Rakesh Dasgupta is an actor, and his own checkered life and journey through three countries and five cities has the potential to make a movie. Having lived in Kolkata, Brisbane, Townsville, and Sydney so far, currently based in Los Angeles, the 34-year-old actor and writer is focused on chasing his lifelong dream, acting. Rakesh is one among many of the Indian-heritage creatives waiting for that crucial big-entry ticket into Hollywood. He is peddling his award-winning script Shiva around and wants to play the lead role.
“There is no way they will cast me, a ‘nobody’. When I refer to Sylvester Stallone and Rocky, I am told he was an exception. You hardly see movies with Indian characters in the lead. Those that have, star established celebrities. I have been told even if my screenplay rocks, makers would change it, mold it, I would just be given money for it and sent out the door,” says Rakesh.
Ask him what a typical day looks like for a struggler in La La Land and he says, “I wake up and go to the gym first thing, unless I have an early morning audition. The rest of my time is devoted to sustaining myself through casual work.” The actor works hard at maintaining his sexy abs and a healthy, toned body. “I have to look appealing so I work out diligently, and eat 6 times a day. Plain rice and boiled chicken is all I eat,” shares Rakesh.
Being in LA was lonely and depressing, which Rakesh turned into his strength. “Week after week, I was alone in my room. Knew no one. I needed a body of work for my visa, or I would have to return to Australia. To combat my loneliness, I started writing. I thought of a story and converted it into a 120-page screenplay,” says Rakesh. “My lead character is a South Asian movie star in Hollywood who struggles to hide his troubled family history as his advancing terminal illness threatens to destroy an unfolding romance.”
“I sent my written work to some Hollywood screenplay specialists. They said it sucked, that I am a bad writer, non-writer, that I should study screenplay writing,” he says.
Meanwhile, Rakesh also sent submissions to film festivals and won best screenplay awards at Top Indie Film Awards, New York Film Awards, Global Film Festival, Los Angeles Cinefest, and Los Angeles Film Awards. However his biggest award will be when the movie gets made, “People like the idea but when I say I want to play the lead, they back off.”
Delve into his past, and he reveals he had the lure for acting since higher secondary in Kolkata where he grew up. His dream of enrolling himself at Film Institute of India, Pune, was thwarted by his parents. “They were influential and ‘high society’ with connections to ministers and income tax commissioner. My parents thought I was crazy as I used to talk to the mirror practicing acting, and they put me on high doses of anti-psychotic medication, meant for Schizophrenia. I was 18 then, and became timid and highly dependent on them,” he shares.
Rakesh could only sign up for Bachelor of Arts at Kolkata University. “It was a start. I matured a bit, started interacting with people, going out, getting a little bit of freedom. My head was clearer.” In 2007, he convinced his parents and escaped to Australia to study. He has a double Masters in Applied Finance and Accountancy from University of Queensland, Brisbane, to show for that period.
Interestingly, despite an English Honors, his spoken English was zero. “I could write but I couldn’t understand anyone and couldn’t speak and couldn’t get a job. So I worked as a dishwasher and a cleaner, and even cleaned my own university campus,” he says.
“I would have liked to come directly to US but at the time, this was the only option. Life caught up and I almost gave up on my dream. My brain went in a different direction. I have been through phases of high addiction: the pills my parents had got me onto, drugs, drinking and smoking. Then I thought I could lead the “regular” life. So I cleaned up my act, started training and working as a policeman, got myself a secure government job,” says Rakesh.
“However, once the effects of my various addictions wore out, my passion for acting came back. By this time, my English was perfect so I finally decided to move to Sydney in 2013,” he says.
It was an overnight decision, but he was on the right path. After a couple of meetings with other agents, he found Therese Clifford, from TCM Agency, who agreed to represent him. “She sent me to auditions, I did a few commercials and small roles, supporting roles, and built up my resume for two years. But there weren’t good roles. In 2016, my small, six-minute role in an Australian film Down Under got me some attention. It wasn’t an important role but the acting part was important; it was hard-core acting,” he says.
“In 2015, Therese took me to LA for two weeks and introduced me to agencies, managers, acting teachers, casting directors. They liked my performance but I had to come back. In 2017, I moved here to LA finally. Therese helped me with my visa, sponsor, attorney, everything.”
Although he hasn’t done any serious acting except for a short film In The Air, Rakesh is keeping his hopes up, “I still don’t have an agent and a manager. I had exhausted my savings once more, it was hard to settle into a new city yet, with shared flats, and hostels. But now, I have a place to live, and my routine.”
This time, Rakesh is set on his goal and intends to get there on his own terms. He is in control of his life, which he has kept lean and simple. Though a work of fiction, his screenplay has shades of his own life. Rakesh believes no other actor can play the role better than him. The ingredients seem right, we know how Hollywood loves the underdog to winner stories. Will the stars shine for this one?
Are you shining just for me?
Is this the start of something wonderful and new?
Or one more dream that I cannot make true?
Hamida Parkar is a freelance journalist and founder-editor of cinemaspotter.com. She writes on cinema, culture, women, and social equity.
This article was edited by Culture and Media Editor Geetika Pathania Jain.