LIGHTS! CAMERA! ACTION! The exhilaration of the moment, the freezing of frames, the electricity that seems to pulse through the set, the long draining hours, and the satisfaction of being in another’s shoes in reel - this sums up an actor’s life! But the scene has changed, the sets are deserted, the lights are out. Bingedaily spoke to struggling actors, who’ve been out of action, away from the limelight ever since the pandemic struck.
“The overall situation is bad, quite bad!”
You may think an actor’s life has been quite the easy one. Waking up to Instagram with 10 k followers waiting on you, having your bed in breakfast and then learning a couple of lines and living in style. But here’s a spoiler. Actors, like all other professions, are struggling to battle the lockdown blues. While drag queens, artists who perform at live gigs, and many other members of the showbiz industry resorted to the digital approach, the acting industry couldn’t quite settle for it. Yes, Amazon Prime has made our weekends better, by setting our phones abuzz, with their ‘Digital Premieres’. But there’s a bigger picture when it comes to this industry. Auditions, shoot life, the nitty-gritty of getting that one perfect shot, and the zillion little things to have in place before the director yells ‘cut’; these just could not be done digitally. When it comes to struggling actors, who already are reeling under the pressures of making their niche in the industry, a lockdown only serves to make matters worse.
Maharshi Dave elaborates on the woes of being a struggling actor. Hailing from Mumbai, he has done 2 ads, and a couple of cameos in What The Folks - 3, and Four More Shots Please - 2! While he doesn’t have to worry about the basic 'roti kapda makaan' like the others who aren’t from the city, it has been a tough time. “Aspiring actors from outside Mumbai have had huge problems. Many of my colleagues have returned to their home town. Some chose to stay and battle it out, and are struggling to provide for themselves. The overall situation is bad, quite bad!”
Maharshi says it’s not just struggling actors, but even well-based ones who are starting to feel the pinch of the lockdown. “The scene overall is bad for actors who are yet to create their niche. I remember a friend calling me to discuss if he should also consider a business process outsourcing (BPO) or call centre opportunity. This is a guy who easily does 15-20 ad films a year and a couple of web series cameos here and there! He's not been cast for 2 months. This is when it could get dirty and people could get into depression. It's important that someone acts as a support system at this time.”
“People have left for their hometown, they cannot audition”
Hariman, who has worked with the big guys, like Alt Balaji, Lays, Icici, Hp Laptops, KFC, Burger paints, SBI, Oppo, Hrx, Xolo, Award Winning Short Film Aehsaas, says “There are no real opportunities for struggling actors. Most brands are trying to hold on until the lock-down ends. The problem is actors are being asked if their houses can be used for the shoot since quite a few shoot locations are closed. It will take a good amount of time to get back since most people have gone back to their villages and we are short on staff, so we have to manage a lot with the few we have.”
When the lockdown hit, most artists, struggling actors, and members of the film fraternity who come to Mumbai looking to pursue their dreams had to move back home. This was a setback to many, says Maharshi. “Most ad films are shot in Mumbai. That's where actors are missing out on healthy opportunities. For instance, an actor living on rent could easily survive 2 months from the money he earned through just 1 ad. That's how important these ads are for actors.”
“First it was good faces and now its good houses.”
The lockdown forced the closure of film studios and outdoor shooting. The new format for short films, feature-length ones, auditions, web series, ads or just about anything deemed one to shoot in in the confines of home.
Hariman says the market which was bad even before the pandemic, has just taken a turn for the worst. “There is zero scope of getting a job. Back then you could audition almost once in two days and now its turned into once a month. This is not very practical since we have to record ourselves at home "PROVIDED WE HAVE A FANCY HOUSE" yes that's the new requirement now. First, it was good faces and now it is good houses.”
When asked whether this crisis for jobs meant continuing to be picky about roles, or settling for what came your way, these struggling actors had differing views.
“Willing to work with whatever comes my way”
Maharshi says right now, being picky isn’t the best option. “For now I'm willing to opt for whatever work comes my way, as I know most of them will be advertisements. Many actors have opted for a part-time job, including me. While we have to stay positive hoping there's light at the end of the tunnel, it is tough for people who have only been acting their whole life. They don't know anything else! If they try to take up a job especially during these times - all they get are BPO/call centre opportunities.”
He says every actor has a niche, a comfortable space. “Most times, actors get cast in the same space of work that they do - some in advertisements, some for auditions for web series and films. Very few are successfully doing both things. Currently, the situation is bleak for web series and films, and the only option seems to be advertisements. So everyone's wanting to do that now.”
“Will continue being picky when it comes to roles”
Hariman on the other hand disagrees. He says he will still continue to be picky while choosing projects to work with, “Quality matters. Currently, people are just randomly resorting to projects, out of their niche. Actors are being offered bad budgets and the typical excuse "client doesn't have a good budget" has been replaced by COVID HAI SIR!!!!!!!”
“Patience is all one can have”
While that is the scene as far as the film industry is concerned, theatre to has suffered. As a live art form, the theater is particularly affected by the coronavirus, along with concerts and stand-up comedy performances. When will anyone want to be in a dark room full of strangers again? Even when theatres reopen, social-distancing rules could hamper rehearsals, and force venues to sell fewer (and therefore more expensive) tickets. Most believe theatre will eventually rebound, but there is talk of a generation of artists and audiences being lost.
Malhar Desai who has worked in theatre for 5 years now, resonates the uncertainty of struggling actors. This young actor has featured in a serial ‘Mere Sai’ and a Gujarati ‘Kanho banyo common man’. When the lockdown hit, though not part of any projects then, Malhar was in a fix. Auditioning at that time for roles in movies and serials alike, the lockdown made sure his chances dropped. However, he says that patience is all one can have. “There are work projects that will resume after the lockdown. Actors will have to be patient and wait their turn.”
“A chance to start anew”
Malhar says right now the industry seems to be veering away from nepotism and thus needs new talent. “This is where we step in. The pandemic will take a while for things get back to normal. But they will.”