Acting schools: Who’s attending these classes?

From part-time courses for the hobby actors to six-month-long intensive course for the serious ones, there’s something for everyone. Photo: Sanjay Nambiar

From part-time courses for the hobby actors to six-month-long intensive course for the serious ones, there’s something for everyone. Photo: Sanjay Nambiar  


Susanna Myrtle Lazarus visits acting schools across the city to find out what it takes to stand under the arc lights

The Rajinikanth starrer, Raja Chinna Roja, saw the superstar in the role of an aspiring actor. A producer, turning down his request to cast him in a film, says, “Only a few people are willing to take the risk of using a new face. Based on that, hundreds of people are coming to the city every day, looking for a way to enter cinema.” That dialogue, written in 1989, partly holds true even today.

While there’s a new wave of filmmakers, who prefer working with fresh faces and with storylines that are more relatable, it’s still a tough task to get into the industry without knowing someone on the inside. However few these films may be, the phenomenon still gives hope to innumerable people who flock to the city, working towards their big break. But without knowing the basics, it’s difficult; raw talent will only take you so far. That’s where acting schools come in.

Running a quick online search for such academies in the city returns a long list to choose from. From part-time courses for hobby actors to six-month-long intensive course for serious ones, there’s something for everyone. They are not a new trend, but who’s attending these classes?

Sam Kumar, director of Mirage Film Institute, T. Nagar, says they have had students from as young as five years, to a current student who is 62 years old. “Not everyone wants to be a hero now. They want to play memorable and interesting roles, as character-actors or comedians,” he says. The natural progression these days is to start off as a video jockey, move to TV, and then, into cinema, explains Sam. A lot of college students attend classes, in an effort to learn something that will help set themselves apart from the cookie-cutter examples that abound on screens.

To teach the skills necessary on-camera and off, actor David Solomon Raja (who has played several roles in TV serials, apart from being a tough cop in Vijay-starrer Kaththi and playing a major role in upcoming movie Kirumi) incorporates monologues, skits and short films into the course. “It’s the little things that make the difference: where you look, the way you talk, understanding the language so you can enunciate the dialogue the right way. And an actor has to learn all the time; classes are just for orientation and giving a foundation,” says David.

Cinematographer Rajiv Menon, who founded Mindscreen Film Institute in 2006, says, “Most people believe that in South Indian cinema, you learn on the job. As an actor, one should be aware of all their capabilities. This is important, as films are becoming more realistic. Accents are not for comic relief anymore; they root the character to the place they’re from. Transformation is aimed at getting the audience to believe that the actor really is from a particular place.” He adds that there is a huge school of belief that an actor should be “obedient”. “It no longer works that way. With realistic and deglamourised roles and live sound, the charisma of a star is not enough. Can you be many different people? The actor should understand the script and come prepared to play the role. At the same time, they should be flexible enough to take the director’s input and portray his vision,” explains Rajiv.

“A majority of those who have made it big are those who have someone from the film industry in their families. It’s not about nepotism, or knowing the techniques, but it’s just that they know more about surviving in this cutthroat field and how to handle various situations and disappointments without getting too affected by it,” he adds.

FilmCamp, which was founded in Bangalore in 2007 by Sanjay Nambiar, is now open in Chennai. Apart from acting, their intensive workshops focus on knowledge that will help them essay roles more convincingly. Recalling a recent acting workshop, Sanjay says, “The participants were comfortable portraying comical situations, but when it came to a boardroom scene, they were lost. They need to observe the world around them and constantly keep learning and updating themselves on how people from different strata of society talk and behave, so they can replicate that easily.”

With no dedicated study of the performing arts, apart from some like the National School of Drama, these courses are more accessible to those who cannot afford to give up their education or day job in the pursuit of stardom. While one-day workshops can cost as less as Rs. 1,000, there are various price ranges, from Rs. 20,000 up to a few lakh rupees, depending on the institution and duration of the course. Most courses insist on having smaller batches, no more than 15 at a time, which ensures more one-on-one interaction.

But all the training available, Rajiv says, can only hone and focus talent. “Whatever you do, nothing can replace the quality that natural talent can bring to the screen. It’s about improving what you already have.”

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Printable version | Jan 27, 2020 7:55:39 AM |

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