As a small canvas filmmaker, someone whose film is going to get anywhere from 300-350 screens across the country, that too if one is lucky, working with assistant directors who play the AD game, jumping like guns for hire, from some Clint Eastwood western, from one big film to another, is an impossibility. These ADs, and they have every right to play it that way, jump from feature film to ad film to feature film to ad film with  absolutely or almost no breaks in between. They pick their films based on the producer’s name and standing, on fat salaries to be able to buy the bigger car, move further up south in Mumbai, or on how famous the name of the studio is. And if asked which film they’re doing, they’d name the production house instead of the director or basically whoever’s more famous between the two. And they’ve made a career out of top salaries as ADs. Statistically, do most of them end up making films? Nope.

Then there is the other lot of ADs who come into the film industry and work on little big films, crowdfunded films, smaller films that they choose on the basis of the script after reading it. And they’re not necessarily here for the money or to make a career as an AD. They’re here because as soon as is possible, they want to make their own films. They’re here for the art of making a film, to tell stories, not as much for the glamour of it. They pick their films based on what they feel about the stories, on what they feel about the filmmaker and his/her type of films and stories and based on what they think they can learn to be able to make their own film. Of course, there are exceptions to this, no doubt, but to my mind this is a valid generalisation.

When I first came to Mumbai to make Tikli and Laxmi Bomb (TALB), I began to meet the first kind of ADs. And soon enough I began to feel that I’m going to be eaten up by my AD or that I have higher chances of getting a star attached to my project than getting a good first/chief AD. I met dozens of them, they made promises, quoted crazy prices, said they were in it for the content, read the book, complimented it no end, committed and then disappeared when the time came to talk shop seriously. Getting their dates was tough enough for me to feel like quitting making TALB.

But then I discovered this difference, met the second kind and life was never the same again. My entire team has passionate, hard working, not just well – intentioned but also action – oriented people.

As I began casting for the lead characters and supporting cast, I began to meet actors in general and met the ‘Actor who doesn’t act’. This kind of actor spends all of his life in going for auditions and networking at pubs, bars, homes, parties but spends absolutely no time honing her/his craft. As disappointing as the writer who doesn’t read, and unfortunately as prevalent in the Mumbai Film Industry. This also frustrated me no end. These actors would say things like ‘But that actor isn’t reading your script, so why should I’, ‘Who else is acting in the film’, ‘Has any major actor said yes?’, ‘Oh my watchman lost the book you sent’, ‘Oh Flipkart lost the book you sent’, ‘Oh yes it’s been two months but I fall asleep when I read a book. Sorry, Narration?’ etc. etc. etc. And if I hadn’t found that lovely large group of actors who’re in it for the role, and the craft and the beauty of the art of acting, I’d have had to quit TALB again.

Real actors, I realized, are the most underpaid, under-credited people in the industry, despite popular belief, akin in comparison only to writers. And I fell in love with their breed. They spend hours every week honing their craft like a guitarist doing riyaaz. They go for classes, work on their bodies, flexibility, weight changes, diction, language, dialects, looks, method acting etc. They’re working hard to create reality amidst fiction and be naked in front of a director with their performances and trust. They take risks at high points of their careers for roles they believe in and are even ready to reduce incomes for good work. Without these actors, the industry would collapse. Without their power and faith, none of those life changing blockbusters and films that we’ve grown up on, could have or would have happened.

So, here’s to ADs who’re here to make films….And actors who act!

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