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THE TRIAL sequence of an action scene is to be filmed, and the crowds have begun to gather, the open space outside the ‘set’ is packed, while some spectators have taken rooftop spots, others crowd around windows. The scene is set against a backdrop of the labyrinthine bylanes in Dharavi, but it’s no Bollywood set. In fact, it’s a home production by Lad Saheb, and the actors are students at his acting-dancing-fighting school in Dharavi. A man of many skills, 54-year-old Baburao Lad has been for many years now the go-to man for hundreds of aspiring actors from lower income groups. They dream of becoming dancers, song-writers, fight-masters, and their journey into Bollywood starts at Lad’s little residence-cum-studio near Dharavi’s Holi Maidan, where he conducts acting and dancing classes, besides also teaching fighting skills. He has placed scores of them in small roles in Bollywood, commercials and in tele-serials.
“They cannot go to costly acting classes that charge lakhs of rupees, so I try and help them to get a footing in the film industry,” says the teacher, popular as Lad Saheb in the area. As the lean Lad, sporting a blue cap and a blue shirt, calls out instructions to a group of youngsters dancing to a Bollywood number, Sarika, 23, says people often snigger at her address. Employed with the railways’ parcel department, her Sunday classes here are a morale booster. “Since I joined the classes, my energy level on Monday is like that of Sunny Deol. On Fridays, I mould myself into a Devdas character. The class gives me an outlet to dream,” she says.
For Lad, it actually began in Class X, when his friends insisted he danced. “I had to comply because I did not want to make a special friend unhappy. I didn’t know a single step, and everybody laughed. That day I made a promise to myself that I will show her that I can dance well, at her wedding,” says the teacher, who then took dance lessons in classical as well as western styles. His first encounter with Bollywood decades ago was no less dramatic. Amitabh Bachchan was shooting for a film in a Chembur studio, and shooting was stalled because a painting job had to be completed. Lad, by then an established painter, was called upon. He says he got compliments from the Big B himself. In subsequent months, he befriended industry folk and got regular jobs ranging from supplying supporting artistes to painting sets, even landing a few assignments as supporting artiste and backup dancer himself.
In 2008, Lad had the opportunity to work on Danny Boyle’s Oscar-winning Slumdog Millionaire, followed by Amitabh Bachchan’s hit Paa, and then Iranian filmmaker Majid Majidi’s Beyond the Clouds, in which some of his students too got side roles. In Boyle’s movie, he also helped scout locations in and around Dharavi. In his studio is a small framed photograph of him with Abhishek Bachchan, amid a collection of photos of his successful students. A huge poster of his Marathi film ‘Baburao Mhantoya Mithya Maruya’ adorns one wall. Lad credited himself as having played 12 characters in the film, as well as 10 roles behind the camera from production to scriptwriting to singing and marketing. Unfortunately, he had to edit out two characters — one of a drunkard and the other of a woman — his wife did not approve. Lad has also written a book on filmmaking, acting, direction, production and other nitty-gritties of the trade. He is currently working on his second book. The books will outlive him, he reasons.
“People feel that acting classes are only meant for actors. But the skills can help boost self-confidence and develop oratory skills. Many of my students have fared well in other professions too. A few became good spiritual orators, a qualified doctor used the skills he learnt here to deal with his patients, and a few are in marketing too,” he says. One of his students, Rehmat Ali Khan, 21, is an air-conditioner technician but dreams of becoming a star. “I come all the way from Vashi every weekend to attend class. I love acting and whatever you love, if you put in efforts, you will definitely succeed. I got an offer for a Bhojpuri movie but I would like to get into Hindi movies, it will help my career better,” he says. Lad Saheb has set fresh goals for himself, and aspires to one day see at least five actors who are focused, have the physique and the good looks, and can play lead roles in Bollywood graduating from his acting school. amit.chakravarty @expressindia.com