I sat on one of the footpaths in Mindspace, a BPO hub in Mumbai, looked up at the sleek buildings and thought to myself: if things don’t work out, I’ll have to look for a job here. This was in December 2007, when I had just moved to Mumbai, intending to leave my mark on this world through the frivolous pursuit of working in films.
I told myself that I would go for a hundred auditions. If I didn’t get a single job out of those 100, then I would look for something more mundane. Like a regular office job. What a dreadful thought.
So I started going to auditions. The first one I went to was for a dance film. The venue was a pretty large hall, with tea and snacks laid out for the hopeful, hungry masses of struggling actors. (I’m exaggerating). I was pretty impressed – wow, they give you food as well – nice! That good feeling didn’t last too long as I soon asked someone whether all auditions were like this and they said of course not.
I didn’t get the role that I auditioned for there. In fact, as far as I know, the film hasn’t even been made yet, a fairly common occurrence as there lie many, many a slip between the cup and the lip when it comes to getting films made.
Most auditions are for TV ads, so after that rare debut of a film audition, I started auditioning for ads. Fortunately, I didn’t have to toil through a hundred rejections before my first selection: a Godrej Washing Machine ad.
According to the audition script, as far as I can remember, I was to play an actor receiving an award, walk on stage and wave at the cheering crowd, then yank the award out of the presenter’s hands and blow air kisses. I did a decent job of it – the casting director chuckled.
An old Hero Honda catchphrase used to be – fill it, forget it. My policy for auditions is similar – do it, forget it. There’s no point daydreaming about what you’ll do with the money you get for this ad, because getting selected or not selected is completely out of your hands, unless, of course, you’re related to or good buddies with somebody in the production house or you know the right kind of dirty politics to play – wish I knew that.
So I was pleasantly surprised and highly thrilled when I got the call that I’d been selected for the ad. Yahoo! My first acting job in Mumbai! Which cliché should I use – over the moon, on cloud nine?
I was summoned at 8 am, and I dutifully arrived on time after a little confusion regarding the location of the location, and soon realised I was the only bloke there apart from the carpenters and electricians. Half an hour later, people started arriving; we had breakfast, and were then assigned to respective vanity vans. I shared mine with two other actors – Dr Sharad Nayampally and Nikhil Ratnaparkhi, whom you’ll easily recognise from several ads and also as Ali Zafar’s cameraman inTere Bin Laden.
Wow, I thought, as I sat in the comfort of the air-conditioned van, actors are pampered, eh. My addendum to that thought now is: more than they deserve. Nikhil was called to shoot after a while, so I spent most of my time talking to Dr Nayampally.
The hours went by. 10 am, 11, 12. They still hadn’t called us. Lunchtime. We ate heartily. Wow, lots of food – I was happy again. The afternoon went by. 2 pm, 3, 4. They still hadn’t called us.
Anupam Kher has said, as an actor, you’re not paid to act – you’re paid to wait. Wait for the set to be readied, wait for the lights to be put in place, wait for the camera to be placed, etc., etc. Most regular folk would probably be bored to tears by the actual experience of shooting.
At around 6 pm or so, we were finally taken to the set. Remember, I had been called at 8 am. So for nearly 9 or 10 hours, I’d been doing nothing but sitting on my arse and getting fat.
Now, remember the part I’d auditioned for – the actor receiving the award? Well, it turned out that I’d been selected all right, but not for that. I was simply gonna be a passenger on a plane where Preity Zinta’s life-size cutout would be. No action, no dialogue, nothing. I was to just sit down in a dummy business class seat doing nothing but reading an in-flight magazine. All the doing would be done by the air hostess and Nikhil, who was playing Preity’s secretary. Talk about comedowns.
As for being seen in the ad, well, between me and the camera were the following obstructions: one more passenger, the air hostess, Nikhil, Preity Zinta’s cutout, and the tiny aircraft window. And it was all over within 20 minutes or so. After about 10 hours of waiting. But that’s how shooting life is. No complaints.
I stopped watching TV in 2004, so I don’t have one. As a result, I never got to see the ad, but I suspect that my appearance in it was limited to my left trouser thigh.
Epilogue: I’ve managed to get quite a decent amount of acting work so far. My first decent-sized film role is in Dibakar Banerjee’s political thriller Shanghai, to be released next Republic Day.
(Kenny Deori Basumatary is an actor, and his debut work of fiction, Chocolate_Guitar_Momos, has been published by Westland/Tranquebar.)