Ek Khat Ka Jawaab
I am not a famous, celebrated or super successful filmmaker. And so far besides my advertising films, I have flirted with Bollywood with alarming infrequency. Never the less, I am often inundated with mails and messages from young and not so young people who wish to become actors asking how they can go about being one. I assume that they reach out to almost everyone listed on any film forum or in any film directory.
In the absence of professional counseling for creative and performing arts in many schools or colleges or outside of that in India, the aspiring artists have nowhere else to go but to turn to professionals in the field and seek their advice. We have all done it. This becomes the only way for many who come from small towns or places where there is very little exposure to the real workings of the film Industry.
Most of the film professionals are super busy and despite their best intentions are unable to respond to such requests in any detail or with any useful guidance. Also, I assume most of them get atleast billion more requests than I do. I guess most young people in India today prefer a career as an actor over being a doctor, engineer, an accountant or a scientist. So it is kind of impossible for them to do their job and also double up as a career counsellor.
I, on the other hand, by some miracle of God, always have some spare time to respond to as many people as I can.
I remember the days in the late eighties when I was on the verge of stepping out of my comfort zone in South Delhi to embark on this journey to the mythical land of Bollywood...Delhi in those days was bereft of any film school or film people. There were few advertising, theatre and documentary people and coming from a business/corporate world family background, I hardly knew anyone of them.
Any how, I did find my way to the offices of some of those fine creative folks and I must say they were most helpful and kind. Later, in the early years post my film school, I again found some people in Mumbai who were kind and helpful to guide me along. Life was easier then or so it seems now.
In any case, I look at this as paying it forward. So I respond in an honest way with whatever little knowledge and tips I have picked up along the way with a hope that it will be taken in the right spirit and be helpful.
Some appreciate it, some get offended and some feel discouraged. Most people, when they ask for some advise, they want you to tell them what they want to hear. I have to ignore that valid desire of theirs to maintain my integrity and be honest in my response. Few take it well, use it well and even do small wonders with it for their life and careers. That makes it worthwhile.
I got another similar request earlier today by a gentleman who feels he has the skills, the talent but not sure how he can become an actor. It seems he has tried to reach out to few people in Bollywood, visited Mumbai several times but with disappointing results. He works in the IT industry in a satellite town. He wanted me to guide him, to tell him how he can become an actor.
The fun part about all this is that I am pretty sure most of these nice people who approach me have little or no knowledge of what I really do or who I really am. To be honest, neither do I. So I don't hold that against them. They probably see that I am listed in some film directory or my profile on social media says I am a filmmaker or perhaps they have seen or heard off some of my short or advertising films and by those virtues I am qualified to offer them guidance on such a crucial decision of their life. I understand the responsibility that comes with it and I always make it a point to tell them my real position in the Bollywood food chain so that they have a perspective to the gyaan I am about to give them.
So today when I got this request for guidance from another aspiring actor, I responded to him and thought I will share it on my blog in a hope that it may help few other aspirants who chance upon it. I am changing the name to protect the identity of the gentleman but pasting rest of my email as it is -
Shree Ram Kumar Ji,
Aapka sawaal asaan hai, parantu jawaab kathin. Phir bhi try karta hoon...
Mai roz khana khata hoon. Ek din mujhko laga, mai khana bana sakta hoon. Phir ek din aur kuch din, bana bhi liya. Phir ek din kuch doston ne mere haath ka bana khaana khaya. Badi tareef hui. Ab tak sab theek tha..Phir laga ki yaar mai restaurant bhi khol sakta hoon. Kuch paise thaey...jagah mil gayi...restuarant bhi khol diya. Lekin tab se zindagi haraam ho gayi. Phir pata chala ki khaney, khilaney aur khana bechne mai kaafi antar hai.
This is not a true story. Consider it as a beginning of one of my scripts.
Shayad aapko meri baat thodi kadvi lagi hogi. Mera woh laqshya nahin tha. Mai sirf aapko teen alag cheeson ke baare mai samjhana chahta tha.
There are many ways to go about finding a career in acting but first step would be to expose yourself to the real life of actors right from their initial struggling days to after they have become Super Stars. The real life. Not what you see on screen or in media . You can do that using them as a subject and by researching on them, speaking to some of them or people who have worked with them, reading on them, their lives, biographies. etc. This will give you an idea of what it takes to live and exist as an actor.
Next step is to be honest with yourself and ask - Besides talent, creativity, confidence, Do you have all that it takes to survive as an actor in worse days and best days? Yes, there are plenty of other skills and requirements that are needed which you will become aware of once you have done some research on the real life of actors.
If the Answer is yes, then go about training yourself - Acting courses are plenty. Choose wisely. Along with the course or while still doing it, try and participate in theatre plays or modeling jobs or acting in some TVCs, short films, documentaries, etc. Whatever comes your way. Do not divert your attention to start looking for this work actively just yet. This participation in work is only to give you a taste of working as an actor with a professional team and atmosphere outside of your acting school. You are not ready yet to join the profession of acting. Also, start analyzing how audiences are reacting to you as an actor, a face, a personality. Use it to gauge your strong and weak points and work on them. Be it dialogue delivery, posture, voice throw, grooming, gestures, facial expressions, etc.
Once you are finished with your course, get a nice portfolio clicked. Portfolio that gels with your real personality. Do not try to project something you are not. Eventually, people will meet you and realize that your portfolio is not your portfolio but the photographer's portfolio. That should never happen. Be yourself. Honesty is the best calling card. And if you have not done any film work as an actor before or during your acting course, then make a video showreel.
Make contacts with industry people - fellow struggling actors, casting directors, assistant directors, production people, spot boys, make up men, etc. Start collecting information of casting notices and auditions. Go for as many auditions as possible. Be nice and kind and bear absolutely no attitude or grudge. Make friends. Help people when you can. It is a small industry and just like life and karma, every thing that goes around, comes around.
One of those days, you will get a break. Make the most of it, no matter what it is. Smallest of work, smallest of films, smallest of part is not small for you. Work hard, give it your best shot. You may have to do that for the next 3-4 years. Maybe more, maybe less.
Maybe you will get noticed with the very first acting job you ever do. Maybe you will eventually become a superstar and roads will be named after you post your death. Maybe you will never get noticed and despite all your hard work, best efforts and roles in super blockbuster films, you may die an unsung, unrecognized, unwritten about, financially poor actor. In any case, you will be an actor and would have lived your life doing what you love, cherish and respect.
If you are ready for that life, you can read this again and start with the first step.
I wish you the best of luck for any choices you may make in your life.