Actor Tisca Chopra talks about her book “Acting Smart”, which offers novices an insight into the workings of Mumbai’s film industry
Mumbai, the financial capital of India, perpetually attracts hordes of youngsters to try their luck in Hindi cinema. Of the many thousands, a small minority proves successful. The success stories are much discussed and written about whereas the vast majority of unsuccessful struggles go unsung and unheard. The poor success rate, however, is no deterrent. “Acting Smart”, a book written by theatre and film actor Tisca Chopra, can be a guide for all those who want to pursue a career in the film world. Born into a family where a number of people write, she pursued writing even as she acted in plays and films. The book is based on her “experiences and that of other actors — which are unique and noteworthy”, and tries to answer questions of curious common people about the casting couch, why films take a long time to make, etc.
Initially, Tisca had written an article with tips and notes for youngsters who wanted to pursue a career in films. During the course of a discussion with a literary agent about her husband’s book, she mentioned this piece. The agent found the subject worth a detailed treatment and suggested fleshing it out. The reason it took four years to complete was because experiences of new shoots, assignments, meetings with different personalities, kept getting added to the material.
Divided into 14 chapters, the book discusses several aspects of the celluloid world. The author tells aspirants to be completely rational about their talent — decide if acting is one’s true calling or if it is the lifestyle one is drawn to. “A large number think it is a cakewalk,” she says, adding that the successful cases have “a lot of practice, hard work and training” backing them.
There are several practical suggestions in the book on how, as a novice, one should go about trying to get a foothold in the industry — finding a place of accommodation appropriate to the profession; preparing a portfolio of photographs, show-reels and proper curriculum vitae and for the “final frontier” — auditions.
The book lays great emphasis on training — working in theatre, joining acting schools, becoming a student of seasoned actors and directors, learning traditional art forms, watching others perform, etc. The author quotes leading actor Shabana Azmi, who says: “You must watch theatre, you must read books, you should watch films, you should go to art galleries. Whether or not you understand art or classical music, everything that sensitises you to the arts is something you should do as riyaaz.” The author says the key is to keep honing one’s skills and adds, “if you think you have mastered acting, start with sword-fighting or kick-boxing or learn how to speak Hindi with a French accent or scuba diving...because who knows what challenge the next role may throw at you.”
The essentials of make-up, hair, wardrobe and image and publicity — all of which form a package to make an actor — are discussed in separate chapters with the author making several observations about them.
Tisca narrates how she spotted Bharat Bhushan, who had many super-hits in the 1950s and ’60s, standing in a food queue with junior artistes and elaborates that nothing fades faster than stardom, and that success “evaporates like morning dew”. She stresses that everyone must prepare for any contingency by not being careless about money earned; save enough and invest to ensure a steady income; try other avenues in cinema such as voiceovers, screenplays or dialogues; try assisting a director among others. Laying emphasis on professionalism both on and off camera, the author has devoted a number of pages on contracts, agents and talent management agencies and included answers by Bimal Parekh — business advisor to many actors — to questions about inking deals with individuals and companies.
The chapter titled “Behaviour” discusses how to conduct oneself impeccably while working — with colleagues, seniors, subordinates, all those connected with filmmaking — stating explicitly that “the only thing that will guarantee you work is your behaviour and enthusiasm”. In another section she highlights the importance of family, friends and feedback and the need to be open to criticism and praise.
The narrative is interspersed with several interesting anecdotes, stories and observations by Shabana Azmi, Anurag Kashyap, Raju Hirani, and Manish Malhotra among others. The book will, Imtiaz Ali comments, help newcomers in saving “...precious groping-in-the-dark time in Mumbai”.