This article was written by a woman actor who works in Tamil cinema. She has chosen to be anonymous so that she can express her views frankly, and without any repercussions to her career.
Kannamma is a pseudonym, and she hopes to write more such articles as an insider from the Tamil film industry.
Yes, you are one to me already because you have aspired for something that carries with it too much baggage that makes it a pretty steep climb. I'm sure you have heard no-s and but why-s from quite a few people, that is if you've shared your big dream with them.
I am not here to encourage you, neither am I going to tell you to pack your bags and leave. I am just here to share a few things that I wish I knew when I was starting out. I've still hardly made but two steps on this tightrope. So, read on at your own risk.
1. Seriously, why?
Why on earth would you want to be a heroine? Fame? Money? Just to see yourself on the big screen?
All valid reasons. But, that's not enough. Ask yourself why, again and again, till you arrive at an answer that seems purposeful. Yes, find the larger purpose to your seemingly shallow dream. This purpose might change as you grow. For eg: I started off with â€śExpression of thoughtâ€ť, and now it is â€śTo keep telling stories no matter whatâ€ť. No, it need not be deep or profound.
It can be as simple as â€śI would like to dance with Prabhu Deva somedayâ€ť. Don't worry if it seems unattainable at this point. Write it down on a piece of paper and pin it somewhere, so you have it on your mind constantly. I can't reiterate enough how much this is going to matter in your starry future.
2. Physical discipline
You've decided to be on screen. Take care of yourself. How comfortable are you with your body? Even if you have the best body in the business, join a gym or a dance class or go run. Just something to make you sweat, keep you moving, and your body less complacent. Is your skin healthy and your hair ready to take on some heavy toll heat?
Do whatever works for you. Keep at it even if you don't sign a film for two years. But, be kind on yourself. You don't have to be perfect. Perfect is boring. Celebrate your flaws. You might face some flak initially for that, but in time that's what's going to create a special place for you. Of course, if you badly want that nose job or implants to feel good about yourself, it's entirely your choice. (I had braces when I was a kid which I am thankful for, and got skin lightening when I was 19 which I totally regret.) But, it isn't a necessity.
3. Watch films
Watch films. Loads of them. Indian, foreign, indie, documentaries, rom-coms, horror, anything under the sun. Be a hungry film watcher. Make a note of what appeals to you more, there also lies the secret of the kind of cinema that you would like to be part of.
It will also point you to the women actors who inspire you. I know, I know, I also want to do everything that Dhanush does. But, it is important to find at least one female actor whose work inspires you. Good news, you don't find one, you will be one for yourself.
Please finish college or some sort of vocational training before you start on this journey. The strength and confidence that knowledge and education give is something that will help you make better choices even in the film industry.
5. Magic skill
We all have a skill that leads us to this dream no matter how untrained that is. Acting, singing, dancing, writing, whatever. Hone it day in and day out. If itâ€™s acting, try out a few of your favourite scenes from the films in point 3.
Please keep your dubsmashes and musically-s away from this process. Work from scratch. If it's dance, spend atleast 3-4 hours a week doing self choreography or join a class.
6. Question and dialogue
Okay, you have landed your first film, now what? Do you know what role you are playing? Do you know what scene you are shooting for today? Ask, be curious. If you have doubts clarify them. If you have problems with a scene, state them to the director, reason and see for yourself if what he/she says makes sense to you.
Yes, you should totally respect your director. But, respect and blind faith are totally different things, one being more dangerous than the other. People are not used to beginners, especially girls and women questioning them in the industry. But, keep at it. They will get used to us.
7. Interviews and the press
Take your interviews seriously even if you feel like you are not being taken seriously. These quotes sadly live for eternity, thanks to the internet hall of fame. Answer questions as honestly and originally as possible. You will be doing five to ten interviews a day at a point if your film gets a decent release. It's going to be tiring, talking about yourself so much. Prepare yourself for that. Give them a little bit of you and you will get a lot of love.
You will still be misquoted a lot. Tell me what to do about it once you figure that out.
8. Sexual harassment (euphemistically called 'casting couch')
*Drumroll* Duh, it exists. Sometimes subtly, and sometimes a little too in your face. Learn to say â€śNoâ€ť and exit any scenario that makes you even slightly uncomfortable. Do not worry about being called a snob or a bitch or difficult. Shout for help when needed. Use your voice.
No film is worth putting up with what you truly didn't consent to, and believe me, we'll find other ways. This will just compromise your sanity in the long run.
9. Read. Look around. Think.
Film sets are going to get boring eventually. There's lots of waiting, no dearth of loud angry men, very few women if at all (thankfully this is changing slowly), sugary tea and surprisingly good food. Find space within your boredom to read. A book or a few articles if that appeals to you more.
You are going to be exhausted when you go home. So, this is the only time that you can get those brain cells going. This works as a great tool to keep unwanted conversations away. Be aware of the political climate. The Tamil film industry has always taken strong stands. But, do all the women actors just say aye to join the popular opinion or do they truly believe in it? Try being the latter. Voice your support only if you truly believe in something. And for that, be politically literate.
Also, look around your film set. What are the discriminations you see? Why do you get tea served in a China cup and the hardworking man next to you gets a flimsy plastic cup? Does that bother you? Yes, but what can you do about it, you ask? Awareness can be magically permeating. You could just start understanding how much these hierarchies have seeped into your own self. You could hold your own umbrella while you are lounging and ask your assistant to go chill with his/her friends in the shade.
No man/woman can fill the void of loneliness that being a sole woman on the sets of a film mostly is going to leave you with. All I can say is work while you work, play while you play and that's what's made Kannamma's life less messy. More on filmy relationships later.
11. Family and friends
No matter how much they disagree with your choices, keep them close. They are going to be your anchors if and when a storm hits.
That's all for now, I'll keep writing to you as new theories emerge. I hope you get to do all that you dream of.
Long live Cinema!