Thursday, July 30, 2009

Someone asked me today...

“In order to promote their movies, an increasing number of celebrities/actors are opting to appear as guests on popular television shows. Often times the content of such shows is garbage. (nauseating zoom in/zoom out on the emotional mother’s face whose child contestant din’t make the cut, and other dirty techniques to exploit the viewer’s values for TRP)

I’m sure that a number of these actors recognize that, and agree to appear on such shows only to spread awareness about the film they’ve worked so hard to make. But in doing so, they’re indirectly also saying that “I approve of this type of television.” While they choose so carefully the movie scripts they work on, What about the unscripted hideousness that is reality shows? Does it dilute an actor’s integrity you think?

I’m afraid that due to your talent, you will soon be popular and somewhere down the road a publicist or agent may want you to do the same thing. Would you?”

This was posted as a comment on my last to last blog (the last being the latest victim in the insidious war I wage against political correctness) by a person calling themselves ‘Kashmirfan’. And it’s had me thinking all evening. As you all must be tired of hearing - “Sikandar” releases on the 21st of August. I await that date with an ever burgeoning mixture of excitement and dread. It’s an odd feeling knowing that pretty soon many, many (hopefully a few more many’s than that) eyes will have seen my first bit of work in front of the camera. And I’d be lying if I pretended to not care what people think about me as an actor, since it is precisely that response that will determine whether I get more work or not.

Because believe it or not, the work IS all I care about. I’ve never paused to consider what would happen to my freedom of opinion (which I value, strongly) as I moved further and further into a public arena, where not only my work, but everything about me would be judged, gauged, dismissed, admired, scorned appreciated. I never actually thought to consider the career more than finding work and doing it. I had posted a review of my honest opinion of a film recently here that I was ‘asked’ to take down. Not because what I was saying was wrong, or unfounded, but simply for the act of having said it. I’m not entitled to an opinion. I must be liked. Even though I commented only on the film. I had nothing against any of the actors in the film personally, or professionally. I’m a lover of cinema, and it always has and always will elicit a strong response from me. How can an actor not have an opinion on a film? It’s like saying a economist shouldn’t have an opinion on a new budget. It’s ludicrous.

I never considered that once I sign a contract with a production house to do a film, they legally own the rights to my time and my person and can use me to promote the film as they see fit. Consider what it must be like for actors Shahid Kapoor and Priyanka Chopra to be constantly in the news. What must it do to their private lives to have every single move they make towards one another analyzed and magnified? And of course, it’s only coincidental that they have an eagerly awaited film, “Kaminey”, shortly due to hit cinemas right? Right. Couldn’t have anything to do with that. Did they stage the relationship to promote the film? Did the producers of the film do it for them, or even despite them? Because that is how films do seem to be promoted these days - controversy and sex. The sure fire weapons in any public relation team’s arsenal. That’s all they seem to want to do, know how to. And are they wrong in thinking that all this works?

Kashmirfan, my friend, it’s a tricky question to ask and even trickier to answer. When “Sikandar” was being prepped for all the attendant, soon-to-be-unleashed marketing campaign, I was privy to a fair amount of brainstorming as to how the film should be promoted. The team seemed more interested in knowing whether I was dating a celebrity and how great that would have been in terms of marketing, than actually selling the film itself. So if the best these geniuses can come up is the idea to have me appear on the “Rakhi Sawant ka Swayamvara” show, what else needs to be said?

Thank the Goddess, that idea died a swift and immediate death, but it was an actual suggestion put on the table. How would me, who nobody in Indian really cares about right now because they’ve never even seen my work, appearing on a show like that, be promoting “Sikandar”? I have no answer. But I signed a contract that said I agreed to let the producer’s decide how best to utilize me for their marketing strategy. So if BIG Pictures had decided to push me to appear on the show, I would have been contractually obligated to do so. I would have told them to go stick their heads into dark, moist places, but then I would be labelled and ostracized in the industry for being a trouble-maker and a louse.

I think actors after a certain level of success or time, simply disconnect themselves from their public persona. They must, right? Otherwise how could they stand all the cringe-worthy things they are made to do, the rubbish shows they are made to appear on and pretend to involve themselves in? Because believe me, it’s not like an actor has a choice really. Certainly not one at my most humble level.

I concur completely with Kashmirfan’s assertion that an actor appearing on a show is an endorsement of it. Presence implies allegiance. How can an actor who is so particular about the kind of work that he/she does, be so cavalier and laissez-fair about the manner in which they conduct themselves during publicity drives? But they don’t have a choice. And in many cases, they simply don’t care, they’ve been at it for so long.

So in all honesty, I don’t know what I would do. Would I not want to help promote the film that I am a part of as best as I could? However, would that be worth the betrayal of every artistic sensibility I have, say if I was asked to allow them to link me up in the press with some actress whom I’ve barely said two words to my entire life? Or pay almost triple what I earn for a role in order to get my name and some horrendously pointless bit of badly written trivia into the press?
All I know is that I’m glad at least I’m aware of the questions. I have many leagues of maturity to chart, and missteps to go before I can consider myself wise enough to answer any of them. I’m a kid who wanted to act since he was nine years old. I wanted to be like Marlon Brando. It’s only when you grow up that you realize that Marlon Brando’s life was not a very happy one. And then you ask yourself the most important question - because anyone can survive struggle and hardship, human beings seem to be uniquely capable of that as a species. But can you survive success?

August 21st is when the quest to find an answer begins, I suppose. Failure is a familiar demon. Success…

I pray to my Goddess, that she grant me the serenity and the equilibrium to weather either with my spirit intact.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Dazed and Confused

August 21st - Sikandar. I am Jedi Mind Tricking you into seeing my movie. You cannot resist!!!

These days I seem to be sleeping a couple of hours more than I usually do. Normally, after years of boarding school upbringing and my own hyperactive nature, five hours of sleep is all that my body requires. I feel sluggish, lethargic and not at all like myself if I get more than that. These days I sleep too much. I wake up hating myself for wasting so many hours of daylight. Hours I could spend writing, or sketching, or reading, or just enjoying the sound and the smell of the rain against the palm trees in front of my window.

I know why my sleep cycle is skewed. It’s because of all the uncertainty in my life these days. Sure, my first film “Sikandar” is due for release soon and that makes me excited as hell. Sure, my life in Bombay seems to be approaching something resembling what I lost when I left New York City. But the heart of my life, the actor in me, is left wondering whether the work he was looking forward to doing this year will ever happen. Every week, sometimes every day, I hear a different version from the production houses I’m supposed to be working with. One week they say a film’s definitely on, and soon, and they sound excited and frantic to get my dates and block rehearsal times, and other days I hear people tell me that the film is shelved or abandoned or plain cast aside. And everyday my heart does a little twist. And the other film (there are two I was supposed to be doing this year)…I won’t even begin to talk about the other film, whose languishing has become so self-indulgent I don’t think it ever wants to be made.

And I know that this is the nature of the business. I don’t work in a nine to five with a boss, an oversight, a steady paycheck, a company parking spot, boring co-workers, broken coffee machine, and stringently doled out vacation time. The nature of my work and the life I lead is a chaotic fractal in a whirlpool. I know all of it. And I am as patient as I need to be to retain my sanity. It’s just some days I wake up and I feel - blue.

Schroedinger’s Heart - that’s the condition I’m suffering from. No wonder I can’t wake up in the mornings. But I vow from tomorrow morning, I shall greet the dawn. I shall pull out my notebook and write for hours, or at least try. I shall sketch, I shall watch the Tom & Jerry show and laugh like I used to before I became an adult. Because otherwise, this waiting, and this wondering will mangle all that was good and talented and centered about me. I will not let that happen. I cannot let that happen.

So, dazed and confused, and reeling - but not ready to sit down just yet.

Untitled Prose 2

SIKANDAR - 21st AUGUST!!! Watch me movie, be entertained!

The rains returned the next day, with eagerness and vigor. They slapped against the windows like children begging him to come out and play. And so he met them halfway. Standing out on the balcony with his morning coffee getting diluted by the rain plinking in. He smiled wet smiles, and brushed the happy drops off his eyes. The world below him was rushed and potholed, and soaked and miserable. Up here, the world hissed with pleasure, and the coffee was good.

He hadn’t called her back yet, he was proud of that. Silly thing to be proud of, but he wasn’t very good at waiting, playing out the game like he should. An old girlfriend had told him he gave too much too easily, that was why people found it easy to break his heart. Of course, she said this just before doing a damn fine job of it herself. But he found it hard to hate her for it. The smile of hers nestled in his arms was still visual poetry, and the memories of her in bed, wearing nothing but his tie…People like her never understood, that the heart is never broken, it’s tempered, it’s honed, it’s reinforced. He was the way he was, and he had stopped fighting that a long time ago. “To thine own self be true,” wrote the Bard, and the Bard was never wrong.

The day was promising to get only worse from that morning coffee. Cases piled up on his desk like regrets. His secretary was starting to truly hate him for facing all the clients and the phone calls alone. But he couldn’t get back to the work. Not yet. The thirteen days weren’t over. But he needed to hear something good, something light, and so he called her after breakfast. But she was still asleep and hungover. He called after lunch, but she was busy. And again after an evening meeting his secretary ambushed him with, he called, and again his call rang and rang and choked away. Just when he thought it was time to try and reimagine the day without her smile in it, she sent him a message: “Sorry busy meet tonight still? Want to see you ;)”

He laughed with equal measure delight and disgust. The former because she was still a part of his day, and the latter at the ease with which she plucked his heart strings, the callous “;)” with which she sent needles into his patient flesh. He wondered again, do pretty girls attend a secret night school that teaches them the art of man-manipulation?

She wanted him to come see a movie, and said come early, come at five thirty. He arrived with a few minutes to spare. It had stopped raining but the threat of it hung dark and brooding above, and all the mice were huddled under awnings and inside the damp, musty indoors. He bought a muffin and a coffee and sat out on the stairs leading up to the theatre. For once the city smelled clean and fresh and happy. It wasn’t true, he knew that, but he was grateful for the momentary easing of his cynicism.

The muffin should have tasted like blueberries, instead it had the peculiarly non-specific muffinness that these fucking chain coffee shops were so good at concocting. He called it pseudo-food, for people to beaten down to bother asking for more. He threw it away and watched the local pack of dogs fight over it. Truth of the world laid bare, he thought.

His stomach filled with ice and apprehension. That’s how he knew she had arrived. His body always knew before he did. It filled with that sick, anticipatory mixture of fear and lust and a little bit of what might have been called love, once.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Untitled Prose

There was no rain the night she called. It had been raining every night, so heavily that the people in the city thought themselves punished for the things they said and did to each other, and to themselves. But the rain didn't care. Or maybe it did. But that night it didn't rain. He was at a birthday party, full of happy people, and really loud music, and really oily food. Cigarette smoke hovered and shuffled around every conversation like the ugly friend with bad breath no one wants to talk to. Ever present, ever unwelcome. Much like his thoughts that evening.

The host and his wife were the sort of people who weren't quite friends yet, but would inevitably be. And they were gracious, and laughed loud and often, taking care to make those around them laugh as well. Good people. He stood against a wall and pretended to listen to the woman talking to him. Despite telling him about her husband, she touched her hair too often, and licked her lips like she was trying to revive them back to moistness. He smiled and tried to keep her gaze, but couldn't. A gaze held too long became an open door with large mat saying "Welcome".
Faking an urgent call from his bladder he headed out towards the mensroom. The restaurant was full of people that he unsaw by habit. No faces standing out, no voices that invited his ear. Just the cacophonous assault of an average Sunday night in Bombay City.

Her message came just as he was washing his hands. But this city had made him lonelier, and he checked his cell phone with hands still wet from the tap. He couldn't stop his heart from leaping out of his mouth and doing a joyous little samba around the bathroom floor. He had been avoiding her, even the thoughts of her that always crept into the abstract sanctity of his dreams. He knew even before he brushed his teeth that morning, that the bullet in that gun, the one that had come screaming at him, represented her.

He read the message. And then read it again. Then he put away his phone and went back to the party. His friends smiled and waved him over and offered him a cigarette. But every exhalation was a thought of her, and what she would look like when he saw her again, and what she would be wearing, and the smile that split her face into a mosaic of laugh lines. Then the hostess came by and dragged them all onto the dance floor again. And they laughed and danced and enjoyed the music and the night.

Then it was time to put the night to bed. He went outside with his friends. One of them needed a lift back to his own car, the other needed someone to go home with. Well, they all did, but tonight was going to be another lonely night for them all. So they smiled, and slapped hands, and headed off.

His friend sat back in the car and lamented the lack of any pretty women at the party, and he agreed with him. Pickings were slim he replied and let his friend continue complaining. And though he himself agreed with every word, his thoughts were swirling around her, and her message on his phone, inviting him to a little do the next evening.

He dropped his friend to his car and drove home, not even listening to any music, which he rarely drove without. He brushed his teeth in the dark, sat and stared at his empty email inbox for a moment. Then he wiped his hands across his face and fell asleep, hoping to dream of her again, even in the abstract.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Take Me Away

Take me away, from here. Take me somewhere, where people can see promos like the ones for "Kambakht Ishq" and know that the film is in a word - pointless. Where a film like that doesn't get the biggest opening in the history of Indian cinema (if that's even true. I wouldn't be surprised if they've just made that bit of news up). What's the point of coming out of a film that looks like trash, sounds like trash, and saying "Wow, that really was trash!"

Take me away, from here. Take me to where the lilacs aren't coated with dust, and the roses wait a day before they decay. Take me to a place where the woman of my dreams sits, waiting for me to find her there. Where the monsoon never goes too far away, and never shouts and floods, but pitter patters away at my window, like the sound of a conversation with a dear friend.
I saw a pretty girl smile an empty smile today when they asked her the questions. I saw her looking at me with the ghosts of tears flitting across her eyes, but even then she kept the mask on. She can never be real, because they don't want her to be. They want her to be who they wish to see, and the strain is drowning her. Pretty soon, the facade will be all that remains. And the pretty girl, with those ghostly tears, and her quiet giggle will be gone. Another victim of the flashing light assassins of Bombay City.

Take me where the words dance around me, laughing as I chase them, and they, eager to be caught, fall into my arms and show me how to paint an empty page the way I see it painted in my soul. Take me where the words love me back. And I can write for hours, and it be good. Where the words come faster than my fingers can move, and my fingers move faster than a hummingbird's wings.

Take me where all the news is good and the weather is fine. Where the city I live in doesn't smell like excreta and ejaculate and effluvia. Where there's no traffic because everyone walks, and everyone walks because there's no rush, and there's no rush because we love ourselves just fine just now. Where the hugs last for longer than a second, and the kisses actually touch flesh.
Where beauty goes deeper than the skin, and skin is all we wear.

Take me away, take me away. Take me away, to where your smiles are, and where your secrets are on the wall. Where your go to put away your mask, and take off your makeup, and settle into the you no one ever sees. When you write in your diary and repeat all the gestures and idiosyncrasies you saw today. When you make those sounds, you make them for me. And then we share a silence together.

Take me there, love. Take me a thousand kisses deep, and drowning.