If you have set your mind on a ticket to Bollywood and think it’s a cakewalk, think again. If you believe a bewitching face, dripping sexuality and a glam quotient are all that you need to be an actor, you are living in a time warp. For the film industry has metamorphosed. Companies have been set up — and they demand excellence and a high degree of professionalism from those who want to act. Here too, as in any other corporate structure, competition is the watchword. You take the competition face on or ship out.
How then does a rank newcomer with no strings to pull take a bow in tinsel town? “By honing his acting skills in a classroom to achieve a level of excellence that can buck the competition,” underlines producer-director Subhash Ghai, who runs a film institute, Whistling Woods International (WWI), in Mumbai.
The rules of the game have changed. Bollywood is no longer a lone player, says Ghai. Today the Indian film industry is focused and is competing cheek by jowl with other global players. Our talent is respected, be it actors or technicians who are hired for world class projects in Hollywood and elsewhere.
The bar, clearly, has been raised. With the industry riding a crest and an upsurge in the money flow, expectations from the players are enormous. With huge financial commitments riding their backs and competition getting sky-high, film-makers want the best talent to ensure that their films are a hit.
Back to school
There are no shortcuts to success. Training in a recognised acting school is a prerequisite for an acting career today, stresses Ghai. And the training has to be rigorous, covering every little detail of acting.
Actor Anupam Kher calls it a science. Like most sciences, he says, acting too can be researched, experimented, taught, learned and perfected. At Actor Prepares, the acting school he started in Mumbai three years ago, his task is to spot, train and groom raw talent.
Training, experts say, not only helps would-be actors hone their skills, but also makes it easier for them to find a place in Bollywood. If you hold a degree or diploma from the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), Pune, National School of Drama (NSD), Delhi, Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute (SRFTI), Calcutta, or any of the recognised acting schools, you have an edge over others in securing a role, provided you meet all the other requirements of the character.
For a casting director, a trained actor is half the battle won in a talent hunt. And, as Ghai puts it, the right qualifications impact remuneration as well, fetching an acting school candidate better money and a headstart in the race.
The craft is broadly taught through theory and practical sessions in any acting school, each school improvising and evolving its own teaching modules. At theatre director Barry Johns Acting Studio, which shifted to Mumbai from Delhi two years ago for logistic reasons, the course has been completely redesigned to meet Mumbais (read Bollywood) requirements.
The demand for talent is huge. That is the premise. But for big banner productions and corporate houses involved in providing the content, the credentials of the aspirants — especially their educational background — are a major deciding factor.
How does one enrol in an acting school? FTII and SRFTI hold their own all-India entrance exams followed by viva voce at FTII and an orientation session as well as viva voce at SRFTI. The eligibility is graduation.
At WWI, the eligibility is Class XII, though graduation or a postgraduate degree is a plus factor. It means the applicants are more mature and serious in their pursuit. The raw passion for acting however is the determining factor.
And thats what the screening panels in acting schools try to get a fix on by scouring the application forms and holding detailed interviews with candidates during admissions.
Ghai estimates that a newcomer without an acting school background will have to struggle for 10 years, sometimes more, to get the right opportunity to make his mark. In eight out of 10 cases, they fade away after some forgettable roles.
John, who ran a successful group in Delhi called the Theatre Action Group — of which Shah Rukh Khan was a member — describes acting as a personal journey where learning never stops. An individuals commitment to the craft is the premium, he maintains. An acting school plays the role of a catalyst and trains students so that their inherent acting skills become sharper and crisper, says John, who has moulded actors such as Manoj Bajpai, Konkona Sen Sharma and Shiney Ahuja.
Ghai doesnt believe that crash courses are detailed enough to prepare an aspirant for the demands of a highly competitive market. In the West students spend nearly five years in acting schools before they embark on a career. Today the benchmark for performance is up there.
The WWI does not offer any short-term courses. The basic programme in acting comprises two years under the tutelage of actor Naseeruddin Shah and Ghai himself, besides other faculty members. Students also attend master classes conducted by the best in the film industry where they are taught basic emoting techniques, dance moves, fights, stunts and even diction and dialects. The guest faculty at WWI includes Shabana Azmi, Om Puri, Boman Irani, Madhuri Dixit, Pankaj Kapoor, Jaya Bachchan, Farhan Akhtar, Rajat Kapoor and Tabu.
And while Ghai does not deny that acting is an inborn talent, he stresses that the nuances of acting can be taught in a classroom. Its a 50:50 balance, he observes. While talent thats inherent has a natural resonance, training brings out the best in an individual, he explains.
The acting courses are not cheap. The fee for the WWI programme is Rs 14 lakh inclusive of the education, diploma films, show reel, portfolio, workshops and a security deposit. Economic status is surely a factor for consideration when thinking of joining an acting school, adds John. But the doors are always open for exceptional talent, and rags-to-riches stories are possible.
All said and done, the industry does have a flip side. Newcomers have to be wary of practices such as the the casting couch — which means trading sexual favours for a role, often just for a foothold in the industry.
But Ghai stresses that this is not a practice but an aberration. The industry is vast and corruption prevails in some quarters, he admits. But it is not right to paint the whole industry black on that count. Serious film making does not stoop that low, he says. Its a fallacy to brand the film industry as a bad place. If that was the case why would actors be upheld as youth icons, or why would they be the first choice to endorse causes? he asks.
If you have a career in acting, you can have a long innings. A student willing to go through the rigours of a long training programme in an acting school is there for the long haul, Ghai believes. Training is also about beating the competition and giving consistent performances. Besides, acting has become so broad-based, with different film formats and the vast potential of television, that a good actor with staying power can go on working till a ripe old age, he says.
So whats the bottom line? Work hard, says Ghai, and believe in yourself. And the sky is yours.
Whistling Woods International
A film and media school set up by Subhas Ghai in Mumbai.
Claim to fame: Naseeruddin Shah heads the acting department. Counts Shabana Azmi, Madhuri Dixit, Nagesh Kukunoor and Pankaj Kapoor among its visiting faculty.
An acting school set up by Anupam Kher in Mumbai. Also has branches in London, Chandigarh and Ahmedabad.
Claim to fame: Abhishek Bachchan, Hrithik Roshan and Deepika Padukone are former students.
Barry John Acting Studio
Theatre personality Barry John trained many actors at his workshops in Delhi before setting up shop in Mumbai.
Claim to fame: Shah Rukh Khan, Konkona Sen Sharma and Shiney Ahuja have all attended Barrys workshops.
Website: www.barryjohn actingstudio.com