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Why do we treat actors badly?

Shahrukh Khan was one of the keynote speakers at FICCI Frames in 2010. He was speaking just before James Gianopulos, the chairman and CEO, Fox Filmed Entertainment. The ‘suits’ were eager to hear Gianopulos so there was a palpable feeling of impatience with a filmi guy coming on. But Khan did justice to his slot. He had prepared and he spoke well.

He pointed out accurately, perceptively and self-deprecatingly the working differences between Hollywood and the Indian film industry. At that time Khan was fresh from the My Name is Khan experience. The film was distributed by Fox-Star Studios.

His talk at Yale last week was good too. He gave sound advice to the students in his trademark self-deprecating and funny manner. However what most media focussed on was his detention and later release at New York Airport. There was a lot of questioning about why the Indian government had to intervene. This is surprising considering that Khan is an Indian icon and among the most global faces of the Indian film industry.


Why this animosity? Acting is a tough profession and actors need a high degree of intelligence to survive. Why, then, are we so sneery of actors?

Does this questioning from a generic attitude toward actors — these dimwits should only be running around trees and making us laugh. They should, however, not have a mind, dignity or any airs.

It is an attitude that one has come across again and again — especially here in Delhi’s media circles. And yet every time I see a good interview with Naseeruddin Shah, Shahrukh, Aamir, Saif, Madhavan, Mohanlal, among dozens of actors, I am surprised at how erudite and aware they are — of the world, of their craft and its intricacies, of their acting prowess or lack of it.

Why then do we treat our actors as vacuous people? Why do we brand a person as less intelligent because he or she is an actor? It is a question worth asking in a country where we are ready to revere them but not accept any political, economic or global gyan from them. So Balraj Sahni got arrested for being a socialist and Aamir Khan got harassed for supporting Medha Patkar. The only exception is Tamil Nadu and increasingly Andhra Pradesh where the reverence has been converted into a political movement.

In other professions, say writing or design, making money from your craft is considered as difficult and respectable work. Yet acting, whether in popular or critically acclaimed cinema, still doesn’t command similar respect. It is one of the toughest professions to be in. It needs physical, emotional and intellectual rigour to survive the training, the preparation and the actual life of even a reasonably successful actor.

Think of it. How did Ranbir Kapoor manage to give such an intense performance in Rockstar with all the noise, the clanking of cameras, equipment and with hundreds of eyes staring at him. On most days interviews with stars, in Filmfare, Screen or any of the dozens of film sites and shows, never captures anything about the way an actor works or prepares. Except perhaps the look. But the approach to the role, the actor’s influences, how he works, does he switch off, does he practise a hundred times — nothing is illuminated.

So when a Shekhar Gupta or any other experienced interviewer does a show with Naseeruddin Shah or Ranbir Kapoor or any actor, it is a joy to watch. Because here is an actor talking like a regular professional about how he works and so on. It is like any good interview that a seasoned business editor does with say Sunil Mittal or Naryana Murthy. The ones with Mittal or Murthy usually contain lessons in business excellence while the ones with an actor are about filmmaking, cinema and also acting.

Does this ‘vacuous’ branding stem in large parts from the way film journalism itself operates — focussed completely on the looks and generally fawning. Has it done a disservice to the profession? Or have actors brought it upon themselves?  

The writer is a media specialist and author. Follow her on twitter at http://twitter.com/vanitakohlik

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