Federation of Western Indian Cine

Employees that I met Ms. Nones. She had been called by Mr. Ranjan, the Secretary of the Federation to meet me. Thinking that I am a journalist (as usual!) they’d already prepared a list of problems that needed media attention. Unfortunately only 10% of the members and that too of only the Super Class get consistent work, others get only 5-10 days work in a month. Another trouble they face is lack of basic facilities like toilets and changing rooms. Having said that, Delphin says that there are both people who are suffering because of lack of work as well as people who are quite well-off. The media tends to always focus on their plight, completely ignoring people who are earning a decent living out of this profession. She gives me a list of old people who did substantial work as junior artistes in their time and supported their families.

Delphin Nones

Vice-President, Mahila Kalakar Sangh

“Roz Kuan Khodna, Roz Paani Peena”

Aziz Khan says it is not an easy life. What usually happens is that the higher grades are connected with the suppliers on a daily basis through mobile phones, but the rest of the grade members have to go to the Association office everyday and wait for that one phone call from the production that will get them work that day. Therefore, it’s an everyday struggle.

Aziz Khan

Ex- Junior Artiste Association council member