On Your Next Trip to Mumbai, Add 'Become Bollywood Extra' to Your Itinerary

Tourists can indeed become silver screen stars, though their chances are slim.

Location Scout investigates the intersection of entertainment and travel, delving behind the scenes of top movies and TV shows around the world to showcase their backdrops as prime travel destinations.

CeeCee didn’t have a manager—but she did have WhatsApp.

The 37-year-old had worked as a background dancer, assistant choreographer, and celebrity trainer for a decade in Mumbai and Dubai. But she dreamed of becoming a Bollywood actress. “I sent my profile to more than a hundred contacts every day for months," she recalls. "I finally caught a break on a commercial opposite a famous South Indian actor, which led to many more roles in subsequent months and really paved my way into the industry.”

Now she’s a working actress in an industry that annually churns out more than 1,000 movies that gross $2.3 million a year in ticket sales alone. But CeeCee still uses social media to secure gigs. “If I'm selected, confirmations are emailed or communicated on WhatsApp depending on the nature and the professionalism of the team on each project,” she says. “Then it's up to me to quote my rate and negotiate with the casting coordinator to reach an agreement.”

CeeCee, who asked to remain anonymous so she could speak candidly about her approach to getting gigs without offending her employers, is not exactly making the same amount as top actors like Shah Rukh Khan, Amitabh Bhachan and Salman Khan, who rake in from $8,000 to $11,000 per day on set. Instead she makes around $450 per day, which is more typical of someone with her level of experience. But everyone has to start somewhere. In fact, Bollywood fever is so widespread that tourists allegedly visit India solely in the hopes of becoming extras and kickstarting a new career.

“It is important to have a strong mind, determination and an extremely thick skin to work in this industry because it is very competitive and might not be everyone's cup of tea,” advises CeeCee.

the central bazaar of mumbai india full of pedestrians
Peter Adams/Stone/Getty Images

The allure of Bollywood

Many Indian films, such as Lagaan, Slumdog Millionaire, and most recently, RRR have achieved crossover success and international acclaim, even winning awards at the Oscars. This just adds to Bollywood’s appeal as a viable option for people who dream of being in the movies. Additionally, most of these films feature elaborate song and dance sequences, and the music often becomes just as popular as the films themselves. Songs like “Jai Ho” and "Kala Chasma" are certified bangers, while "Mundian To Bach Ke" even got the Jay-Z remix treatment in 2002. Some song sequences in Bollywood movies are known to employ 30 to 50 backup dancers, which might make it seem somewhat easy to get cast, at least to outsiders.

Mumbai, particularly the suburbs of Andheri and Bandra, is home to major film studios like Film City, Yash Raj Films, and Mehboob Studio. And nearly everyone who visits the city makes a stop outside one of them, or to the homes of Bollywood celebrities, in hopes of catching a glimpse of their favorite movie star. Many also tour Film City in order to watch a live movie production—and perhaps even snag the eye of a film producer or director looking to cast their next role.

two stars surrounded by extras filming a sequence for a bollywood film | Hindustan Times/Getty Images

Different ways to achieve stardom

Imraan Furniturewala is a director and producer at Net Pix Shorts Digital Media Limited who’s received awards for his short films at international film festivals, including three nominations for India’s famous Filmfare awards. His family has been involved in the industry since the 1960s. Following a 25-year corporate career, he pursued his own passion for filmmaking, enrolling in film school at the age of 40. After graduating, he then founded his media company, which went on to become the first media enterprise listed on the Bombay Stock Exchange's startup platform.

The 50-year-old Mumbaikar has now been in Bollywood for eight years and says it’s one of the most regulated and organized industries in the entire country. He’s particularly impressed by how all levels of talent work together to make a production the best it can be, meaning that even extras play a role in shaping the final product.

On a recent phone call, he broke down the roles that exist within a typical production—as well as how they’re cast. He says that lead actors are typically represented by a talent management agency or independently managed based on their longstanding relationships with casting directors. Meanwhile, “junior artists,” a.k.a. extras, come through someone called a “junior artist coordinator.” They’re generally contacted by the casting director to fill spots for backup dancers, random crowd members, and other such non-speaking roles.

Junior artists also belong to one of several government-approved unions. Would-be members apply for an Online Artist Card, which, once registered, acts as a membership. Registration costs anywhere from ₹2,000 to ₹6,000 (or $24 to $72), depending on their line of expertise. But that money buys protections: Membership guarantees overtime with pay, salary minimums, good working conditions, and more. They're also more or less mandatory. “Many productions have been fined or shut down during random union checks because of unethical hiring practices or non-unionized workers on set,” Furniturewala says. “Knowing this structure can really help aspiring actors and junior artists connect with the right people to improve their chances of success.”

Union membership is especially helpful for budding junior artists who are looking for a break into the industry and may not have the connections and contacts experienced talent like CeeCee had when she started out.

a bollywood star poses for a selfie with a young fan and aspiring actor in india
Hindustan Times/Getty Images

But can you really become an extra?

As Cece’s example shows, there are multiple ways to break into Bollywood.

But both she and Furniturewala are adamant that most peoples’ chance of doing so is slim. While some big-name stars like Shahid Kapoor and Deepika Padukhone came from humble beginnings, their stories might not be possible today. Kapoor appeared as a background dancer in a few '90s films before moving onto music videos and TV commercials. His breakthrough role came almost a decade later, which proves CeeCee’s comment about persistence. Meanwhile, the day rate for junior artists ranges from $18 to $25 per day for 12-hour shifts—definitely nowhere close to covering a flight and living expenses in Mumbai.

“While it is technically true that the easiest way to get into a movie would be as a junior artist or backup dancer, it isn’t really as simple as walking around waiting for a coordinator to spot you,” Furniturewala says. “Junior artists are hired based on the requirements for a particular movie or scene to make the optics relatable and more importantly, believable. It’s best to have all your paperwork handy and network with the right people well before your trip, so you have a higher probability of success when you are here.”

It's also important to note that even foreigners who want to become junior artists need to register for a card and the appropriate visas to legally work. So even if you are spotted, approached, or invited to audition for a role as an extra, you need to have all the right ducks in a row to make the best of that opportunity.

woman auditioning for a bollywood film
Punit Paranjpe/AFP/Getty Images

Casting couches and more to watch out for

In India, it costs ₹120 (or about $1.45) to see a three-hour Bollywood movie in the theater. But while it’s a relatively inexpensive form of entertainment to consume, that doesn’t mean the industry isn’t chock full of nefarious characters out to make a quick buck. Casting couches, shady artist coordinators, fake talent agencies, and scammers do exist in Bollywood—that’s just part of the nature of the movie business. Con artists may ask for registration fees or investments in return for promises of work or fame, which CeeCee calls an “immediate red flag.”

She also admits that sometimes coordinators and directors openly mention the desire to sleep with the artists in exchange for a big role or work in the industry—another clear sign to walk away. She doesn’t suggest newcomers do what she did. “It is always good to know your rights as it is your best line of defense,” says CeeCee. “The fact is that you should never have to pay for a job if you go through the proper channels.”

There’s also an urban legend that casting coordinators wander the streets of Mumbai outside tourist hotspots like Leopold Cafe & Bar, Gateway of India or Mehaboob studios looking for talent for their next project. Furniturewala acknowledges that while this practice may have been popular in the past, the unions and other artist welfare groups have streamlined the hiring process. The trade-off was between serendipity and safety. “For us career directors and producers, taking shortcuts is really not worth its while in the long run,” he notes.

Overall, both Furniturewala and CeeCee agree that Bollywood is currently undergoing a transformative phase. The delineation between the Indian film industry and a broader global entertainment entity is becoming increasingly blurred. And that is driving a shift and change in discovering and casting talent to align with global industry standards.

While the thought of securing a role as a Bollywood extra may seem daunting with all the newer rules and regulations, don’t let that stop you from pursuing it. It's just crucial (and wise) to approach this aspiration with a blend of realistic expectations, an understanding of the industry's intricacies, and a commitment to follow protocols. Who knows, you just might become the next prominent silver screen star—one who was legitimately and authentically discovered.

Want more Thrillist? Follow us on InstagramTikTokTwitterFacebookPinterest, and YouTube.
Karthika Gupta is a travel photographer, freelance writer, and podcaster based in Chicago but originally from India. Through her storytelling and photography, she aims to bring cultural narratives to the forefront. Her work has been featured in VogueBBC TravelConde Nast TravelerHemispheresTravel and Leisure, and more. Follow her work via Instagram or her portfolio.