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Small roles in reel life keep the hearth burning in 5000 homes

Bhubaneswar, Feb. 26: Madhu has to get ready to sell vegetables at a market — not really but on reel today. The 26-year-old domestic help attended a wedding the day before and was a hospital staff the previous day for different television serials for which she was a junior artiste.

Madhu and thousands of others play “extras” in films, albums, serials, jatras and dramas and enjoy their almost daily stints in front of the camera, where they also share screen space with noted actors. The credit goes to the growing demand for junior artistes in the state that has emerged as a “human industry”. Most significantly, many youngsters as well as elderly, especially women, earn a decent daily pay and have been able to become self-dependent this way.

Though almost as old as the Odia entertainment industry itself, this employment sector that began as an unorganised industry has turned into an organised sector over the years and has more than 5,000 members today.

The artistes are paid as per the role. Stuntmen and background dancers are paid higher while a dialogue-artiste earns more than a non-dialogue junior artiste. Apart from food and conveyance, the remuneration begins from Rs 150 to a couple of thousands, depending on the role and the shift.

Some of the biggest congregation of junior artistes was seen in films Premi No. 1 (500 artistes for a song) and Suna Sankhari (200 kids and 100 parents). The most striking feature of being employed as a junior artiste is that it has no constraints of eligibility criteria to get a certain role, feel veterans.

“When a candidate is chosen to play a small individual or a person in a crowd, neither educational qualification nor any other criteria is looked for. All one needs is an inclination towards the job, which could vary from playing a servant to a high-profile officer for few moments. Of course, those with good looks or dancing or acting skills grow further,” said Basant Kumar Sahoo, an actor and a well-known source in the industry to provide junior artistes for film and serial sets for over 40 years.

“From a newborn to an octogenarian, television and films keep requiring nameless characters in the crowd. This helps the part-time actor earn a few bucks while the film-makers also get their scene perfect,” said Smita, who provides junior artistes from Cuttack.

The “extras” come from a plethora of backgrounds, including homemaker, self-employed people such as maids, grocers or shopkeepers and college students. Sahoo, himself, runs a wholesale shop of paan items.

While the money pulls in many, their love for acting is common among all junior artistes. “I have been working in films and serials for the past 10 years. Being a mother of three, initially it used to be tough for me to convince my husband and in-laws to allow me to work. But, later they were rather happy about my acting,” said Pramila Bisoi, an artiste.

“I simply love working in this field, which is immensely professional and has been very secure for a woman to work. When I started, I was being paid Rs 5 for very short roles. But, over the years, I have become a dialogue artist and sometimes earn Rs 500 for a day’s shift. I love getting ready for the scene,” she smiles. Pramila had played the maid of an affluent household for the period serial Budha Sankhari wherein she loved wearing the sari and accessories of the 19th century style, she said.

For young Banita Mohapatra, only four-day-old in the field, it has been a dream come true. “I had got a role in Police File for a recreated scene of a crime story only two days ago and despite any professional training in acting, now I’m playing a role of a friend of the heroine in a major serial. I’m delighted to face the camera and it is wonderful to see that we are not treated like unimportant people on a set. Rather, they wait until all of us junior artistes have arrived,” said Banita, a student, who works for pocket money.

The love to be seen on screen is so strong that the artistes do not mind coming down for a set from distant villages. Arabinda Dash, who has been seen in almost all major teleserials as the Brahmin conducting marriage rites, death rituals, house warming and other ceremonies, said: “Playing the pundit obviously makes me a dialogue artist for which the remuneration reaches more than Rs 1,000 a day mostly. I love acting and do not mind riding from Badamba village to Bhubaneswar for a scene. I have performed in many jatras in my village and hope that I will be given a role in a film very soon.”

Dash’s is not an unrealisable dream for many in the past have grown into important actors from being “extras”.

“Pappu Pom Pom used to act in my dramas at Baramunda Housing Board and became very popular there after showing his comic skills once. Bhikari Charan Swain and Twinkle Mishra are other actors, who have made it big in albums and films after starting their career as junior artistes,” said Sahoo.

Filmmakers in Odisha give respect to the junior artistes. “Our junior artistes are very professional and always show a zeal for acting,” said filmmaker Sanjay Nayak.

In 2010, the junior artistes formed the Odisha Dancers, Stunt and Junior Artistes’ Association. So far, 450 artistes have been issued identity card of the association, which ensures all cardholders get insurance benefits and are paid pension after 60 years of age.