My first day of shoot for 2 states

8th of February, 2013 – Perhaps one of the biggest days of my life! I picked up my co-actor Siddharth at 7.30am and biked up to Filmistan at Goregaon by 7.45. The Production team had just arrived and was busy setting up stuff. We did not know where to go but Siddharth managed to speak with someone from Production who got us into a room. It was right next to a room labelled Director and DOP. Siddharth, having done a couple of ad films, a TV soap and some ads, knew his way around things. For the rest of the day, he kept guiding me through stuff and telling me what to do and what not to do. He also apologized every once in a while for giving me too much gyaan 😀

After a while, Kriti from the direction department came to us and introduced herself. It was early in the morning but she already looked charged up and on the run. In fact, for the whole day from there on, I noticed Kriti and the other ADs to be on the move and always caught up with something or the other. It’s like they had wheels for feet. I saw Siddhanth, the AD who had been co-ordinating with us before the shoot, continuously taking instructions on the walkie and making sure everybody is where they are supposed to be for things to progress as per schedule. I had been an AD on two ad films a couple of weeks ago so I kind-of knew what was going on. To start with, Kriti introduced us to Nikita from costumes (the same girl who had given me the ego-boosting call a day ago 🙂 – read previous post). I had caught a glimpse of Nikita’s picture on Whatsapp when I was chatting with her about the costumes but she was way prettier in person. She visited our room to see the costume options we were carrying for the shoot. She did not like anything we had. So, she went back and sent her choice of clothes with her assistant Mehboob. I was first given a T-shirt and a pair of boxers. I put them on and was fine with them but when Nikita came for a check, I think she wasn’t impressed with what she saw. So my boxers were replaced with checked pyjamas 😀 Siddharth was given a pair of spectacles which gave him the perfect nerd look.

My co-actor Siddharth

My co-actor Siddharth

We were then introduced to our make-up man Anees bhai with whom we spent most part of the day while waiting for our shot. Our make-up, hardly any, was done in 5 minutes. Post that, I started rehearsing my single line several times. Siddharth rehearsed with me a couple of times and then asked me to chill but I thought I should be a well-oiled machine by the time we have to shoot. I also went on to the set to get a feel of the hostel that my character was supposed to live in. And this is where, amongst a bunch of ADs, technicians, and other crew members, I saw our director Abhishek Varman. He was sitting on a bed in one of the hostel room set-ups figuring certain things out. He was surrounded by no less than 10 people. I was looking at him from a distance so I first thought it was Arjun Kapoor rehearsing his part but as I went closer I realized it was someone else. He was a young, handsome-looking lad and one could easily think he is one of the stars in the film. I was later told that he is the director. Anyway, I did not want to get in the middle of what was happening so I went outside one of the hostel room doors and started rehearsing my line the way I figured it was to be shot.

While rehearsing, I couldn’t help but notice the brilliance of the art department. The place really looked like a hostel with great attention paid to minute details. The texture of the walls, the notices put up for students, the beds, books and posters inside the room – everything was SPOT ON! I was already in costume so the moment I stepped on to the set, I felt I was actually a student living in a hostel. This made me wonder about the beauty of the whole process of film-making – how the efforts of all the other teams come together to help an actor when he is performing. While I was still letting this feeling of being on a real film set sink in, I had attracted the attention of enough ADs and gained the reputation of an unwanted element on the sets. So, one of the ADs came to me and politely said “As you can see, it’s a small set and there are a lot of people. We don’t want it to get too crowded here so would you mind staying in your room?”. I apologized for causing trouble if any and headed back to my room.

I was waiting outside my room at Filmistan when I first saw the hero of our film – Arjun Kapoor. He was shirtless (for most part of the day actually) and was having a word with a couple of crew members just outside the door of the studio we were to shoot in. He looked like someone full of energy and raring to go – a bit like how basketball players look just before play-off! I had seen him in Ishaqzaade and liked his portrayal of a raw hooligan turned Romeo. I had also read some articles about him and some of his interviews. Knowing that he is Boney Kapoor’s son and seeing his performance in Ishaqzaade, I sure thought he was going to be one of the biggies in the time to come. 10 minutes later, Siddharth and me were called for a rehearsal. My heart beat started racing as I realized I was going to be rehearsing my little scene in front of the director and stars of the film. Siddharth had to go back at the last moment for some costume related issue so I reached the set before him. And there, I saw her who is arguably the cutest girl of our times – Alia Bhatt. Even in a simple green kurti and blue jeans, the she looked gorgeous!

Image courtesy: @2states_FC on twitter

Image courtesy: @2states_FC on twitter

Now, a little while ago when we were waiting in our room for someone to call us when our shot is ready, Siddharth and Anees Bhai were discussing a lot of stuff about almost all the actors they had worked with. They spoke about whom they liked and whom they didn’t, what the latest gossip in the industry is, what new projects are in the making, etc. I, being the least experienced, was just listening to this conversation and enjoying it. The one thing that came out in this conversation was how Alia had gained the reputation of a very very sweet girl. Everyone from the costume guy to the make-up man to the production people vouched for her sweetness and humility. And Alia proved how true this was when we shot our scene with her.

So I was there on the set, ready with my costume and make-up to rehearse the line that Sid and me were supposed to say. The cinematographer was the great Mr. Binod Pradhan! I recognized him the moment I saw him as I had seen him in the making videos of films like Munnabhai M.B.B.S. He was busy setting up the frame and adjusting the lights as per his requirements. Sid hadn’t showed up yet so the director Abhishek asked me to say the line once. Nervous as hell, I did. He asked me to tone it down a bit. I did. And then when Siddharth arrived, he made Siddharth do the same thing. Finally, he decided that Siddharth will take the line and I will just react. I felt disappointed for a few seconds as all my rehearsals during the day had just gone down the drain. “What did I do wrong?” I kept thinking. However, in a while, something happened that changed my mood completely. I was standing with Sid outside the closed door of Arjun’s hostel room waiting for instructions from our director to begin the rehearsal. All of a sudden, the door opened and Alia and Arjun showed up. I thought we were already in the scene and looked at them shocked. “Sorry”, I said thinking that I have messed up by not paying attention. At this, Alia looked at me surprised and gave a huge smile which then transformed into a little giggle. Her eyes lit up while mine were glued to hers. In a split second, I noticed her lips, her teeth and a bit of her make-up. It was one of those speechless, “Wow!” moments when you see a pretty girl smiling right at you! 🙂 Almost simultaneously, Arjun laughed about all this and tapped me on the shoulder saying “Relax, we are not rehearsing” and they both walked away. They were taking a little break. All this happened within just a few seconds but this incident worked wonders for me. I felt relaxed and comfortable with whatever and whoever was around me.  Alia’s lovely smile has stayed with me ever since and continues to mesmerize me even as I write today! 🙂

The lovely Aliya Bhatt

The lovely Alia Bhatt

After a bit, when Arjun was walking around, I gathered some courage to say Hi. I shook hands with him and told him my name and that I was playing one of the Mohits. “Nice to meet you”, he said. Alia was standing right next to him but I did not have the balls to speak with her. I was too much in awe of our first encounter to be able to say anything. Later, we did rehearse the line a couple of times with Siddharth saying what he was supposed to and me reacting as Alia looked right into my eyes. It came pretty naturally to me actually. Later, Aliya was sweet enough to mention to Siddharth that he was doing a great job. She made his day and for the rest of the shoot, he joined the Alia Bhatt fan club that the other crew members were already a part of. Even on our way back home, he couldn’t stop talking about how cool it was for Alia to have acknowledged his work.

After the rehearsal, we were given chairs to sit on the set for a while. There was still some time for our shot as Arjun and Alia were shooting for another scene. For me, this was another awesome experience in itself. I saw how the first AD, Arif, took complete control of the set and made sure everything was flowing smoothly for the director and actors to work on. He was polite to actors and crew members for most part of the shoot but whenever things started going out of control or the place got noisy, he shouted in a commanding voice putting the place to drop-dead silence. Pravesh, the chief AD, on the other hand was quieter but equally in control of things making sure everything went as planned. He was less intimidating than Arif though 😀 Every time Binod Sir was ready to roll, Arif shouted “Silence” at the top of his voice followed by 4 other people shouting the same at different corners of the studio right till the door outside. It was like a wave echoing from one end of the studio to the other leading to absolute silence. After this, nobody dared to utter a word till the scene was performed and Abhishek said either “Cut it, one more” or “Cut it, okay” in one breath. It was a really cool scene that was being shot and I enjoyed watching on the monitor how Alia and Arjun were performing. They looked terrific together and I can’t wait to see how this scene will turn out to be on the big screen!

Image courtesy: @AliaasAngels on Twitter

Image courtesy: @AliaasAngels on Twitter

A few takes later, their scene was ‘okay’ed by Abhishek and it was time for us to shoot. Siddharth and me were ready to roll. We were given marks near the door where we needed to stand. Alia too was given her mark and once Binod Sir was ready with lights and camera, Abhishek ordered “Action”. We wrapped up our shot in about 3 minutes. We were then asked to relax till further notice. So, we headed back to our room and chilled out for a while. I walked out for snacks and had a chat with Alam, who was handling the security near the door. He told me about how he works different shifts on different shoots and that he plans to have a shop of his own some day. I wished him luck and moved on to chat with Acheet, the production in-charge who had looked after us since morning. He made sure Sid got his coffee the way he wanted it, he made sure I had eaten lunch and snacks whenever they were ready to be served, and he made sure we got everything we needed. It is amazing how special production people make actors feel. They deserve to be thanked much more than anyone else because they truly make sure that actors are comfortable and in their right mind to perform well. I thanked Acheet for all his help during the day and headed back to Sid to hear some more from him about shoots, actors, how to behave in front of stars and how not to 😀 We also caught a glimpse of Prabhu Deva and Shruti Hassan who were walking towards the studio next to us. “Hello Prabhu Sir”, Siddharth shouted out. Prabhu Sir responded with a smile and walked away 🙂 By the end of the day, I had developed a very friendly equation with Sid. It really felt like we were two roommates living in a hostel discussing stuff about life, work, girls, and what the future holds for us. I no longer felt insecure about him getting more screen time than me as I figured we were both sailing in the same boat and we will both make something out of whatever we get. Plus, it was just the beginning of a long career ahead. An actor’s career cannot and should not just depend upon how many lines he says in a film. It should be more about how true and dedicated he is to the character he is playing. With that thought, I told myself that I should stop caring about how much footage I will get in 2 states and just enjoy my part and do it well.

At around 8.30pm, we were called to the set again to take another shot from behind our back (called an OTS – Over the shoulder) to capture Alia’s dialogue. During this shot, I noticed our director Abhishek’s reactions when he was looking at the monitor while Alia and Arjun were performing. It was like he was present in the scene as a character himself. Everything being said by any actor was being said to him bringing out his natural reactions. I saw how he was smiling when Alia took her line. I thought this is the first, honest, purest reaction to the scene and may be this is exactly how the audience will feel when they watch the scene for the first time. This thought made me smile as much as Abhishek 🙂

Finally, at 9.15pm, Arif told us that it was pack-up for Siddharth and me. We left the studio while Alia and Arjun were still working. They had come in at 9 in the morning and were still going strong. Understandably, they had more scenes to do than anybody else. Add to that the various pressures that come with stardom. It’s a tough life I thought, but yet, something to die for. When I was in front of the camera reacting to Alia, I once again felt like I did when I was ADing a couple of weeks ago. I felt this is where I want to be – in whatever capacity possible! The lights, the camera, the sound, the sets, the cast and crew slogging their asses off – THIS IS LIFE! And every bit of success that comes to anyone who is a part of this world is truly well-deserved. Almost every soul you see on a film set looks inspiring and driven by passion, dedication, creativity and hard work. Each one knows that it’s a struggle and they are all up for it. And this is what makes me feel that I would rather be here than anywhere else.

Filmistan - right outside studio 6 where we shot

Filmistan – right outside studio 6 where we shot

I left the studio at 9.45pm and as I rode towards Andheri and reflected back on the happenings of the day, I couldn’t help but pray that my part in the film gets bigger and better in the Ahmadabad schedule in April (yeah, all that self-thought about being satisfied with whatever I get wasn’t working). Till then, it was time to get back to more theatre, auditions and meetings…

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A small role in Dharma’s ‘2 states’

A couple of months ago, the path ahead looked hazy. All I knew was that I wanted to make it big as an actor. How I would begin and what will get me there was something that stumped me. Yes, I had been at it for many years but the only thing I was working on at that moment was my play ‘Shakespeare Who?’. Knowing that theatre won’t pay me well always made me feel insecure about the future. Some solid roles that give me recognition as a good actor, make me a familiar face and get me more work were the need of the hour. I needed a fresh beginning. I thought I will start by contacting all the casting directors and co-ordinators I know of. My friends Shikha and Bisht also helped me with some contacts of people I could get in touch with. So I sent my pictures to all the email Ids I had and started following up with them by calling them every once in a while. This is when I happened to speak with casting director Nandini Shrikent. She told me she had seen my pictures and will let me know if something comes up. “Everyone says that but nobody ever gets back”, I said to myself! However, two days later when I was at home working on the lines of my play, I got a call from Dharma Productions. It was from a girl named Rachna who asked me if I can come for an audition for ‘2 States’. Nandini had referred my name to Dharma. This was a pleasant surprise 🙂 I hadn’t read the book  ‘2 states’ but I knew that it was a blockbuster by the new Indian youth icon Chetan Bhagat!

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I showed up all excited at the Dharma office the next day. Rachna briefed me about the character and the little scene I needed to perform. It was for a part named Mohit who is an IIM student and friends with the protagonist. I knew the moment Rachna described the character to me that it’s a very small part – like one of those students in the background that you see hanging around with the hero in college love stories. Nevertheless, it was a big production house and I had nothing else to start with. I felt this was a blessing and something that could set the ball rolling for me. So I gave the audition and then forgot about it because that’s the best way to keep oneself away from the stress and anxiety of wanting to get through.

After a few days, when I was ADing in an ad film (read previous posts), I got a call from Rachna that I was shortlisted for the part of Mohit. This got me really excited because it was my first film role in my new life as just an actor! However, this was also the worst phase because once you get a shortlist call, you keep wondering when you will get the final call that says you have been locked for the part. I had been shortlisted for a couple of films before (like David Dhawan’s Chashme Baddoor) but had never received the final calls. So this made me very nervous. That’s when my friend Nidhi Singh calmed me down saying that I should be happy that I at least got shortlisted. It means that I must have done something right and someone likes me. Later at home, my roomie Nikhil too asked me to just forget about it and focus on the play and other auditions. Although I did take their advice, I kept my fingers crossed.

On the 4th of February, I finally got the call. Sharikh from Dharma Productions called me to discuss the fees and when I agreed, he said I was locked for the part. I was told that I will be needed for a couple of days in Mumbai in the month of February and then for 3-4 days in Ahmadabad in the month of April. I was to get a call from an AD later to confirm the shoot dates. Later that night I did get a call from Siddhanth, an AD with Dharma, to let me know that I would be needed in the Mumbai schedule for any 1-2 days between the 6th and 11th. This was a potential problem because my play date (as in the date of my theatre play and not the one related to single parents :P) was the 10th of Feb. It was weird that I hadn’t even started out in the industry yet and was already having date issues 😀 I told Siddhanth about this and he assured me that my shoot will certainly be done before the 10th. That was a relief and finally, I could tell myself that I had bagged my first role as a character in a feature film! I sent Nandini a “thank you” message informing her that I got through and expressing how grateful I was for this opportunity. She replied joking that she obviously knew that I got through as she was the one doing the casting 🙂

I was called for a line-run a couple of days later at the same venue where I had auditioned for the part. This is where I met a guy named Siddharth Amar. He was an actor too and seemed shocked to know that I am playing Mohit. “That can’t be true, I am the one playing Mohit”, he said. Now, once I got the final selection call, I had picked up Chetan’s novel and quickly read through the IIM bit of it. That’s how I knew that there were 5 Mohits in the story. I drew Siddharth’s attention to this and told him that there is a probability that we have been cast to play 2 of the 5 Mohits. May be, there were 3 more coming. We waited anxiously when an AD named Ishaan entered the office. I thought he was an actor too because he looked nothing less than a Hero. This, I thought, was one striking thing about all Dharma ADs I met in the future. They were all capable of giving actors and models an inferiority complex! Anyway, Ishaan greeted us, introduced himself, and asked us to have a seat till the other ADs arrive. He also clarified that there are indeed 5 Mohits but we were the ones with a couple of dialogues in the film. The others would probably stand by and react. In a while, the other ADs Siddhanth and Karina arrived and started setting up the lights and camera for our rehearsal. We were then introduced to the first AD Arif (who was pretty much the dynamic driving force on the day of the shoot, but more on that later). While Arif was checking the set up, we were given a line to rehearse. This line was split between Siddharth and me. Arif made us rehearse together a few times and then captured it on camera. Once he was happy with the take, he let us go saying he will see us on the day of the shoot.

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As I left the Dharma office, I was feeling a bit sad about having to share my footage with another actor. I thought I could see what was coming. It was a small part to begin with and there was a further split in footage with someone else. May be it was not really a part in which I will be seen or noticed. I mean, there were going to be 4 more Mohits for crying out loud! However, I immediately realized that I cannot be so negative about it. It was a ray of hope. It was my first project with a huge production house and if I am good, it could lead to bigger, better roles. Also, I thought feeling insecure due to other actors around me is probably a part and parcel of this industry (or any for that matter). So I had to deal with it sooner or later. I thought the best way to go about it was to make friends with him and try and create something good together by complementing each other. So I put all these feelings behind me and started eagerly waiting for the day of the shoot.

One day before the shoot, I got a call from Nikita from the costume department for my measurements. She asked me for my shirt and trouser size and also advised me to carry a few options like T-shirts, track pants, college casuals, and floaters on the day of the shoot. This was my first costume call and it made me feel – “Wooaaahh!! I feel like a professional, working actor now” 😀 AD Siddhanth informed me that the call time for the next day was 8 am. My co-actor Siddharth – the other Mohit – called me to say that he will be coming along with me on my bike. And there I was – on the eve of my first day of shoot for Dharma Productions’ 2 States.

Two ad films as Assistant Director…

I grabbed the shoot board that I had prepared the previous night, and met Karan and Nikhil at 4.30 in the morning. We reached the BPCL colony at Chembur at 5.15am. We were the first ones to arrive followed by the Production team, the art department, the costumes and finally, the DOP, director and actors. It was pretty cold and I thought we were way before time but I did not say anything because I did not want Nikhil to get started on how it’s better to be early than late 🙂

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As soon as we reached, Nikhil got busy with sorting out the vanity van parking. The only thing I had to do before Shome and Nidhi arrived was to set up the shoot board. I did that with the help of a production guy named Anuj. Later things got pretty busy and at one point, I got my first yelling from Nikhil. I bothered him with a very silly question when he was in the middle of something very important and he shouted out “Why are you irritating me??” I walked away and smiled remembering how Nikhil had warned me that this will happen 🙂 Post that, I was just observing what was happening around me. The art department started setting up things in the room where we had to begin shooting.

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I was given a walkie-talkie and Nikhil explained to me how it is to be used. He told me that I, along with the rest of the direction team, will be on channel 2. To explain how the communication is to be carried on, he gave me an example – If I were to talk to Nikhil, I will keep the mike button pressed and say “Nikhil, come in for Dilip” to which he will reply “Go for Nikhil” and vice versa. Any overlapping of speech was to be avoided and once I got what was being said, I was to say “Copy that”. I was new to walkie-talkies but in the next few hours, I got familiar with their use and also realized that they are pretty much the lifeline of every shoot!

Nidhi, once again, was coordinating with me over the phone and asked me to run a check from the emails that she had sent to see if everything we needed for the shoot was in place. While I was doing so, Shome and Nidhi arrived and took charge of everything. All I had to do after that was follow their instructions. I was first asked to check on the status of the little girl Prisha, who was to shoot with the Bangladeshi model Amile. Prisha arrived right at her call time with her parents. I made her have breakfast and then get ready with costume and make up for the shot. Vineet from the costume department was there to make sure people got what they were supposed to wear. Kamlesh, the make-up man, was ready with his assistant too and hung around the set all day for frequent touch-ups before takes. Shome spent some time rehearsing with Prisha for the first shot. Irene, Amitabh Sir’s assistant, teamed up with Shome to make sure the kid felt comfortable and performed well.

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We started rolling and in a couple of hours or so, were done with the first 2 shots. I observed how the team dealt with the task of getting the required performance out of a kid. It needed patience as well as promptness to make sure things moved as per schedule. Everybody wanted to avoid the risk of a crying kid or a bored, uninterested kid for that matter 😀 So they all made sure the atmosphere was perfect for the kid to give her best!

It was then time to shoot with the main model in the same room. Shome got to work again getting into the model’s position and making sure Sunil Sir had the right light arrangements. Nidhi got busy with the coconuts as we had to capture the coconut-breaking shot next (the same thing Shome was trying out a day ago).

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Once we were done with the settings, it was time to shoot with Amile. This is where Mili, our hair specialist, came in as we had to capture some hair shots. I noticed how Mili took care of Amile’s hair and made sure all hair movements looked graceful and lovely. Also, the heat generated from the lights could harm her hair extensions so after every take, the lights had to be quickly turned off and the coolers turned on. This portion took up most part of the day and we had to break for lunch in the middle of it.

Later in the afternoon, once we had captured what was needed, we moved outside the room to the road where Amile and little Prisha had to shoot a scene together. Some of the background artists were needed for this shot. Shome asked me to get them ready quickly. I got on it but Shome required me to be faster. He kept checking their status with me on the walkie and asked me to hurry up.  I tried to but it was difficult to get some of the artists to move faster. They insisted on doing things their way and being assertive without being stern was not something I was good at. So I kept requesting them to hurry up and I kept telling Shome that we will be there in a minute. Finally, just when Shome was about to lose it, we did get to the road where the shot was set-up. The artists were given their marks and we started rolling. Mili got to work with Amile making sure her hair looked beautiful.

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I was to ride a bike in the background for one of the shots. The shot took multiple takes for various reasons and I must have circled the bike around 10 times. It was fun though (when isn’t bike riding fun?!?). Our friend, Nidhi Bisht (not to be confused with my 2nd Ad Nidhi Singh) had arrived by then and was ready with her costume for the balcony shot. However, things could not be wrapped up on time so we could not shoot with Bisht that day. Nidhi spoke with her about this and apologized for the situation. I saw that although both the Nidhis were extremely close friends, they were speaking very professionally at this moment. Nidhi spoke as an AD would speak to an actor and Bisht did as a co-operative actor would to an AD. Before this, I had only seen these two indulging in all kinds of random crap and terrible jokes! But on set, they were totally different. “Respect!” I said in my head. Bisht was not available to shoot the next day so it meant we would need someone else. We thought we’ll figure that out later. So, Production cleared the bills of Bisht and little Prisha (whose work in the ad was done too) and it was a wrap for them. Not too long after this, Amitabh Sir announced pack-up for the day. The Production and direction team met for a bit to discuss things for the next day. Our line producer Priyanka was not happy with the way walkie-talkies were used during the day so it was decided that we will only take instructions and say “copy” on the main channel. For any longer discussions, we would need to switch to a different channel.  For the pending balcony shot, we decided we will pick someone from the background artists. I co-ordinated with Shahdin to arrange for someone to be sent for the shot. I made a note of all that was said and then left for the day. Once I got home, I prepared the shoot board for day 2 of the shoot and slept off as the next day was to begin pretty early too.

Day 2 of the first ad was a long day – the day of background artists and Nidhi’s excellence in handling them, the day of Shome’s brilliance in managing to wrap everything up right on time, and the day of my first payment as an AD! 😀  Once again Nikhil, Karan and me were the first ones to reach the set. The art department showed up a few minutes later and started with the tedious task of setting up a market place on the road. After a couple of hours, the background artists headed by Sitaramji showed up (right on their call time) and were waiting in the lawn outside Trombay club. There were around 20 of them. I saw Sitaramji for the first time and immediately recognized him. He was the famous Fevicol guy known for the unbreakable egg ad and the “pakde rehna, chhodna nahi” ad!

The first shot to be shot was the balcony shot that we could not finish the previous day. Nidhi quickly trained a bunch of background artists for this shot, then auditioned them, and then picked the best one to play the part. While she was working really hard at all this, I found it too funny and couldn’t stop giggling at what was happening. Once the training and rehearsal was done, Nidhi accompanied the girl to the balcony that Priyanka had acquired permission for. The rest of the team stayed outside from where we were shooting. A crane was used to elevate Sunil Sir and his camera to the level of the balcony and all communication was being carried out on walkies. The shot was wrapped up in about an hour and I was asked to get the background artists ready. Once again, Shome kept me on the move and kept following up on the status of the background artists. Each one of them had to be in the required costume and ready to roll. I was giving Shome updates every 2 minutes and finally, got everyone on set. Amitabh Sir, on knowing that I am an actor too, asked me to be a part of the tea stall scene that was to be shot next with Sitaramji. I put my walkie aside for a while and shot the scene.

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We were using an old gas stove in the scene which was popping out inconsistent flames every now and then giving Roshan and his team a tough time. However, they were as terrific as they had been throughout the shoot and somehow managed to make it work for the duration of the shoot. This is what was commendable about Roshan and all the art guys. They were always on their toes and ready with whatever Amitabh Sir or Shome needed in the frame. They had showed up early in the morning and set up a beautiful flower shop, a tea stall and an ice-cream cart making a perfect market place set! I had seen them working through all this and I knew that it was not an easy job – perhaps one of the toughest jobs of the entire film-making process. “Hats-off to these guys” I thought. Anyway, so after the chai-waala shot, we needed all the background artists for a scene where the girl was to walk through the market with people walking by and reacting to her lovely hair. Karan, our production assistant, too was to act in this scene so he got ready and for a while, Nikhil and I tried to fill in for him.

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Later, I was told that I had to ride a bike in the background for this scene too wearing a different shirt. After the bike ride the previous day, and the chai-shot in the morning, this was my third role in the same ad. Not that I was complaining! I was thoroughly enjoying every bit of it 😀

Now, the market place scene was a difficult one to shoot plainly because of the number of people and activities involved. However, our girl Nidhi took the lead with me to assist her and Shome giving her instructions on the walkie. She spoke to the artists without being rude and yet established a place of authority. She spoke as much as was required and made sure everyone was at the mark given to them and did what they were supposed to. I immediately saw in her what I was missing. She had the capability to be assertive and to-the-point making sure people knew she means business. At the same time, she was sweet enough for everyone to want to follow her instructions. Add to that how pretty she is and you have a no-brainer as to why everyone quietly followed whatever she said 😀

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This scene, which was the main scene of the ad film and appeared as a huge task, was done in no time thanks to Priyanka, Shome, Nikhil and Nidhi co-ordinating and functioning like a well-oiled machine. Being connected to them on the walkie, I was a part of each and everything that was going on. I was learning something about the process every 5 minutes. I was getting a better understanding of the challenges involved in a simple shoot and how they are overcome. Looking at the way these guys worked, I thought I would love to function as smoothly as them some day!

Once the main scene was done, we moved on to a final signing-off scene for which the road had to be cleared. For this, around 10 people including Singham, Nikhil, Karan and me were stationed at different areas of a long road to stop vehicles and people from coming into the frame. Once again, the walkie became the key instrument of life as everyone stayed tuned in to know when to release the lock on vehicles and people and when to impose it. As it started getting dark, the coconut-breaking shot which was left incomplete the previous day was captured. It was funny how everyone from Shome to Nidhi to Priyanka to Sunil Sir to Amitabh Sir took turns to try and break the coconut the way it was needed 😀 Finally, after checking the shot, Amitabh Sir announced that it was a wrap. There was laughter and joy everywhere in the air! We had one more ad to shoot in a couple of days but it was the last time we were seeing Amile. She thanked us and bid goodbye while the rest of the team dispersed to meet 2 days later for another ad film shoot. Before I left, Nikhil arranged for me to be paid my first ADing salary. It was a modest amount but something that I had not expected. I was an intern and yet was being paid. It was a big deal for me! Nidhi was not to be a part of the next ad film which meant that my responsibilities would increase. However, I thought that my seniors had trained me well enough to be able to manage certain things by myself.

Our team, minus Singham, met again after a couple of days for the second ad film. It was for a milk product. This time we were more relaxed as it was just a day’s shoot and was at Madh island which was closer to where we all lived. Amitabh Sir was his usual self, narrating anecdotes that made everyone laugh. This was a cool thing about him. He always had hilarious stories to tell from his vast experience in the industry. It was always a joy being part of his conversations.

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Anyway, work began and once again, I co-ordinated with the models involved – two kids Saksham and Dhriti, and one beautiful girl who played their mom – Priya. They reached on time and after a little costume-related delay, they got ready to roll. In Nidhi’s absence, I was given the responsibility of the kids and the model. The model, being grown-up and a professional was pretty easy to deal with. My challenge was the kids. Making sure they are ready on time, perform as required, don’t create a mess on the sets, eat on time and take a nap when they are tired so that they don’t get cranky – these and more were the tasks I was handling. And of course, I had Shome giving me instructions on the walkie about whatever else was needed. Priyanka had taken charge of the art department and was making sure the sets and props were in place. She did a terrific job as there was not a single hick-up related to sets in the entire day. We started with a scene where the little boy had to run with a toy plane. He just refused to run as per DOP Sunil Sir’s camera needs. Thankfully, just when Sunil Sir was on the verge of losing it, he got it right. The next few shots were captured in a lovely kitchen set-up made by Roshan and his team. Sunil Sir acknowledged how cool the kitchen looked the moment he saw it.

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The kids were giving me a tough time throughout the day kicking and punching me at the wrong places but I did not mind as long as they did their job well! For one of the shots where a toy prop was involved, the little girl almost dropped the prop. It would have taken ages to re-build it costing us a lot of time and effort. Fortunately, I held on to the prop just on time but not before Shome noticed what had happened. He threatened me on the walkie that I won’t live if that happens again!

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After this minor hick-up, the rest of the day went pretty smoothly until the final shot in the evening when the kids had to drink a glass of milk. What we gave them was vanilla milk shake. While the little girl loved it, the boy seemed to get uncomfortable and just before the final take, threw up. We went ahead with just the girl for that shot and after about half an hour, it was a wrap for everyone. We had finished earlier than planned and it was time to rejoice! Everyone from all the departments started wrapping up, people started thanking and hugging each other and in the middle of all this, Shome walked up to me and shook my hand saying “Good job!”. I couldn’t say anything back simply because I couldn’t express how grateful I was to him for this opportunity. There would have been a huge vacuum in my life after I lost my job had it not been for the two weeks of work that Shome gave me. In simple words, he was responsible for me not feeling like a depressed loser! Also, it was because of him that I was being paid my first salary after I left the corporate world. It meant much more than I can express here in words.

Post pack-up, there was a little present-giving session for the Bangladeshi team that Priyanka and Shome had arranged. Amitabh Sir, being his joyous self, cracked jokes and spread smiles before departing on a happy note with the rest of the Bangladeshi team.

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Later, as the production team sat settling everybody’s bills, Shome sat with me giving me some feedback on my work. He told me what I did well and what I could have done better. He explained how for an AD, 60 seconds means exactly 60 seconds. If I tell him on the walkie that I am getting the actor on set in 60 seconds, he will be ready with the shot and expect to roll at the 60th second. He also told me how it is sometimes an AD’s job to be annoying. An AD has to make sure things happen on time and if this means being a prick to someone, so be it! Following up repeatedly with the actors or with the make-up and costume department could annoy them but that’s fine because that’s an AD’s job. I was listening to everything Shome was saying and absorbing all of it. Finally, I was called to clear my bills and was handed over my payment for the 2nd ad film.

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Priyanka, Nikhil, Karan, Shome and me were the last ones to leave. We hugged each other goodbye and left our own separate ways. While I rode back to the jetty place at Madh Island and then back home from Versova, I reflected upon the madness of the last two weeks and how much work I had done. It had been ages since I had worked that hard for something. There was a sense of satisfaction in how tired I felt by the end of it all. And yet, I felt there was so much more to do…

Getting ready for my first ADing experience…

After meeting some friends and co-actors for discussing what I can do to earn a living, my friend Nidhi suggested that I speak with her boyfriend Shome about being an Assistant Director. I knew that Shome was an AD since quite some time but I never knew the details of his work. My only interactions with him had been when he came for parties after our shows and when he occasionally did lights for us or recorded our shows. For us, he was always the smartest and most good-looking crew member a group can have!

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So I gave Shome a call and went to meet him at his apartment. It was the most well decorated apartment I had seen in a long time. It was small but spacious enough to feel comfortable. Very trendy! The artistic touches to the interiors in the apartment were noteworthy. There was something about the place that the moment I stepped in, I felt I have entered the abode of someone very creative! We started talking and I told him where I am placed in my life and that I am willing to consider any work that will get me closer to being an actor. Shome explained to me the nitty-gritties of ADing and mentioned how the job, although hectic, can pay well after some time. He said I would need to start as an intern and won’t get paid for a few months. I was fine with that as I knew I had to start somewhere. Shome assured me that he will help me with some numbers of people and production houses that I can contact to get started. I was grateful to him because this talk had opened up the possibility of a reliable source of income for me to get me through my acting struggle. While I was waiting for Shome to send me the numbers, I got a call from him one day asking if I would like to assist him on a project on which he was the first AD. It was for a couple of ad films for a Bangladeshi production house. This was a great way for me to learn as an AD so there was no way I would have said No.

The first assignment given to me was to prepare a simple Powerpoint presentation laying out the costumes for one of the ads. I did as Shome instructed me but it turned out that my presentation was pretty average. Shome made some changes to it (making a “this is how it’s done” statement) and sent it back to me for future reference. My first day on the field as an AD was when Shome asked me to accompany him to look for shoot locations. We had to lock one (for each ad) by the end of the day. We headed to Madh Island at 7.30 in the morning where I first met our director from Bangladesh Mr. Amitabh Reza, our line producer Mr. Asad and the DOP for the projects Mr. Sunil Patel. This is also where I met Roshan from the art department who I later learnt was extremely talented and the pillar of the sets we shot in. But above all – here is where I was introduced to two people who along with Shome in the next few days would send a chill down my spine, keep me on my toes, rag me like college seniors and teach me everything the world of ADing has to offer. These two were Line Producer Priyanka Ghose and Production Manager Nikhil Bopanna.

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After finalizing a bungalow at Madh Island for one of the ads, we took off to go to Film City in Goregaon to look for another location for the other ad. Once we got there, Nikhil and I went to the Film City office (my first visit there) to check rates for shooting at certain locations that we were considering. However, Amitabh Sir did not like what he saw so we then took off to check out another corner of the city – the BPCL colony at Chembur. Nikhil accompanied me on my bike and this is when I got to chat him up a bit. We spoke about where we came from, what we had done in the past and what our future plans were. The guy had a strong, prominent and yet adorable South Indian accent (which, along with my complexion, became the subject of Shome’s jokes every now and then). We reached BPCL before the other cars and once everyone got there, we finalized the location. It was a coincidence that we ended up finalizing exactly the same place where I had shot my only scene as an actor – remember The Dirty Picture? 🙂 Amitabh Sir wanted to shoot a scene with a model standing inside one of the balconies for which we needed permission from the family to let the model in on the day of the shoot. We thought it would be tough to get this permission but our wonder woman Priyanka took it up. 5 minutes later she walked towards us with her thumbs up!

We then took off to Prime Focus where we had lunch and discussed future steps of action. Here is where I met our Production assistant Karan, whom I did most of the work with, in the days to come. I also ran into my friend Ankit here who is an Editor at Prime Focus since a long time. It was a good feeling to meet a friend from the industry when I am not just a visitor but someone who has his own work to do 😀 Here, for the first time, I was involved in a discussion related to casting. I was asked if I knew someone who could play one of the parts. I suggested a couple of names and tried calling a couple of people. Finally, Shome, after a discussion with Amitabh Sir, finalized our common friend Nidhi Bisht for the part. I had to leave around 5 in the evening as I had to meet some colleagues from my ex-organization. Shome gave me a “so early?” look but let me go.

The next day we were joined by our 2nd AD and my direct boss for one of the ads – Nidhi Singh a.k.a. Singham. I was a bit relieved since she joined us. I felt more confident with her around me. The others – Shome, Priyanka, and Nikhil having worked together before, were already a group. They were all really nice no doubt but for someone who is new to this whole thing, it was pretty intimidating to be working under them. Their calibre, authority and professionalism made me really nervous. Nidhi, being a fellow actor in my theatre group, was someone I knew since a long time. I knew that she was just as professional and excellent at her work and I still had to follow her instructions. I had also seen her temper so I did not want to upset her too. However, I felt a bit protected with her coming on board. Anyway, the day started with Priyanka picking us up and heading to Costa Coffee at Khar (the one under the Dharma office). Here we met Mili Fernandez, who Nidhi told me was the best hair specialist when it comes to ad films related to hair products. I had no clue what she meant until I experienced it on the days of the shoot. The only thing I noticed about Mili at Costa was her jovial, sweet nature and her sense of humour. She came across as someone who has been around for a long time and knows her job really well. We were then joined by our director Amitabh Sir, and line producer Asad. Mili and Amitabh Sir seemed to had worked together in the past and they hit it off as soon as they met. I noticed that although we were sitting at Costa, Mili had her own flask of tea /coffee along with a cup which she pulled out of her bag. We all looked at her surprised but said nothing and carried on with the topic of discussion. After Mili left and we all finished planning the things to be done in the next 2 days, we headed to hotel Mirage at Andheri East for our costume rehearsal. I was given the job of coordinating with Mumbai artists so I followed up with the mother of the kid who was to star in the first ad and made sure they got to the hotel on time.

The best part about the hotel was the food. There was an array of veg and chicken starters served on the table in the conference room where we were to have our meeting and rehearsal. However, there wasn’t enough time to relish these dishes because we got to work as soon as Amitabh Sir came into the room. Falguni from the costume department was there with the costume options for both the main female model and the kid.

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The model was Amile from Bangladesh. She seemed pretty shy and liked sitting on her chair till she was asked to do something by Amitabh Sir. Nidhi asked me to offer her something to eat but it turned out I was shyer than her so I hesitated. It was only when big boss Shome insisted I do it, that I went and asked her if she needs something. She said she was fine. We then clicked a few pictures of the costumes, made some notes based on Amitabh Sir’s instructions for the shoot, and then left for the day.

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What happened after this left me in awe of Singham. I thought I was taking detailed notes of whatever was happening around me but it turned out that Singham was way ahead of me in this. She had jotted down every single detail of what was said and knew crystal clear what was needed for the days of the shoot. She wrote 3 separate emails – one email each specific to art, costume and production – with pointers on things to do and sent it to the whole team. All we had to do was go through these emails to get a clear picture of what work lies ahead of us!

The next day was the day of the tech rekki (no idea how it is spelt). I left Andheri with Karan in a rick and caught up with Nikhil and Priyanka on the way who had abandoned us because we were 5 minutes late. Once we reached BPCL, we had some rolls, puffs, cakes, etc for breakfast. We were then joined by the Bangladesh team and I hung around with Amitabh Sir to take notes. Shome and Nidhi were to reach later so I was the only one present from the direction team. I had already been scolded once in the morning by Priyanka for not taking print outs of the story board so I wanted to make sure I do nothing wrong in the rest of the day. I was pretty nervous in Shome’s and Nidhi’s absence but I was beginning to develop a strange brotherly equation with Nikhil. He was constantly explaining stuff to me like a good senior. He told me about the norms, things that I should do, and things that I shouldn’t. He made it clear that I am going to be shouted at and it’s not a big deal. We got going with the rehearsal on location with Amitabh Sir directing model Amalie on how to walk, where to look, etc.

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Nidhi was in touch with me over the phone all morning to get updates of what was going on. So when she arrived, she knew everything that was happening around. This was the best thing about Singham. She was always in complete control of the situation. Once we were done with the rehearsal, Nidhi left with Amile to get to Mili’s (the hair specialist’s) hair studio. We were to catch up with them later. I took off with Shome and the Production team to reach a studio named After at Khar. I filled Shome in with whatever had happened in the morning and stuff that Amitabh Sir had said. When we reached After, I liked how the place looked. It was a cool place with a pool table, a big screen TV playing sports channels and some glass tables to sit and work on. It had a glass wall through which one could see the busy Linking road. We sat here finalizing stuff for the shoot. I was asked to handle the background artists department so I started making calls to Shahadin and Sonal who were coordinators for background artists. I gave them the requirements for the shoot, got pictures of artists from them, and asked Shome to approve artists that will suit the project. Shome himself was coordinating with Sitaramji who was the big boss when it came to background artists. Shahadin and Sonal too worked with him. I did not know who he was till the day I met him on the shoot and shared screen space with him for one of the shots J I then communicated the call time to the background artists and once I was done with this work, Shome asked me to take off and get some print outs. He also gave me the task of preparing the shoot board, which as Nidhi explained to me, is an extremely important board on every shoot. It is a chart paper with images of scenes to be shot during a day in the order in which and time at which they need to be shot. Anybody present at the shoot can look at the shoot board and understand what’s going on and what’s up next.

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It was nice to see that Shome was showing some confidence in me by entrusting me with some of these responsibilities. So, I took some production money for print outs, stationary, etc. and left to catch up with the rest of the team later at Mili’s place.

The rest of the team had reached Mili’s hair studio when I called Nidhi to ask for directions. Once I reached there, I saw Amalie’s hair clipped up and Mili doing something to it. I had no clue what was happening but the rest of the guys were chatting about work, and some other stuff. Mili’s wall had pictures of her with almost all the big stars of the industry – John Abraham, Bipasha Basu, Kareena, and many more. There were also some models I had seen on TV but didn’t know the names of.

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Amitabh Sir asked me to look up IMDB to find out all the work our DOP Sunil Patel has done. It had to be sent to someone. I was amazed when I saw the list – Hum Tum, Teri Meri Kahani, Murder 3 and more. Once this was done, we were treated to some amazingly awesome food by Mili. Fish, chicken curry, rice – all of it was too delicious. Everyone wanted a second serving and they got it too.

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Nidhi was to be with Amalie while Shome, Priyanka, Karan and me took off to test some coconut breaking options to be performed in the shoot the next day. Shome had some ideas in mind that he wanted to try out. We spent quite some time on this with Shome, Priyanka, Karan and Nikhil racking their brains to figure out every possible way in which a coconut can break without the pieces going too far away from each other. I was just standing by clicking pictures and making videos as it was all too funny to me! 😀

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Several permutations and combinations later, Shome asked me to leave for home (probably annoyed of my uselessness) and get the shoot board ready. Nidhi had trained me on how it was to be done so I was good to go. I bid my team goodbye, quickly went for an ad film audition (without telling Shome and Nidhi :P) and then reached home to work on the shoot board. By the time I wrapped up, it was 1.30 in the night and I had to meet Nikhil and Karan at 4.30 in the morning to reach the shoot location by 5.15am. So I went off to sleep thinking about how my first day of shoot as an AD will go.

Getting to know Shakespeare…

William Shakespeare. I had read about this writer during college days, tried to get through some of his text every once in a while (never successfully completing more than 5 pages), and often gone off to sleep after being fed up of not understanding what was written (or why???).  I always felt Shakespeare was the territory of geeks, or English scholars or those who pretend to understand his writing just so that they can come off as a class above the rest. My biggest Shakespeare experience was when I was handling production work for Mr. Neeraj Kabi back in 2005. The play I worked on was the most famous play ever written – HAMLET. Neeraj Sir’s version of Hamlet was the finest play I had seen with an integration of the Indian art forms Yakshagana and Dhrupad to bring to life this amazing piece of text on stage!

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After that, I did not do anything related to Shakespeare. Of course, I kept hearing lame uses of his famous quotes by people who had no clue what they mean; the most frequent one being – “To be or not to be, that is the question”. I used to wonder how almost every man on earth knows just this one line written by Shakespeare and flaunts this knowledge by using the line in any damn context of life just for the heck of it. For instance, in a recent movie, a guy jokes about a bra saying – 2 B or 32 B, that is the question! Nevertheless, the thought of Shakespeare always made me curious and I wanted to know why this man is supposed to be so great!

And now – 7 years later, my friend, director and co-actor Nidhi Bisht has given me an opportunity to be a part of a Shakespeare play as an actor. It all began a couple of months ago when she introduced me and our whole theatre group NBTV (New Brain Theatre Volks) to a man who was crazy about Shakespeare, a brilliant actor and an amazing teacher – Dehshat Vansadia (his name is Deshik but I have stuck to Dehshat since the day I met him). Dehshat is an alumnus of the Stella Adler School of acting and has also been part of the Shakespeare theatre company. He had come back to India a few months ago and was aiming to bring to life Shakespeare’s plays in their raw form. He felt that almost all the Shakespeare work being done here is in adapted versions. He wanted to perform Shakespeare plays just the way they are. So Nidhi and Dehshat got together and we were all called for a meeting about this project.

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It started with Dehshat conducting workshops for the first few days. We sat and chatted about who we are, what we do, what our association with Shakespeare has been (if any). This was followed by physical exercises, voice exercises, acting exercises. Once Dehshat felt that we had warmed up enough, we began working with text. The emphasis was always on being true to oneself and speaking from where we are rather than forcing the performance. Dehshat made us see what the text really implies and how we can find a connection with what was written. He made us close our eyes and narrated stories or situations that invoked different emotions in us. The detailing he did while narrating these imaginative plots was just terrific. It would really get to our inner self and by the end of the exercise, each actor felt lighter and a bit more opened up than before. He said the essence of what we went through during such exercises should be used in our performance. We then started working on speeches and scenes for which Dehshat made us put to use all the work we did during the exercises. This was (and still is) the most challenging part of the process. While Shakespeare’s language is rich and does most of the work when you are performing something from his text, you need to have your foundations as an actor in place to make sure you do a good job. It was during the scenes and speeches that I really started questioning my acting methods and skills as a performer.

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After a few days of performing scenes and speeches, we started putting the play on its feet. The lines were memorized and the moves were choreographed. Later during the process, a stick fight was to be introduced into the piece. We decided to go with the martial art form of Silumbum for which rehearsals and training began in full flow. Our dear Nidhi Singh who plays the Joan of Arc in the fight suffered some brutal blows while rehearsing but the strong girl that she is, she just cast them off casually with no pain.

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What was also noteworthy during our rehearsals was the coming together of the two Nidhis as Roma and Juliet. No matter what time of the day it was, or what the mood of the group was – there was always a romantic chemistry going on between these two.

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The biggest nautankis of the group – Bisht and Singham always painted the rehearsals red with their love and affection for each other! Their histrionics kept me alive and ticking whenever I was exhausted. Prashant and Pallavi, the couple of our group, worked really hard to manage their busy schedules to get to rehearsals every day. I feel it was due to this hard work that towards the end of the rehearsal process, the two of them showed maximum growth as performers. They were a part of all the fun and frolic during the long rehearsals that brought us closer as a bunch of actors. And at the center of all this was our director Deshik (enough with the Dehshat joke I guess :P). It was great to be listening to his anecdotes and discussions about acting and several other topics ranging over all fields of life. His accent was the talk of the town and the subject of many jokes or a long time (and still is). However, it is commendable how well Deshik handled this group. He was a sport during lighter moments and a firm director during the more serious ones. He molded each one of us right from day 1 and such was his impact on us that as of today, I (and I guess most actors in the group) feel that he is one of the most amazing actors I have come across and the most terrific teacher I have been trained by. Such is his talent and determination that it seems fairly obvious that this guy is going to go places. It was great to see how well, under Deshik’s guidance, the group bonded and how each one grew as the days went by.

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Speaking of myself – while working on this play, I realized how bad and unworthy I am as an actor. It made me feel that in so many years that have passed by, in all the talk about making it big in the industry, in all the talk about passion for acting and chasing my dream, I haven’t really worked enough on my art. Yes, I have done a few workshops here and there. Yes, I have performed in a few plays and short films. However, being an actor needs much more than that. One needs to practise and implement things done in the workshops on a daily basis. Acting is an art which needs discipline. It needs rehearsal. It needs a lot of hard work, research, sincerity and bravery – bravery to visit corners of your mind and heart that you tread to, bravery to put yourself through situations you would hate to, to make yourself think about things that you hesitate to. I had been working as an actor just on the surface without really getting into the internal fundamentals. Therefore, I am grateful that at this stage I was introduced to Shakespeare. Grateful because I realized that if you are willing to open up as an actor and explore what’s inside you – there can be nobody better than Shakespeare to help you with it. What is great about Shakespeare is – if you give a go at him with all your heart, you will find yourself on a journey ranging through every human emotion there is. It may seem as an actor’s nightmare but in reality – it is an actor’s paradise!

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I have learnt a lot from this project.  The whole process right from warm-ups to speech and scene work to full run-throughs has been exceptional. As an actor, it has been the richest experience for me so far! Although I don’t think I can call myself a very good actor yet, I know that I have found a path to work towards it. I am going to try and incorporate stuff learnt from this project in my daily routine. I am also going to try and be, in whatever capacity possible, a part of every Shakespeare play that Deshik and NBTV work on in the future.

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To start this new ride with Shakespeare, we perform a piece named Shakespeare, Who? this Sunday, the 10th of Feb at Andheri. Can’t wait to be on stage again!  🙂