Amidst the current debate in regards to the film industry and mental health of its artistes, here is the 'Part II' of the much appreciated insider's account from actor turned filmmaker Himanshu Malik.
In case you have missed the Part I- Click on the hyperlink to read it- Inside Bollywood's Outsider: Insider's account of 'life in Hindi Film Industry'
Himanshu Malik with ace filmmaker Majid Majidi post the screening of 'Chitrakut'
Things really begin to heat up as the Actor gets into Stage 3 mode, you have been on the screen for some time now and people all over pretty much know you, from the peeps back in hometown to industry players. Your alma mater hail you as their product and old friends think you really are living it, jet setting all over the place and sexing every possibility. You try and explain to them, such is not the case and that things are not what meets the eye, but they refuse to believe, they want to maintain their fantasy, that their friend made it to 'The Great Orgy', as if it gives them a rise, you leave that conversation mid- way. The 'New' friends you had- thought you had changed as a person- remember, and your still newer friends are as adrift as you are in the same stratosphere. You think about obtuse things like 'your image' and the 'projection of success'- some other actors have affairs, learn kung-fu, bulk up on muscle or do some such innovative things for the same, while you are still trying to find a character in the scripts sent to you.
From being parts of already moving projects you need to get onto the starting grid of a project which means your interactions with the people of power start to take shape for they are the decision makers at this level. They too are fascinated by you like with a new toy and want to know you, you seem flattered and deceived by it; the breakthrough seems imminent.
But as things progress- as an undercurrent, a strange game of submissiveness starts to play out with them- even the side characters around the powerful ones demand their own polishing to influence 'the court'. It could include small acts like laughing on their dinner table jokes no matter how unfunny or crass to as big as agreeing to their world-view to the minutest detail no matter how weird, especially in regards to art, filmmaking and gossip. Play acting will not do it, for they are seasoned in spotting the fakes, the servitude has to emanate from the Actor's eyes, only then will you be in their coterie and thence in their
Projects. One would be empowered by them only if you add to their own sense of power else it is a waste of time- universal truth.
In a field, where talent is a matter of perspective, individuality is a sin.
How these group of people came to such power or hold on to it-whether by legacy inheritance, audience choices, market manipulation or distribution hoarding or buddy boosting- is a systemic question which can have many answers.
For a moment if we peer into what makes them, one might come up with some poignant images. Most of them are from successful film backgrounds- one can say they are born legacy stars. Like all mega successful parents, their parents probably were seldom home. While the whole country enjoyed and got elated by their films, who knows how much attention they gave back home. I remember a particular booze soaked evening with one of these legacy stars where time and again he convinced me that it was only his driver who truly understood him emotionally, and there was this beautiful girl legacy star who in a moment of vulnerability casually stated that she openly called her nanny 'mom' and her mom, well, by her name. One cannot but feel the tragedy of it all. They probably have hangers on from kindergarten and a bunch of go to friends with whom they feel belonged and have spent many a nights having pizza and Pepsi and watched Batman movies. Fast forward- many years later when they are asked to helm a production house or whatever their craft chances are the first thing that crosses their mind is that they will have to wake up in the mornings now instead of lunchtime and more than that what would give them the heebee-jeebies is that they have to deal with those characters who come to Mumbai in hoards every day with stories in their eyes and passion in their blood, stories that they cannot understand. The thought of all this makes them call their bestie no.1 over and they order pizza and Pepsi and the bestie assures them that they will help them through this and that they have a friend who has a friend who has a friend who knows this guy who wants to be an actor or writer or Director or whatever, so on and so forth. Herein starts the journey of favouritism and nepotism.
Coming back to our actor chap who is running out of time and stage 3 breakthrough seems more and more distant, the golden gates of fortune which
took many years to open, start to shut very quickly, the junta log figure that you are not going to break through and suddenly you are a spent force.
From being someone who had gotten somewhere you become someone who 'didn't make it', truth be told, it is not only the system that creates the situation, possibly there were drawbacks in the candidate too, after all there is limited space at the top, that is why it is called the top. Since an actor's failures and successes are public domain (as in everyone knows when you are not on screen or stage- that's the yardstick) your choices are limited.
Someone had asked Bob Dylan of his transition within the arts, of him going from being a singer to songwriter, he explained it as a journey through lifting fog- as the landscape starts to appear, you wonder if your co-traveler saw it and want to share the world you see with them- hence you find ways to tell them about it.
Transition is liberation from the past.
You transition, finding yourself a new identity or niche in the business-turn to TV, become a comic act, sing and cut an album or be an entrepreneur or something or maybe even a filmmaker. All options are complicated. But you plod on, happily or unhappily.
I remember an alcohol fuelled evening with a group of actors in the early days, where one of them made a grand dramatic statement that, 'acting gives a bigger high than anything else' (no we were no indulging in that drug, he was speaking metaphorically). We all agreed unanimously and even applauded his insight, we were probably high on that statement more than the booze all night.
One can say that you become an actor because there is a void within you want to fill by borrowing from the characters you play or you can say that you become an actor to live more lives, other lives within your own singular life.
Ask any actor, who has performed a crackling scene in the day (no matter where, on camera or at the theatre), and that evening sits with his/her preferred indulgence- a glass of whisky soda or a cigarette or a slice of pizza- feeling satiated, no matter which shack, hole or hovel they live in. Ask them what it feels like, and they'll probably tell you to get lost, for 'non-actors and mortals' won't get it.
*This is an unedited article contributed by Himanshu Malik. Click here to follow him on Instagram.