Family Man actor Neeraj Madhav has taken to social media to write about power hierarchies in the Malayalam film industry, after the death of Sushant Singh Rajput triggered a similar debate in Bollywood.
“A famous production controller once told me that there are some ‘unwritten rules’ in Malayalam cinema and that it would do me good if I followed them. I didn’t know what he meant then. But looking back at the six years I spent in the industry, I remember having broken many of these rules. I have had to face the repercussions too,” Neeraj wrote in his Facebook post.
The 30-year-old actor explained that many movie sets operate on power hierarchies and that it starts from little things like ‘serving tea in glasses for the hero and in steel tumblers for the rest of the cast and crew’.
“If you sit cross-legged or even wear sunglasses on the sets, you might be considered arrogant. If you happen to give your opinion on the script, it is treated as interference,” his post reads. He added that even casual statements from younger actors are misinterpreted by a few people who are judgemental.
This judgemental section of the industry, the post says, even actively colludes to nip promising talent in the bud.
“On the sets, one needs to fake humility, cooperation and subservience. If the person does not raise too many demands and takes the money he or she is offered, then he or she will get called for the next film. But if one raises demands due to the immaturity of his or her youth or carelessness, then one can lose many opportunities. I have lost many opportunities because I was a bit demanding,” he said.
Cinema is also show business and therefore those taking home fat paychecks are the heroes. Neeraj said that “from earning less than half of the actor’s hairdresser's salary to fighting his way up the industry and now earning a 7 digit income, every step has seen a ton of effort.”
However, the biggest truth and sadness, he said, is that talent and hardwork just don't cut it. “An actor’s future in the film industry is not determined by his talent, but by his tact. You’re safe if you have a family background to claim,” he said.
Initially, when Neeraj attempted to change tack from playing small time comedy roles, several people discouraged him.
"I understood the business of cinema when I later played a lead role. From satellite value to a film getting released in good theatres, many responsibilities fell on the male lead. When the film finally released, several people would also wait to hear the opinions of others. The film should not be just 'above average' but exceptional, only then would it be called successful. Otherwise it would be criticised to no end,” he said, pointing out that this standard was not applicable to movies of stars, where even bad films would be made a success by the same audience.
"So then why is there such a stubborn attitude about small films?" he asked.
‘Was offered a role in Chhichhore’
Neeraj wondered what Bollywood would be like if it was so difficult to survive in a small industry like Malayalam cinema. He added that he was prompted to post his thoughts after hearing actor Kangana Ranaut speak up on the death of Sushant Singh Rajput.
“It was while I was shooting for Family Man (Amazon Prime series) in Mumbai that Nitesh Tivari offered me a role in Chhichhore (which starred Sushant and Shraddha Kapoor). I had done the screen test, make-up discussion and was all set to join the sets, when I realised that there would be a date clash, and had to drop out. Perhaps if I had been able to work in that film, I might have got to know Sushant Singh better . As someone who does not have a godfather in cinema, I would have been able to relate to him. Maybe we would have become friends,” he said.
It is not to scare away people who have dreamt of cinema but to point out the challenges that they are likely to face that he wrote the post, Neeraj said.
"I am not such a great actor, neither are all my films great. But in a fair race everyone deserves an equal start. There are no reservations, but equal opportunities. I have hope that everyone who has talent and takes the effort will survive here," he concluded.