Bollywood, India’s Hindi language film industry based in Mumbai, is famous around the world for its glamorous productions and vast output, but it is far from the only center of movie production in the country. Along with Kollywood, Ollywood, Gollywood, Pollywood and Mollywood is Tollywood, the Telugu-language film industry in Hyderabad, which is the subject of Harsha Vadlamani’s ongoing series “For a Handful of Stardust.” In it, Vadlamani documents the men and women who come to the city hoping to make it in the industry. As he writes about the project, “Every year, thousands of aspiring actors and technicians move to the Krishna Nagar and Indira Nagar neighborhoods in the city, hoping to make it big in the film industry. Many of them come from rustic towns and villages and have no real acting experience or the much needed ‘background and maintenance’–industry-speak for caste, money, connections and generally being slick and smart. Clueless about how to get cracking, many actors begin as junior artistes (extras) and with some luck and effort, make it as members of the supporting cast or lead actors in C- and B-grade movies.”
Vadlamani began the project in 2012—it was one of several ideas he pitched to a new magazine. They sent him to photograph for a couple of days “and quickly file a dozen images, but the place kind of sucked me in,” he tells PDN by email. “I had quit my IT job a couple of years back and was struggling to find my feet as a photographer, and here I was in this neighborhood, full of people like me! I went there every day and spent time at cafes where the actors hung out and slowly made some friends. They introduced me to more people who would take me along to their auditions, shoots and so it went on.” The images he made show actors on set, life in Ramoji Film City, the largest film studio complex in the world, and at the edges of the industry—students practice in a dance class, and extras crowd around a casting agent demanding work or play board games in the offices of the Telangana State Junior Artistes’ Association.
Vadlamani has worked on the project on and off, taking long breaks “so I see things with a fresh set of eyes whenever I go back,” he says. “Some of the actors I met during the course of this project had given up on the dream and went back to the towns and villages they came from, [a] few went back (many times) only to return and many have been fairly successful. We stay in touch, and talk about our respective dreams.”