Role of an Actor in Film Making

An Actor is an artist; the most vital tool in the visual medium of Films, via whom the story and the journey of a Film is articulated. A fitting analogy for an Actor could be a race car driver. While many people and talents come together to create the racing team, like the engineers, the sponsors and the pit-stop crew, it is ultimately the driver’s performance that wins or loses a race, no matter how well-prepared the team may have been.

It’s the same when it comes to a Film. There could be great direction, compelling story and visuals, soulful music; but all this can be a let down if the Actors do not do justice to their characters and to the story. So what is the role of an Actor then? At the most basic level, it is to translate an engaging and believable portrayal of the written character onto screen.

But in doing so, an Actor needs many tools too. And this is one skill set that is limitless. Even if someone is a born Actor, his talent needs to be harnessed in a manner where either the Actor himself or the Director can draw on that talent and manifest it in a winning performance.

Therefore an Actor needs to be a good listener observer, be able to take directions, be intuitive and must possess a tangible acting range. It’s a skill set that eludes most and not everyone can learn it by themselves. Which is why in order to bring out the best in you as an Actor, it is advisable to formally learn Acting. With an institution like Digital Academy – The Film School, there is a truly world class education in Acting that awaits all young and aspiring students who are eager to become Actors.

Learn the craft from the best in the business and train using the most renowned methods to fast track your way to stardom. Not only will you learn the history and theory of acting at DA, you could also become the actual Actor in Films the students shoot, where you can experience the real process involved in translating a character onto screen while using your craft & learning. Act now, if you want to be a great Actor!

Role of a Screenwriter in Film Making

To take either a pre-written story, or even a native story idea, and translate it into an effective screenplay is the primary role of a Screenwriter in the Film industry. Having said that, there is much more to this process than meets the eye. It is not as straightforward as writing a normal story, for the simple reason that the communication is audio-visual, and not literary.

There are some very important aspects that need to be carefully observed. Some of these aspects may be generic to good story-writing such as character development, believable characters, story and engaging plot points, regardless of the story-telling medium.

But besides these elements, there are aspects specific to Film medium that need to be kept in mind. Things such as minimal dialogues, visually communicating a certain emotion, a sound sense of the visual medium itself, are vital elements in the screenwriter’s repertoire.

And therefore, a Screenwriter’s role in the overall Film-making process is absolutely vital. Because it is in the screenplay that the Film is first born. And once the screenplay is ready, it is the single most important document that forms the basis on which everyone else (the Director, Actors etc.) builds the Film.

This extremely sensitive and complex function can only be executed by someone who is creative, has a complete understanding of the Film-making process and whose sense of aesthetic is firmly placed in the visual medium. It is a discipline that can be self-taught. But it could take years before one learns the skill set effectively and gets a real opportunity to write a screenplay that is Produced and made into a Film. In essence, how to plant a story from the germ of an idea, or a piece of news, to capture the audience in a total way is a skill that can be learnt from mentors, and practice sessions.

The best solution to all aspiring Film writers is to train themselves thoroughly in the best manner possible. India too has a world-class Film school where creative young minds, who have a burning desire to make it in Films, can learn & receive a superb education. Digital Academy – The Film School is the ideal place to take a Screenwriter’s program and hone one’s writing skills. Not only will there be an opportunity to learn all the nuances of effective Film-writing from leading industry writers, but also a chance of subsequently working in the industry and making Films on the stories you write.

Script is the first part of your Films’ success and by enrolling for a program at DA and see where the world of writing can really take you.

The Life and Times of Anand Bakshi

Digital Academy – The Film School recently organized an interactive session to discuss the Life and Times of the late Anand Bakshi , one of India’s greatest lyricists where his son Rakesh Bakshi and the noted historian and lyricst Vijay “Akela” gave the students insights on Anand Bakshi’s life.

Anand Bakshi achieved fame with the song from Brij Mohan’s film titled, ‘Bhala Aadmi’, 1958. He became a star in 1965 (Jab Jab Phool Khile) and went on to work as a lyricist of over 3500 songs and 650 films in the course of his life. His hits touched the cords of the masses – right from ‘Sawan Ka Mahina’ (Milan – 1968) to ‘Taal Se Taal Mila’ (Taal – 2000). Some of his other noted work in the later part of his career included songs of ‘Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge’, ‘Dil Toh Pagal Hai’ & ‘Pardes’.

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Vijay ‘Akela’ who’s written a book on Anand ji, called ‘Main Shayar Badnam’ comprising 151 greatest lyrics of Anand Bakshi, spent a long time with the great lyricist and got to know him very closely. He and Rakesh Bakshi shared many interesting incidents from Anandji’s life. He said that once Anandji sat with a Producer to narrate the lyrics but before starting he asked the Producer to make the Actor wear a hat and only then did he start the narration. Once the Actor did that, Anandji started narrating the firstt stanza, “Tirchi Topiwale”. Anandji used to insist on listening to the whole story, because he used to make lyrics out of common everyday situations. Many times it so happened that Producers used to like Anandji’s creation to such an extent, that they would create situations and modify their movies especially to accommodate his songs.

Rakesh Bakshi nostalgically narrated “When Anandji used to write, he used to whistle. That whistle used to be the tune that he’d prepare in his mind for the song that he was writing,” Another incident that he shared was that during the India-Pakistan partition, Anand Bakshi had to flee Pakistan overnight and come to India. The only thing he brought with him was his mother’s photograph. Looking at that, his father got angry and asked him, why he didn’t carry any clothes, food or money. Anandji replied, “We can earn money, gather food, buy clothes, but from where will we get mother’s last photograph, once lost?” Anandji used to miss his mother and motherland when he moved to Mumbai, which is why he wrote a number of songs about his mother and his native land.

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Vijay Akela perfectly captured the extent of Anandji’s great work spanning generations in the following lines: “Anandji wrote songs for Rajesh Khanna, his wife Dimple Khanna, his daughter Twinkle Khanna, his son-in-law Akshay Kumar. He wrote songs for Raj Kapoor, Shashi Kapoor, Shammi Kapoor, Rishi Kapoor, Randhir Kapoor, he even wrote songs for Raj Kapoor’s grand daughter Kareena Kapoor for the movie Yaadein.”

Rakesh once asked his father as to when he realized for the first time that he had made it big. To this, Anandji replied, “I was once travelling by train. The train stopped in the middle of the night at some small town. I looked out of the window and it was pitch dark. In that darkness, I saw a beggar singing a song and begging for alms. He came close to me and I realized he is singing a song that’s written by me. When I heard my song being sung by a beggar who doesn’t even own a radio, in a village that doesn’t even have electricity, I realized my songs are now famous. The beggar didn’t know me, but he knew my songs.”

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Anandji’s brilliance doesn’t lie in what we say or think about him, but in his words, his lyrics and his songs which speak for his genius . Such is the greatness of this man, that even after his passing away, his words will always be with us in our hearts and on our lips, for generations to come.

Return of the Studio System in Indian Cinemas?

Indian cinema started as an individual’s passion and slowly turned into a segment of family entrepreneurship. People like Harishchandra Sakharam Bhatwadekar, who took up the helms of Indian Documentary Production in the 1890s, Hiralal Sen in Calcutta and Dadasaheb Phalke in Kolhapur, who experimented a lot in theatre recording and mythico-social fiction Films, were Film makers who used their family, friends and servants as crew and Actors. In a way, the initial years of Indian Film making was modeled on the Hindu joint family structure and not as a capital venture.

As the idea of the talkie slowly crept in, during the 1930s, a need for conglomeration was felt. The model of America was available as reference – the capitalist model of assembly system for manufacture. At that time, India was going through an unpredictable economic change. On one hand, the rural self-sufficient economy had broken down and on the other hand, Gandhi’s call for self-promotion in the form of indigenous industries and products had led to the emergence of a pro-active and intelligent business class striving for a free India.

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Film industry, at the hands of Phalke and his followers, was at best a flourishing cottage industry without the promise of a continuous return. Film makers such as Ardeshir Irani and Chunilal Munim tried to get a bank loan for their projects. But as a completely unorganized industry, Cinema posed a big risk for prospective investors. Also, the whole idea of Film making, especially by Indians, was unacceptable to the conservative British. As an upstart art-form, Cinema wasn’t held in high-esteem by the elite British. With Gujarati and Parsee banias as financiers of the Films, and technicians as well as Actors coming from the lower classes, cinema was ill-reputed from the start.

With the advent of sound, similar problems were addressed in the United States. Five major and the three minor studios started controlling production, distribution and exhibition of their movies. At no point was the control of the Film out of their hands. Any uncertainty of selling the Film and showing it to a full-scale audience could be ruled out. Screenwriters, Directors, Cinematographers, Editors, Music Composers and especially the actors became members of the studio’s paid staff.

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A similar need to connect the Film industry to modern capital was strongly felt in Bombay and Calcutta. Studio system, as a fool-proof company structure stepped in to remedy the bank’s lack of support and the problem of under-capitalization in the industry. In a way, that gave a certain legitimacy to the not-so-elite essence of Cinema in India.

As a result , state-of-the-art equipments could be purchased and used. Also, technical experiments and innovations as well as experiments in ideas were encouraged. Playback system started in a studio in Calcutta called New Theatres, much before it started in Hollywood. Different colour processes, like Technicolor and Metrocolor, were tried out. New innovations from Hollywood were incorporated in Indian studios. And then the first stars appeared.

The first trio of stars from Indian cinema, Raj Kapoor, Dilip Kumar and Dev Anand, were products of the studio system to start with. However, as their careers progressed and a major chunk of the audience started equating the stars with their Films, studio system led to an era of stars. This was due to the intake of large venture capital in the form of black money. Quite a few newcomers entered the industry as financiers/Producers. But they were interested in making a portion of their money legal and not in a sustainable growth of the industry through a disciplined, charted out process as taken by studio owners.

Under pressure, major studios like New Theatres, Vassan Studios (later Gemini Pictures), Bombay Talkies, Prabhat, Ranjit Movietones and a bunch of others either closed down or changed their operation from movie production to another niche.

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It was at this time when the Indian government stepped in to support Film Production, distribution and exhibition through organizations like Films Division, NFDC, PSBT and other similar bodies in the 1950s. However, there used to be a pro-State propagandist stance in the Films produced and exhibited by the government. Cinema being the biggest machinery for hegemony in the post-independence years, only certain expressions of mind were allowed.

Mainstream cinema of 60s and 70s, specially the Angry Young Man Films, were silently supported by the government program of integration and subordination. In the 80s, the theme of corruption, anger, inequality, underworld and romance continued. Indian cinema was not genre based then. Terms such as masala movies were coined keeping this phenomenon in mind.

Indian cinema became too parochial in this period. Bollywood became the other name of Indian Cinema, flanked by the alternate, art-house Indian new wave Films, most of which weren’t properly distributed or exhibited outside Film festivals and failed to pull a crowd. There was almost no variation in the mainstream themes. Even though both non-mainstream and parallel cinemas had really interesting stories to offer, their presentation was mostly off-the-mark and boring for the uninitiated audience.

In the post-2000 scenario, with easy access to movies with better sound and picture quality which could be watched at home, old theatres started dying. But interesting changes were occurring in the Indian retail marketplace. Shopping malls began sprouting up in every major city in India. They offered a panoply of choices under a single roof and a cozy tour across designed spaces in the weekend. These malls became meeting joints and the hub for all activities for the youth. They were the new public squares where all kinds of enjoyment and socialization was possible.

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As the way to incorporate foreign venture capitals in Indian industries, American and European companies started coming to India for collaborations in the entertainment business. Companies like Reliance, Mahindra and Mahindra and UTV started operating in a structured way, reminiscent of studios in the 30s. As Bollywood became a burgeoning brand, owing to the large expat groups in the Western world, many production-distribution companies like Pathé, Channel 4, Warner Bros, Disney and Fortissimo Films started showing interest in collaborating with Indian entertainment companies. It was unimaginable, even in 2000, that every week a host of Bollywood Films could be commercially shown in theatres across Germany, Netherlands, France, America and UK.

So how do these corporates differ from the previous single Producer system in approach? The answer is simple – neatness of activities and a proper business orientation with domain knowledge. During the star system, Films were produced by short-sighted businessmen who wanted a quick profit in exchange for their unaccounted money. Staleness of thought and repetition of themes crept in easily. New corporate Film houses changed this habit. Habits of financial transparencies changed. But more noticeable was the changes in stories and the way the movies were shot. It was impossible to imagine something like Ishqiya, Band Baaja Baaraat or Delhi Belly a few years back.

As new players took over during the period of globalization, models for sustainable growth were chalked out. The new corporate structures are based on modern American Film studios. In a way, this is the second coming of the old studio system with the difference that, barring a few exceptions, the companies aren’t family bound. The studio system in India was like a feudal structure while the new corporate model is capitalistic. With fresh talent from Film schools joining these companies the current picture looks more pro-youth.

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However, like anything that’s new, the corporate structure has some problems too. Some companies are under the impression that entertainment can be run just like any other business and they tend to undermine creativity. Creativity can be controlled but can never be methodical. That would be similar to controlling the human psyche in a flowcharted manner. Mystery and beauty lies in this randomness. The old studios understood this and gave birth to some of the most beautiful works from Indian Cinema. The star system of the 50s made fixed patterns stronger with the help of stars. People used to come to the theatre to get entertained, even though they already knew the story. That was pleasure for an audience that had a limited choice for entertainment.

However, the Indian audience of the new millennium is smarter. They are consumers with a variety of choices. With the advent of so many TV channels, websites and social networking sites, it is very difficult to keep the audience glued to the big screen. So an organized market research, market segmentation, vertical and horizontal combinations in the market are mandatory to survive today. With companies like Big Pictures creating theatre chains across India and in US, the return of the studio system in the new guise of the corporate has arrived. It is for the new generation of Film lovers, like us, to see if it sustains. 

Comedians and their pathetic childhood

It is an urban myth that successful comedians have a pathetic childhood. What makes this connection between comedy and wretchedness is not known. If we go through history of Cinema from around the world, we see it first caught on to the audience from circus and magic. Some of the famous early filmmakers, like Meliès, or Dadasaheb Phalke, were magicians. And one major attraction in magic and circus is the clown.

If on the other hand, we consider folk theatre, the other grand daddy of cinema, we can easily notice the role played by the vidūṣak on the Indian stage. (vidūṣak, in Sanskrit, has two different but close meanings; a Court Jester, a fool) The Roman comedian shared some of his vital traits too. If we forget about the comic relief they offered during moments of peak tension in plays, we see something very understandable. They were the commentators, just like the audience sitting outside the stage. The comedians were always involved and uninvolved in the act, at the same time. They were the eye of the conscience. Only they seemed to know what was going on in the make-believe world on stage.

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Our modern day comedians are an amalgamation of these two – the Clown and the vidūṣak. But why were they needed in the first place? This leads us to an obvious question with an even more obvious answer – why do we go to movies?

We go because we are crushed under pressure of the mundane world. We want to get back to the freedom of childhood, when dream and reality were the same. And isn’t cinema an extension of dreams?

A lot of psychoanalytical studies have been carried out about the relation between comedy, childhood and identity, including Freud’s early investigations on this phenomena. It may not be totally true that some adults, who had a wretched childhood, want to go back to the dreamland of fairy tales more than others, because they never had it in reality. And they find an accomplice on the silver screen, the comedian, for that journey. However, this may not be totally false either.

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Comedians on the screen are essentially flawed characters. Some gross imperfections in them lead us to laugh at their activities. Consider the tramp played by Chaplin from his early shorts to the later blockbusters, like The Circus and Modern Times. He is gross, unsuccessful and an insignificant character who is trampled and humiliated by the society. That itself is a flaw. However, the bigger flaw that makes him a laughing stock is his knack of getting involved in situations that always go out of his hands. In The Kid, he gets a child by accident and has to bring him up. We break into laughter when we see how a marginal figure in the society, who could not create a place of his own, teaches a kid how to succeed and gain respect.

However, when the same character solves pinning problems in his weird way, we cannot but empathetically identify with him. The same tramp actually takes us back to our roots when he takes up the role of a comedian in one of his films, Limelight. There too he tries to conquer humiliation, poverty and death by escaping into laughter.

Talking about Indian comedians, like Johnny Walker, Mehmood and Johnny Lever, we see these common traits running in their character’s blood. Johnny Walker, specially in the films made by Guru Dutt, helped alleviate the hero’s pain. He was not merely a comic relief, but a very active agent in the plot to solve the hero’s dilemma. He’s the one to bring the hero out of the mental hospital in the film Pyasaa.

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As a matter of fact, the comedian is an active comment on all forms of abusive power and guardianship, such as the school, the police and the mental hospital. So, it is enlightening when the tramp takes up the role of a Dictator Hinkel. At the end of The Great Dictator he talks about parity and peace from a platform which we all want to reach.

Considering the fact Chaplin credited humiliation in his childhood to be a major inspiration for laughter in his movies, there should be a deep connection between a disturbed childhood and the later adult days of comedy.

However, if we consider many other comedians, like Buster Keaton or Rowan Atkinson, we see it isn’t necessary for a comedian to have a bad childhood. There are different types of comedies, ranging from burlesque and slapstick to social satires. Can we divide the comedians into two sharp lines, with or without a disturbed childhood, so they can fit one genre or the other as a rule? However, that’s another story in itself.

Dominance of a few Rasas in Tamil Cinema

Tamil cinema, from its earliest days of silent films, maintained a ‘Cinema of the Other’ stance in the Indian film scenario. The industry started in 1917, with the silent film Keechaka Badham (The Slaying of Keechaka), Produced and Directed by R Nataraja Mudaliar. He made another film, Draupadi Vastrapaharanam (Unrobing of Draupadi), in the same year. It is significant to note the first two films made in South India concentrated on particular portions of Mahabharata that dealt with the obnoxious, producing an emotion with Bibhatsa rasa in the audience’s mind. However, the ventures met with applause and were financially successful.

In the other two hubs of Indian Film making, Bombay and Calcutta (as they were called then), the stress was on the mythological and sometimes historical, but never so much on the portrayal of the grotesque and the abhorred. Does this point to a particular tendency of Tamil Cinema, and in general to Tamil cultural psyche?

Tamil people, even under the British, were keen to keep their identity separate from the people of the North. And any part of India, northern to Madras in the east, Hyderabad in the Central and Mysore in the Western side, was considered as North India, except some southern portion of Bengal (modern day Orissa) and Southern portions of Konkan and Bombay. During the British period, specially before World War II, modern Tamil Nadu became pro-British and actually helped in motivating Indians to join the War by making propaganda features favouring the rulers. Films like Manasamrakshanam (1944) or Burma Rani (1945), represented a common trend in Tamil film industry those days.

The politics of we and they was always a part of Tamil civilization, that raised its head in a big way immediately after independence. In 1949, the germ of Tamil independence took a bigger form in Periyar Ramsami’s pro-Dravidian (and anti-Aryan) identity movement, culminating the formation of DMK (Dravida Munnetra Kazhakam). A new batch of filmmakers joined the industry then, who would appropriate the pro-Dravidian sentiment in their own ways for political gains. Among them, the most notable ones were the charismatic scriptwriter and playwright C N Annnadurai, story and scriptwriter M Karunanidhi, Matinee Idol M G Ramachandran and his protégé, Screen Goddess J Jayalalitha.

It’s a general tendency among humans to search for a leader. Once begotten, the leader is unquestionably followed till the individual is a part of the mass-hysteria. Organized religions work on this principle. So do magic and politics. South Indians rarely came under any foreign ruler before the British. Even the Maurya or the Gupta Empire never directly influenced them. And everyone knows how the the Mughal Emperors’ attempts at capturing South India kept failing for over six hundred years. So it wasn’t surprising that the Tamil would want an autonomy after their sole conqueror in history, the British, left. When that did not happen as per their choice, they revolted. Part of the revolution centered on creating a strong cultural identity in the name of Tamilalakam (Tamil land) which upheld Dravidian culture using stage drama, poetry, literature, myth, history, musicals, dance and, most importantly, cinema.

Tamil society, an ideal example of an unchanged patriarchal one, maintained a very strong identity of the male, almost opposite to the one maintained in the rest of the Indian movies. Who is the ideal Tamil hero? He must have moustache, physical prowess, authority, sexual virility and the capacity to control women. It must be noted that except for the moustache, the other character traits are not very different from the rest of the heroes in India. However, the portrayal and the political purpose were very different.

Tamil hero of the pro-Dravidian camp rejects all finesse that he considers to be part of the Aryan culture, and hugs the grotesque instead. In that way, Tamil heroes can be equated with the villains of the North-Indian myths and epics. An obsession with the denial of the other and embracing the grotesque and violent uprooting of all non-Dravidian values from culture led to a cinema of sophisticated violence and other basal instincts in Tamil Nadu.

While in films like Velaikari (1949) and Ratha Kanneer (1954), both penned by Annadurai, showed the hero’s faults as the result of his encounter with other cultures, especially North Indian culture (the vamp had to die in the second film, as she was trying to get into a relationship with a Hindi-speaking character from Bombay). It was Parashakti (1952) which was made to show the superiority of Tamil culture over others. In this film women were given an unambiguous role of being the knowledgeable, spirited and intelligent support to their male counterparts. That never meant women were independent. They were just supports, like obedient servants, who should find their place inside the home.

This made a great difference between the progressive heroine from North India and the Tamil heroine. While the former wanted equality and freedom with education and free will, the latter accepted the choice of her family. In effect, this made the outside world a jungle for man-hunting for the Tamil hero.

And the heroines, unlike their North Indian counterparts, went through literal purification, punishment or death if they chose liberation. In Rudraiah’s 1978 film Aval Appadithan (That’s the Way She Is), the heroine ends up homeless in the end and her journey throughout the film is portrayed as obnoxious. So we see a very strange concoction of Shringara and Bibhatsa rasas at work even, sixty years after it started.

In modern Tamil Cinema, the trend continues through a different guise. In a celebrated film like Veyil (2006) or the Kamal Hassan starrer Vettaiyadu Vilaiyadu (2006), the hero achieves his target through extreme violence. But is it not violence and grief that lead to the purification of the soul? Maybe future Tamil Cinema will answer this question more directly.

Career in Acting

Amongst all the careers related to films and television, Acting is perhaps the most lucrative. The sky, in this case is really the limit. The spectacular nature of a successful actor’s career makes it a highly sought-after profession. But acting is not only about becoming a super star and doing the main lead in a film. Each and every character in a script needs an actor-and preferably a trained one.

Theatre is generally the breeding ground for actors. But most theater actors realize that acting for films and television is quite different from theatrical acting. The specific skills required to perform for the ‘frame’- with a deep understanding of lensing, lighting, mise-en-scene, look, position, mark, and body orientation, are something that an actor acquires only after special training.

At Digital Academy the Film School we aim to produce high quality actors, by honing their amateur skills and talents to a level where they can perform with professional ease.

Our aim is not to train only Heroes and Heroines but to produce good actors who can fit into any bill. For it is a well known fact that all the Superstars of the world started out with the simple desire in their hearts to become good actors.

Thus, Students of Digital Academy can hope to join the film and television world anywhere on earth and aim for the sky.

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