Friday, October 16, 2015

A Young Actor’s Conundrum

“Should I be doing one film at a time or should I be doing all the work I can lay my hands on?”

If a newcomer is lucky enough to be getting multiple offers from producers, in Bombay it mostly means you are ‘to the manor born’, this question might play on a young actor’s mind. Of course if you’re the kind who has sold their last belonging to make a leap into Bollyland this isn’t a very relevant question and you can stop reading now. But if you are young and connected by blood or sperm with the royalty of filmdom and are being puff inflated by your managers and/ or mummyji as the next big thing you might have to grapple with this question. At least you should if you have any fucking brains.

There is a case for both approaches. In the past, Amitabh Bachchan’s generation, that lorded over the box-office, used to do three shifts a day churning out 3 to 5 films a year.  While others, mostly from the current generation of ‘Stars’, take a more measured approach doing one or two films a year.  This approach to work was made popular by Aamir Khan at the turn of the century.  He probably decided that it made sense for him to limit exposure and put all his effort into the one film every year or so. And it worked very well for him. Largely because he was meticulous about the story he chose and made sure everyone around him polished it to a level where it was simply impossible for it to fail. But here is the bad news for those newcomers who think taking this route  is their success mantra. Most young actors don’t know how to read a script. Of course it might be argued that many older actors don’t really know how to read either, but then that’s a story for another time.

Today I will argue for the ‘work till you drop’ approach. One of the main reasons to do this is that as a young actor you don’t know shit about reading a script. Your inability to make a distinction between a good script and a god-awful one is the first reason you should be doing more films. It is like taking multiple small bets at the gambling table as opposed to putting your house on the line on one punt. Bandra and Andheri’s streets are littered with tombstones of too many ‘failed’ young actors who were made to believe they were better than the work being offered to them.

The second reason, and this is more important, is that most young actors polishing up in the gyms, swimming, doing parkour and horse riding don’t know how to act. It is a truth that is well known. Directors break into cold sweat in the middle of the night worrying about the next day’s shoot.  DOPs have been known to shoot themselves, with a gun. So, if you are deluding yourself that behind that chocolate face is an acting supernova please dispel that thought. You are in all probability a lousy actor with no real life experiences to draw upon.  There is no real depth to you. You are what would be described as a ‘flake’ in parts of India that are not Andheri west.

But there is hope. Take the example of today’s reigning superstars. To put it politely they were not thespian quality actors at the start of their career.  But they have by and by become reasonable actors. Over time acting like any craft can be polished. You can learn how to face the camera and pace your dialogue delivery.  Timing and use of space is a great skill that can be learned by acting daily in front of camera. You can learn what works and what doesn’t if you spend enough time in front of the camera. Experience can even make you a good actor.  And this experience comes by acting. Also, don’t forget some of those character actors you’ll work with daily, those actors who don’t make it to the film’s poster or publicity material, are actually very good at their jobs and give you a springboard to bounce off that no mirror can.

Since Aamir Khan’s approach to work is the example most touted by young actors while rejecting scripts it may be interesting to see how many films he did at the start of his career.  I have counted 26 films in the first 12 years after his mainstream debut in 1988.  And these are the films that saw light of day. I am sure there were enough that got stuck in various stages of filming.   He was probably doing 3 to 4 films a year.

So the lesson here would be, learn to read a script. But if you can’t make out if a script is good or bad it may be a wise career move to carpet bomb the audiences. Learning from a mistake is better than not learning at all. Please do yourself a favor and go through the list of actors - I suggest looking at the last 10 years - who were billed as the next big thing and see how far they’ve gotten.  This list is full of sons/daughters/girlfriends of Bollyland ‘A’ list who got launched in great style.  You’ll find a huge number, actors who listened to their spin doctors/agents dead set on ‘packaging’ them right, who never made any headway. In this business hot turns to cold rather quickly. Out of politeness I won’t mention names but you get what I am saying.  Choose to do more than less. Less is okay if you are already a star or an exceptional actor.  Also remember that your father’s stardom doesn’t automatically transfer to you.

 Saying no to a script is easy. Saying yes and then working your butt off takes courage. And courage is what makes a great character.