Full text of actress Kalyani Priyadarshan’s talk at TEDxMahindraÉcoleCentrale
Okay. So to start off, let me give you guys some context.
I’m an actor and I come from a film background. Basically my father is a film director and my mother is an actor. So I basically grew up on sets.
I probably knew the workings of a film set even before I could spell the word ‘film’. And coming back home from school, I used to see my father sitting around with his assistants, constantly arguing about how a scene should go.
A typical summer vacation for me was in a set with about 50 people constantly running around and a cameraman always yelling, ‘Hurry up! The light is going to go!’
So I grew up knowing the value of each and every person on that set. I knew how important all of their hard work was, in order for that final result to look good. It takes many, many, many, small pictures in order to make that big picture.
In fact, and I probably knew this even before I knew how to count, it takes 24 small pictures, 24 frames in a reel, to actually just give you one second of a film that you’re seeing on screen.
Now it wasn’t until a lot later on that I realized that this controlled chaos that I was constantly seeing, it wasn’t something that other people had access to. In fact, it wasn’t something that a lot of people were aware of – especially who weren’t a part of the industry.
And as a kid I always wondered: ‘Why? If this process is so important to the final result, then why is it kept hidden from the limelight?’
Now this is a question I constantly ask myself. It’s a question that constantly I keep getting asked, especially by people who aren’t in the industry. And they don’t always ask this in the nicest way. It’s always things like – ‘Oh! Why are you, the actor, so specific about not getting your film sets photographed? Or why can’t I take a picture inside the set? Or why is somebody who is always behind the camera, so rarely spoken about?’
I’m not sure I have answers to all of these questions here today. But I do have an opinion about this and it’s an opinion that has formed because I have a father who always stood behind the camera and a mother who always stood in front of it. I’m here today to lay out those experiences that have shaped that opinion of mine. You guys may or may not agree with it, but I’ll leave it up for you to decide.
So I’m sure a lot of you have heard of the phrase ‘The Magic of Movies’ before. For the longest time, films were associated with the idea of magic, because it had this crazy amazing ability to transcend your ordinary consciousness — go straight into your emotions and affect you deeply within your soul.
And I’ve always wondered if that’s because we are able to connect to something, because we believed in its real-ness. And there was this fear that if we were aware of what was happening behind, then a powerful moment might lose its magic. It was this fear that if we knew the workings of something it might stop being real.
Now I’m not sure if I completely agree with that. But I do understand it. Now I’ll give you an example.
When I was a kid, I’d watched a scary movie. There was a scene with a lot of blood in it. I was a kid, I was terrified. I was having nightmares. I couldn’t sleep. My mom was worried; my dad was away shooting for a film called ‘Kabhi na Kabhi!’ at that time. And he’d called me onto set. I still remember.
This is the first time I met Jackie Shroff. He was sitting in his chair like one cool cat, while his shot was being set up. And there was blood on his shirt. There was a lot of blood on his shirt. As a kid obviously I was terrified to see this.
But my dad had called him and he had explained to me that what I had seen on screen wasn’t real. The actor is fine. He was never hurt. And then he did the strangest thing. He took that bottle of fake blood and he gave it to me. And he was like, drink it, it’s safe.
And I remember it tasted like this weird, sick, sugary syrup. But it’s safe to say that I was never again affected by seeing blood on screen.
But that’s exactly what happened. I was never again affected by seeing blood on screen. To me as a kid that magic had gone. You could have the most gruesome mass murder, shot, beautifully! Actors just stellar performances!
But I was never as emotionally involved ever again. And I know this is such a silly simple example but I’ve always believed in the ability of a silly simple example to explain a complex and complicated situation.
So I’m going to give you one more example — this time from the perspective of a crew member.
Before I started work as an actor I worked behind the scenes. I was a Production Design Assistant. Now that might seem like a cool title – but really a lot of that work just involved me sitting in a hot dusty room, making sets and props. And these sets and props were eventually kept out of focus in a frame.
It was an intense job. I would say, every job in cinema is intense. But at the end of the day, I was never unhappy that my work was a blur in the background. I was rather satisfied that because of me, because of the work, that I put in somebody who’s watching this can genuinely believe that that actor is suffering alone in a dingy filthy prison cell.
I could have easily posted up a picture of my team and I painting those fake paper walls. Now you would have seen it – you’d have probably come up with some story line of your own in your head. Because you are a very creative person and you’d have gone to the movie to watch it.
But would you really have believed what you watched then, maybe you would have. But after all of that hard work – those hours and hours that we put in, do you really think we are willing to take that risk? This was sorry. This is essentially, when I realized that a film was actually just a product and it needs to be seen and treated like one.
I’ll give you another silly example again. But you don’t see Apple iPhones releasing the workings of something before a new model is out, right? And nobody questions why that process is kept hidden. Why does no one question that? Because it’s a product. It’s something that you can hold. It’s an object.
Films are a bit tricky here. Because its success lies in its ability to get us emotionally involved in them. And when we as people get emotionally involved in something, we stop seeing it as a product. But just like any product it has a research and design team working day and night to actually make it.
Just like any product it has a marketing team solely dedicated to promoting it. Just like any product, it is packaged to be sold to an audience in a professional space. An actor or a crew member really can’t post up images or talk about what’s happening behind set without the approval of the director. Because these things are things that need to be carefully curated.
Suppose somebody notices something and the film is sort of figured out even before it’s released. There’s this tiny fear that all of that work that we put in will have gone to waste. And it’s that really, really, tiny fear that has all of our guards up.