If I were in school now and having to explain my current absence, this is how my leave letter would go: Dear Madam, Kindly permit me to absent myself for the next three days as I am bedridden, a consequence of watching several promotional interviews of movie people in quick succession which have left me with numbness on the left side of my face, severe pain on the right side of my lower body and some disturbing changes in my bowel movement…
Honestly, though, film folk, you’ll have to come up with new things to say in your coming interviews. For far too long, you’ve got away saying — with great authority, mind you — stuff that makes no sense whatsoever.
Author-backed role: Almost every film interview has an actor looking up at the ceiling, meditatively scratching his chin, and proclaiming he has an author-backed role. As a struggling author myself, I’ve always wondered what this meant. Why would the author back only one particular role? Isn’t it the author’s duty to back all ‘roles’ equally? Could it then mean the author was stepmotherly with the other roles in the film? Which makes me wonder if this particular fictional character created by the writer resorted to some unfair trade practices to get himself the author’s backing. Like giving him an interest-free loan, fixing his faulty plumbing, applying tick medicine on his uncertain Rottweiler, or worse still, bad-mouthing his co-characters in the script, all to ingratiate himself to the writer? Or does this character have some incriminating stuff on the author?
I play a cop: If only I had a buck for every time an actor said this. Or “I play a software engineer, bubbly girl or professional ear-wax remover”. I’ve never got what “playing a cop” meant. Being a policeman is a job. How can an actor play a job? I can understand if an actor were to say “I play a duckbilled platypus in this movie”. That, for me, is an accurate description of a role. You don’t need further explanation. But when they say they are playing a cop/lawyer/journalist, it tells me nothing unless they say “I play a cop… who is morbidly obese, has mommy issues, likes to do yoga wearing nothing but his holster and insists on speaking in Bhojpuri in romantic situations”. Then I have something to grapple with.
Director’s actress: This declaration, too, leaves me flummoxed. And I’ve heard it so often. I mean, as an actor/actress, who else could you be? The director is the guy or gal who, er, directs, right? So, by default, isn’t everyone a director’s actor, actress, art director, make-up assistant or key grip? Or are there a bunch of plumber’s actors, art director’s light boys, focus puller’s producers and financier’s audience operating in the movie industry that I know nothing about? To me, director’s actress means you haven’t read the script, don’t know if the movie you’re currently doing is a horror film or a historical, and come to the set with not a thought in your head, and expect the shlub who calls himself the director to do everything for you.
Performance-oriented role: This is the fraternal twin of the author-backed role. If an actor has been signed up for a movie, I would think his only job would be to perform, right? I’ve never heard, say, a pilot declaring her job was flight-oriented. Or the driver of a hearse saying his job was funeral-oriented. Why then do actors say this? Does this mean they have done other roles where their orientation was something other than performance? To be truthful, Satish Shah do one of the best non-performance-oriented roles ever in the movie Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro. He played a corpse.
Similarly, I beseech film folk not to say these things, too, after the end of a shoot. “It was like a picnic.” That really doesn’t augur well for us, the paying audience. If you all had a picnic instead of doing your jobs, then you had it at our expense. Similarly, “we were all like one big family”. Well, then, the movie you are about to show us is going to be as much fun as a sangeet ceremony is to a non-family member forced to view the video.
And when the movie bombs, and the reviewers troll you, for god’s sake, stop saying “You don’t know how hard we worked on this project for three years.” So did my carpenter. For one-and-a-half years, using the finest of material, he worked on a bookshelf I’d wanted. When it was done, it didn’t have a single right angle. Let me assure you, I didn’t give him five stars.
Krishna Shastri Devulapalli is a humour writer, columnist, novelist, playwright and screenwriter