While Harsh Varrdhan’s statement may reek of privilege, there are many artistes in Bollywood who have battled financial crises and emerged with life lessons. It was not very long ago when Ranveer Singh said his family didn’t have ‘enough’ money to take more than one ‘big summer holiday abroad’, or when Parineeti Chopra claimed she couldn’t afford a car or bus to school. There have been others like Shah Rukh Khan, Ayushmann Khurrana, Pankaj Tripathi, Vicky Kaushal and many others who had humble beginnings, but they turned their fortune around with perseverance and consistent efforts, learning along the way. This week’s #BigStory explores a different side to the life of stars when the chips were down and things were not all glitz and glamour. Read on.
The stars with humble beginnings
Not every established Bollywood star hails from a filmy family. One such outsider who came and conquered the industry is Shah Rukh Khan. His road to success, like many others, was not a smooth one. When he first moved to Bombay, he had only Rs 1500 with him and wanted to earn a lakh at least. “I am really scared of failures. Coming from a lower-middle class family, I saw a lot of failure. At a certain juncture of my life, I was thrown out on the road because we could not pay rent. Poverty instills fear, stress and sometimes depression,” he had said while interacting with a group of 800 management students in 2013.
In an interaction with ETimes, Vicky Kaushal had opened up about his financial struggles. “I was born in a 10×10 room of a chawl and we shared a common bathroom with other people in the neighbourhood. My dad battled various financial mishaps for years before achieving success as a stunt director, but my parents ensured that my brother and I knew all about the family’s struggle,” he said, adding that his brother Sunny and he knew where each piece of furniture in their house came from.
Another inspiring story is of the supremely talented actor Pankaj Tripathi who has no extravagant material aspirations and remains content with whatever he has. “I come from a humble background and even though my wife and I have been in Mumbai for many years, we’ve never felt the need to pursue a flamboyant lifestyle or a luxurious life. I don’t think I will ever be able to take a big loan to buy a fancy car or a huge home. I am the son of a farmer and growing up in a remote village in Bihar, we had barely seen any money. My parents didn’t even have a television at home. I have grown up understanding the value and vice of money and I don’t think my outlook towards material wealth will change anytime soon. I believe you don’t need an extravagant amount of money to be happy or comfortable in life. I always try to stay happy with what I have,” he said.
In his autobiography, Cracking the Code, Ayushmann Khurrana narrated an episode from his life when he first bagged his job as a Radio Jockey. “Immediately after stepping out (from the Radio Jockey job interview), I called Tahira and asked her to guess my salary. The maximum she could think of was Rs 20000. I asked her to step it up a little. She was already so elated – anything more than Rs 20000 meant a huge deal, as that was the maximum pay packet that was given to any fresher in this field at that time. In fact, if I am not mistaken, only one other person from our batch of forty-five bagged this salary. When she scaled up her guess to 30K, I grinned and asked her to go higher. ‘More than 30?!’ she squealed. By now she thought I was just faffing as, in her own innocent world, nobody could ever draw such a salary, let alone ‘go higher’ than that. So she finally gave up. When I told her that I got a grade of A+ and that meant Rs 60000, I was greeted by silence and then incessant screams. That was a particularly memorable moment for the both of us. And I believe that was the last time we discussed money as such. One always remembers their first crush, their first love, their first job and definitely their first salary,” he wrote in the book.
Riches to rags, to riches again!
Yes, the wheels of fortune turn in the most unexpected ways, and Bollywood has a fair share of such stories. Filmmaker Farah Khan has seen it all, from witnessing her filmmaker dad losing everything overnight to becoming one of the biggest choreographers and then debuting as a director with Shah Rukh Khan. Reflecting on her journey in an interview, she had said, “Overnight we became poor because the film (her father’s film) turned out to be a dud at the box office. After that, we had a really long struggle for almost 15 years.” Farah also admitted to living in a storage room for her initial childhood days and pretending in school that everything is hunky dory.
Television actress Rupali Ganguly has a similar story to tell. In an interview, she revealed how her father, director Anil Ganguly was forced to sell their home due to a project that was delayed. The film took four years to complete and their family experienced a massive loss.
Govinda, who once dominated in Bollywood, witnessed a financial setback when he received no offers for three to four years. His comeback film ‘Partner’ starring Salman Khan proved instrumental in his financial recovery.
Veteran actor Jackie Shroff too was down in the dumps when he didn’t have money after a series of flops. He couldn’t repay a loan he had taken from Sajid Nadiadwala in 2008. He reportedly sold his real estate properties to deal with the crisis. Once again, it was Salman Khan who came to his rescue and helped him out of the situation.
Preity Zinta made her Bollywood comeback in 2013 with the film ‘Ishkq in Paris’, which she had produced under her own banner. The film tanked at the box office hitting her financial situation so hard that Salman had to step in to help her out of the crisis.
Financial crisis and mental health
Any personal crisis has a direct and varied degree of implications on one’s mental health, subject to the coping mechanisms and support systems available to them. Financial crisis is one of the major stressors that can lead to anxiety, and depression as a long term implication. In rare cases, it may also lead to substance abuse.
Veteran actor Johnny Lever, who has gone through a rough patch when he was out of work for 12 years, says that artistes today believe in leading an extravagant lifestyle and flaunting it even if it requires them to borrow money for it. “They see others and get tempted to have a similar lifestyle. They wear fancy clothes, throw lavish parties, but they don’t realise where they will go when they are faced with a personal crisis and there is a lack of work.”
“In showbiz, we don’t have permanent jobs. There will be new artistes, new technicians… we are not irreplaceable. It is wise to save, invest, buy property that will take care of the expenses when you run out of work. Artistes need to understand that we will have different phases in our careers. And during bad times, everything will come crumbling down if we are not pennywise early on. It is a mentally challenging situation to be in that may lead to addiction and other vices. When I had no films for 12 years, I was doing my homework. I did shows, I wrote my own sets, I watched other artistes and I polished my craft. When I came back in 2013 with ‘Golmaal’, ‘All The Best’, people noticed how I still had that same fire in me,” he adds a piece of advice to young artistes.
Actress Delnaaz Irani agrees that financial crunch can take a toll on mental health. She believes having a support system in the form of family and friends is important to sail through the situation. “I’ve had a rock solid partner for the past so many years. Percy and I handle the finances together. There have been times he has pulled me out of financial crisis, at times I have pulled him out of similar situations. It’s very important that partners understand and support each other. I have been very blessed to have a very supportive family as well.”
Recently, late actor Amjad Khan’s son narrated his father’s poor financial condition before he went on to do ‘Sholay’. “He didn’t have money to pay so that my mother (Shehla Khan) could be discharged from the hospital I was born in. She started crying. My dad was not showing up at the hospital; he was ashamed to show his face. (Late) Chetan Anand whose film ‘Hindustan Ki Kasam’ he’d done then, happened to see my father holding his head in a corner. Chetan Anand saab gave him Rs 400 so that my mother and I could come home,” he had told ETimes.
In an interview with Bombay Times after the sudden demise of actor Inder Kumar, Deepshikha Nagpal had revealed he was going through a rough patch in terms of finances and work.
Lessons to learn
Like the popular SRK line, ‘Haar ke jeetne wale ko baazigar kehte hain’, every challenge can be turned into an opportunity to reflect, learn, and grow. Johnny Lever, who has helped innumerable people in their difficult times, learned to limit his own expenses to sail through his financial crunch. “There was a time when I didn’t have work for 12 years. I ran out of money. I did shows that helped me survive. Aadmi dhakka khaake samajhta hai (Adversity teaches a person an invaluable lesson). I realised my kids were growing up. They have to study, I have to educate them. I have to save money anyhow. I bought policies for me, my wife, and my kids. These policies will ensure you save every month and eventually cut down your unnecessary expenses,” he shares.
Varun Dhawan’s uncle, Anil Dhawan, who is an established actor himself, has lead a humble life all along. Speaking to ETimes, he says, “We come from a middle class family and since childhood we have seen and known how to run the house. I hail from Kanpur, I’ve spent my life there with my brothers David and Ashok. Our needs were as per what our father could provide. We were content that these are our needs and this is what we can afford. By the grace of God, I have completed 52 years in Bombay and I am still working for a show at the age of 75. I am happy and content because my needs are few and are fulfilled. These days the needs of the people are increasing. I have learnt in life, when you’re eating your food, keep your eyes on your own plate. Do not look at what the other person is eating. All my life, I’ve focussed on what I have. People in the industry are leading a life of show off. You would have no idea how much some girls earn in the television industry. But they will try to ape the bigger actresses, get what they have. They buy expensive clothes just to show off.”
Actor Amit Behl has seen several ups and downs in over 25 years of his career. “All of us encounter personal issues, it can be death, injury, illness, unprecedented expenses… In 2016, my entire 3BHK flat was burned down and it was the time of demonetisation. So I was back to scratch, to a point wherein all my lifelong savings got over. I had to start from scratch keeping my self-respect down, keeping my body of work down. I had to work on a couple of shows and films at an amount that I had stopped working at even 10 years ago. That much contempt. You have to start saving for a rainy day. Being the General Secretary of CINTAA (Cine And TV Artistes’ Association), the kind of situations we saw in the pandemic, people’s savings had run out, they were living hand to mouth. Some were affected by COVID, there were deaths in families, some were stuck in places out of the city and did not know how to come back. The kind of upheavals I have seen, I have seen months of no work, savings depleted, going through frustration and what not.”
Actress Kunika Lal believes lifestyle should never be exaggerated. “I’ve never had an extravagant lifestyle and I have brought up my son with similar values. I bought a Mercedes 2 years ago, but maintaining it was getting expensive. So I sold it off. Celebrities have to make conscious decisions. They miss the fact that an expensive car or a Birkin bag or a Jimmy Choo will not get you work. When I saw my work in showbiz was going down, I studied for 8 years. I did my Masters and I started consulting for business development,” she says.