One of the most hierarchical places on planet earth surely has to be the Television Soap opera industry. I will share with you some vignettes which I personally experienced during the days, a few years back, when I was trying out my luck as an actor in the big bad world of Bollywood and Television. I had a small role in that Mother-of-all-Serials, ‘Kahani Ghar Ghar Ki’ and here is an account of what all happened to me during the shooting of that serial.
I walked in freshly scrubbed, all keyed up for my role at Film city and near the Kahani set I saw Parvati Bhabi alias Sakshi Tanwar dab some powder on her nose and look at a hand held mirror held by what you call in Bambia lingo a ‘chappu’. So there I was with my manners and missionary school education and in the fitness of things I walked up to her and held my hand and said, “Hi Sakshi. My name is Juggi Bhasin. I think I have a small scene with you in today’s shoot. It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance.”
Sakshi Tanwar looked at me as if I had touched her in the wrong place, then she rolled her eyes and stormed in her makeup van. A production assistant lounging nearby came running to me and adroitly guided me to another make up van which I had to share with three other people.
“Juggi Sir (the Sir bit added to all gents above 40 years of age) “it is best you stay in your make up van and uh…avoid…uh interacting with the big stars…you understand what I mean…your shot will be ready in five minutes, till then rehearse your lines…”
Fine. I had just learned my first lesson in the pecking order that I was at the bottom of the food chain. No problems. I could not become a Boman Irani or an Anupam Kher in just one day. But more revelations were to follow. Three other sidey actors like me walked into the makeup van and they looked at me as if I was sitting in the van smug just after having burgled their house. The senior most in that group of three called the harassed production assistant and let loose.
“My space is getting cramped…why don’t you put up newcomers in a separate place? Shift me to another van immediately.” The production assistant looked at me helplessly and I tried to make myself invisible in the van, but that not being successful, I went out of the van, pretending that I had gone out for a smoke. I loitered out for some time and the five minutes turned in a five hour wait.
Scenes were shot not in continuity or according to a linear narrative but according to the convenience of the big stars on the set. But the pecking order did not end there. It extended to the makeup room and finally the lunch that was laid out for the crew. The air conditioned make up room was obviously reserved for Parvati Bhabi and her ilk while the lesser mortals like me had to do with a quick dab on the face in the blazing sun outside. For lunch Parvati Bhabi disappeared in her van and outside two tables were laid out and it was amply clear to everyone that one table was reserved for the director and his cronies on the set and the other table was reserved for the likes of you know who…
Finally late at night my scene, in which I had a bit of interaction with Parvati Bhabi, came up for the shoot. I keyed myself up; maybe it wasn’t so bad after all. Parvati Bhabi walked in like a queen and rattled of her lines in our so called interaction without me being present in front of her!
That’s right folks! The director substituted another person, Parvati Bhabi said her piece and walked away and the director at twelve in the night called me and took my cutaways and I spoke my lines to a wall! “Don’t worry,” said the Director. “We will join them together later.”
I walked out early morning from the set and resolved to stick to the business of writing rather hope to become the next Boman Irani!