Sunday, 30th September 2012
Sir Ben Kingsley. Picture adopted from British Cinema Greats. Click picture for source picture.
Roughly around the time that the previous actor I have mentioned in this list, a Gujarati, was in the making, synchronously, two oceans across the globe, in another part of the world, destiny the sculptor, was effecting its purposeful strokes into shaping another fine actor, this one too a Gujarati, preparing him, as it were, to be chosen to bring to life on the big screen, the living portrait of perhaps the most famous Gujarati ever to have lived.
Krishna Pandit Bhanji was born in Yorkshire, England, to a Gujarati Indian father and a part-Russian-Jewish mother.
His father was a medical doctor who was born in Zanzibar, East Africa. His grandfather, an exporter of textile, was famously known as the Cloth King.
Watching Richard Chamberlain in a television series named Dr. Kildare welled tears of inspiration in little ten year old Krishna’s eyes. In his recollection, that was the moment at which he chose to be an actor.
Though belonging to an affluent middle-class family, as a child, Krishna and his siblings were under a constant barrage of reproval from their parents. Being tirelessly upbraided, unheeded to, distrusted, and made light of -- all of these dysfunctions of his family developed in him a deep seated urge to be noticed and to be taken seriously. This existential lust for a right to be at par with other human beings whose opinions were heard furthered his acting ambition.
At the age of 18, Krishna decided not to go to university so he joined an amateur theatre group instead.
Success is shrouded under layers of disappointment. Though Krishna enjoyed being in the theatre, he was not given to play significant parts because of his exotic name, which clearly indicated its foreign origin -- one that was regarded with a lesser consideration, if one were to be honest.
One such occasion of losing a major part moved him enough to want to change his name for good. He recollected that his father Rahimtulla Harji Bhanji was known by his knowns as just Bhanji, and to his English familiars, he was familiar as Ben because it was easier to pronounce. And his grandfather’s kin regarded him with the title the Cloth King. Working the two names together, he came up with the name Ben Kingsley for himself.
When he announced his new name, he got all the parts that weren’t coming to him earlier.
Ben joined the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) and played several from the canon of Shakespeare, prominent among which was Peter Brook’s production of Midsummer Night’s Dream and the actor’s envy Hamlet.
One night, while he was in between scenes playing his dual part in Trevor Nunn’s adaptation of Charles Dicken’s Nicholas Nickleby, he received a phone call from Sir Richard Attenborough, who wanted him to audition for the lead role in his upcoming film Gandhi. The next day, Ben went into the audition to give a look test. Sir Richard Attenborough crumpled in his chair when he saw, in flesh and blood the person we have seen on the screen. Gandhi won 9 Oscard Academy awards including the Best Actor Award, which Ben deservingly won.
Since then Sir Ben Kingsley, knighted by the British honours system, has given us startling performances in films such as Betrayal, Don Logan in Sexy Beast, Searching for Bobby Fischer, Death and the Maiden, Itzhak Stern in Schinder’s List, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time that have all been honoured with many Oscar, Grammy, BAFTA, Golden Globe, and the Screen Actor’s Guild awards.
To this day, Sir Ben has acted in 109 films and is still counting.
He has lent his voice to many audio recordings and background voice overs in films. I recall having come across at least one of his audio renditions of one of my favourite books, The Autobiography of a Yogi, written by Paramahamsa Yogananda.
Sir Ben Kingsley loves being a musician as much as he loves acting.
Two years before Sir Richard Attenborough and Gandhi called him out of obscurity into world fame, Ben was approached by John Lenon and Brian Epstein who was then the manager of the Beatles with much persuasion to join them and become a musician lest he regret it for the rest of his life.
The first letters of his new name Ben Kingsley start with the first letters of his old name reversed. Whichever name you prefer to remember him with, remember more importantly that this fine actor never saw the insides of an acting school.
Paresh Rawal. Picture adopted from TopNews.in. Click picture for source picture.
Unlike Hollywood, where the script, or the property as they call it, is mostly everything, and scripts get written and actors are signed months before or sometimes even years before the shoot begins; where from the film's budget, actors are sent off for months of training, acclimatizing themselves to conditions that would bring out the best performance out of them, the Bombay film industry is a jungle, I have to admit.
There is very seldom a script before a film is shot, and since there is no script, it is very rare that a director and the script or screenplay writers get involved in choosing the cast of actors. The cast is decided on two parallels -- the leads get chosen based on how famous they already are with the Indian crowd, and the selection of the rest of the cast is mostly delegated to third-party casting agents who further sub-contract work out to agencies that are way out of the game and have absolutely no idea about the film.
It is also common for these sub-contractors to further sub-contract. All in all, the casting for all the other roles other than the lead roles is done by body shoppers who make a buck on every person they send that gets selected. Sparing a few exceptions, most of these body shoppers couldn't do anything creative even if you held a gun to their head.
That leaves hardly any scope for an actor working in Hindi cinema to prepare for his role. You're expected to just fly by the seat of your pants. In fact, it is considered somewhat of a virtue if you can improvise in absolutely minimal (I'm talking hours or minutes here) or no preparation time. If you need to know stuff before-hand, you're looked down upon as being somewhat less competent. Strange!
Also, the way sound, acoustics, editing and other technical elements are handled is significantly different from the process of film-making followed in Hollywood. There is absolutely no comparison.
Finally, in Indian cinema, for an actor to have undertaken a formal degree in acting from an acting school would be the exception. Of the famous actors, for both kinds, the mainstream cinema ones and those that are known for their acting skills, in this country, I'd hazard a guess that a total of only fifty of them or less would have undertaken a formal education in acting. Some of those who did attend formal training in acting and who I greatly admire are Irrfan Khan, Naseeruddin Shah, Om Puri, Manoj Bajpai, Boman Irani, Seema Biswas, Roshan Seth (Anglo-Indian), Shahrukh Khan, Ranbir Kapoor. I am certain that I have missed a few names of great actors I admire. But this is the lot that went to study acting from a proper acting school. The rest of the entire Indian film industry didn't. And of those who didn't, there are but a very few great actors, and in this article I will be featuring them only.
Let me change what I just said a little bit. I believe there are many potentially great actors in the Indian film industry who act in films but are never allowed to, never given a chance to explore and develop their acting skills and even discover for themselves how great an actor they are, simply because of the way Hindi films are made. As a result, we have to live with sloppy cinema.
Why Indian films are made the way they are made partly rests in the economics of the trade, and the economics of our country. But that shouldn't be the only explanation for the bad cinema we've made. The larger part of the reason behind it is in the lack of thought given to the process of film-making. A film is essentially a reflection of the sensibility of the person behind it. A large segment of film-makers in India don't want to think. This is also typical of corporate leadership in every other industry. Indian film-makers need to understand that forethought and repetition are the most essential elements of preparation. With these covered, they'd have a better chance at making movies that can be sold profitably worldwide.
But I digress.
That is why I shy away from including any Indian film actors in this article. However, with this actor, I have to make an exception. There are a few, but only a very few, great actors in Indian cinema. Paresh Rawal is decidedly one of them.
I recall vividly. It was 1993. I had just completed my 12th standard. That evening, we were watching television in our one-room rented house. I saw a man's face, unknown to me at the time. I understood that he was an actor. He was answering questions from a reporter in a very brief interview. He said, "I want to be counted among the likes of Naseeruddin Shah and Om Puri. I want to be regarded as a good actor. Like these people." He must've said a few other things in that interview, none of which I remember, but these words stayed with me. They made me remember his face. I didn't know why, back then.
As I rewind my memory back to that moment, I now know the reasons why they struck me. It was the cry of an ambitious man to be recognized, to stand out of the crowd. I was hearing a common man's rebellion against anonymity and mediocrity and if you had the ears of wisdom, you could hear the shrill and cutting under-tone of his heart beneath the usual notes of his voice. In those notes was passion and prayer, wanting and seeking, a quiet desperation. There was a dream in that voice.
It then dawned on me that I had actually watched a few of his movies. I suddenly remembered that he played the villain in Naam, a movie that I quite enjoyed watching. Really, did he also play a part in Holi, that movie I just loved? It wasn't that I hadn't seen him before. I had just not registered his existence until then. And that is how fame happens. You suddenly remember that that strange, unknown face you are looking at is not at all that of an unknown. At that moment, you and all the rest of the world recollect all the occasions you'd seen them, and soon, everyone is talking about them.
Paresh Rawal appealed to my liking, immediately impressing upon me that he had the rare quality as of our times – that of intelligence. Over the years, I enjoyed watching him in Andaz Apna Apna, Hera Pheri, Sir and very recently in Oh my God! a movie based on a Gujarati play called Kanji Virudh Kanji, and with a plot similar to that of the Australian film The Man Who Sued God.
Paresh knew when he was 11 or 12 that he wanted to be an actor. He took part in school and college plays and was encouraged by his school teachers to pursue this extra-curricular activity even when it interfered with his study schedule.
In 1973, he joined professional theatre with the Indian National Theatre's Vhent Chetu Maut (Death Is Just A Span Away). He had never thought of being a film actor until he saw the performances of Om Puri and Naseeruddin Shah. He tried getting into films by networking in the art circuit but it had its own kind of bureaucracy and he wasn't welcomed. So, he got back to doing theatre.
Performing in Tokhar, a Gujarati play based on Peter Schaeffer's Equus, validated Paresh as an actor to himself. His falling in love with the winner of the Femina Miss India pageant Swaroop Sampat who was to later become his wife fueled both his imagination and his passion as an artist.
In 1982, he moved to Mumbai where he worked hard to become a civil engineer. He got his first proper film in 1984 in the film Holi directed by Ketan Mehta, with whom he had worked in a play named Chanas (Madhu Rai's adaptation of One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest). Ketan cast him again in the lead in his film Sardar, which was a portrayal of Sardar Patel.
When asked how he prepared himself for the role, Paresh replied, "Photo Reading. You see, not much footage is available on Sardar on film. But we had lots of photographs to study. I would keep looking at his photographs. Slowly, a picture emerged -- how he moved, his hand gestures, the tilt of his neck... The effort was to capture the spirit of the man, not be a replica."
Preparation is so important to good actors. Good actors prepare. Great actors like Paresh prepare even when there's so little a point of reference. I was moved when I read about his preparation for the role in his interview with Sheela Bhatt.
Another landmark film in his career was Pooja Bhatt's film Tamanna, which was based on the true story of Nazneen Begum's child who was born a eunuch. This was the touching story of this transgendered person whose mother, too, castrated him and wouldn't acknowledge him as her son. The eunuch adopts a daughter just so he won't die a lonely person.
A strange combination of opposites that I find in all great artists, I find in Paresh as well: a certain reserved shyness combined with a little too much of frankness. Paresh is very reserved on the sets, and he does not take kindly at things he dislikes, such as politics, politicians, bad cinema and bland, tasteless, mediocre theatre.
As of today, he has acted in more than 220 films. He has produced television serials and even films but he says he isn't inclined to turn to direction. His performances have established him as a top-grade actor and one of the finest our country has. Yes, sir, you are of that very league you wanted mention in, and personally speaking, for me, probably even a few notches above.
Paresh Rawal did not go to any acting school.
Jim Carrey. Picture adopted from Geek League of America. Click picture for source picture.
Sample the lives of great men and you will begin to see a pattern emerge: failure, followed by many more failures and heart-breaking disappointments, and if the person still persisted, followed by smashing success!
Success sometimes plays the hard ball. It teases for many years before appeasing. If there is one name that I can think who struggled on and on for the longest time, it is him. Jim Carrey. For 12 long years, success denied him and left him to wend his way through performing stand-up comic routines, playing small roles in television sitcoms and small-budget television films.
As a boy, James Eugene Carry was a troublesome, meddlesome, extroverted kid with a slaphappy schoolhood. Spending hours in front of the mirror making faces, doing impressions of his grandfather, his school principal, and famous celebrities and making fun of people around him was his favourite pass-time. His performances kept his class entertained and his teachers worried.
Though they were only a lower-middle-class family, they were a happy one.
But this paradise quickly came crumbling down when Jim's father, who was an accountant by the day, and an up-and-coming musician by the night, lost his job and the family was thrown from the aisles of lower-middle-classness into the straitjackets of poverty. Jim was only in his 9th grade then.
Their new condition forced all of them to work as security guards and janitors at Titan Wheels, a local tyre factory in Scarborough, a grimly industrial area of Toronto. They worked hard but the stubborn ends wouldn't meet. Jim would come back from school knackered, and pick up his mop and go to the factory to work an 8-hour shift. At one time, things were so bad that the family was living out of their camping van. His mother went into a severe depression and became bed-ridden. His father, too, was fighting the worst from all sides, but continued to put up the fight with fate.
Jim lost all consideration and charm for humanity and vomited anger like a venomous snake spits out serum. On his 16th birthday, Jim, who was until then a straight-A student, dropped out of school to work full-time and support his family. Gulping together the salival bitterness of a battered pride and smiting grief, his father took him to a local comedy club to perform as a stand-up comic.
Jim's performance at the club was boo-booed and shoo-shooed by hecklers. No one liked him and they made it clear. But he lingered, a broken heart stuffed inside the linen covering his bosom.
Jim auditioned for films, television serials, anything that was on. He was making the rounds. His first film was called Introducing... Janet which was later renamed Rubberface [video] in which he had a small part. There were several other films in which he had a scene or two as an extra. His first movie in which he had a proper part was Once Bitten, but that too didn't do anything for his career.
His career had many ups and downs, and he lost several roles along the way. His story would probably make for a good 2-hour talk. Jim himself went through a severe depression in the 1980's.
On one of such days of 1983, while his grief-stricken heart sent tears gushing out of his heavily laden eyes, and he didn't have a nickel to his name, he wrote out a cheque to himself for $10 million USD and dated it for the Thanksgiving Day of 1995. Who would know that he would actually encash that cheque for that very amount on the very date he had put on it. Note: This is a technique noted as Creative Visualization by psychologists and self-development experts.
The first whiff of the storm of success came his way when he won a regular part in the television series In Living Color, in which people loved his role as Fire Marshall Bill. It was during this time when he was almost becoming a household name and face that he got the script of Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. This film got him the notice, a salary of $350,000, and set the ball rolling.
Dumb & Dumber and The Mask quickly followed and established him as an actor with a manic intensity and physical flexibility. Jim received a cheque of $10 million dollars for signing The Mask. He gave the cheque to his father 3 days before his father's demise, and precisely on the Thanksgiving Day of 1994.
The following variety of films such as Liar Liar, Bruce Almighty, The Truman Show, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Man on the Moon proved his versatility. In 1996, for The Cable Guy, Jim earned $20 million dollars and became the first ever actor to join the $20 million dollar per movie club.
Today, Jim is regarded an iconic personality. His performance as Ace Ventura in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective (1994) is ranked at number 97 on Premiere Magazine's 100 Greatest Movie Characters of All Time. Most comic characters he has played have later been made into cartoons on television cartoon shows. Ten years ago, Jim's net worth was estimated at $150 million. He owns his own $25 million plane. He is presently working on Dumb & Dumber Two, which is scheduled for release in 2014.
Jim Carrey never ever went to an acting school. He believes that we are all creators and it was his sheer belief in himself and his own power to manifest his reality that got him where he is today.
This February, his daughter Jane Carry took part in the American Idol as a contestant. Keep kicking, Jane. Success doesn't come easy, but if you persist, it comes as sure as the day follows the night.
Tom Cruise. Picture adopted from fanpop. Click picture for source picture.
Thomas Cruise Mapother IV, whom we know as Tom Cruise, grew up in a poor but a very loving family. He loved movies very much even as a child. When he was four years old, he dreamt of becoming an actor and of flying airplanes.
His father had to switch several jobs and that kept the family moving in and out of many houses. By the time Tom was 14 years old, he had changed more than 15 schools.
At the age of 12, in 1974, his parents divorced. He lived with his mother and his three sisters. There were challenges, very little or no money but there was so much love in this little, beautiful family. All of them worked to keep the wheels moving. Tom's mother worked 3 jobs to raise them all. Even when Tom worked the job of cutting grass, he'd save up to go to the movies with his mum and his sisters.
He recalls the first Christmas after his parents divorced, they didn't have any money after paying for food, so they decided that that Christmas they wouldn't buy any presents but would instead draw chits out of a hat, and for the whole month until Christmas came, each person would do something nice every day for the person whose name they picked out of the hat.
When he got to play a part in a high-school play, his childhood dream of becoming an actor was rekindled. He moved to New York to pursue it. His mother re-married and during this time that Tom was in New York, his step father gave him $900 to help him out while Tom waited tables and did other odd jobs while also auditioning regularly for parts, both big and small.
Within 6 months, he landed himself a movie called Taps. Initially, he had only 3 lines in the movie but they liked him so much that they kept increasing his part. During the same time, he also won the lead part in Endless Love, the same movie that Meg Ryan auditioned for but didn't win and the female lead instead went to Brooke Shields.
It didn't take long for Tom to deliver.
He is the first ever actor whose 5 movies in a row grossed more than a $100 million each. By the 1990's, he was one of the highest paid actors in the world. The Empire magazine has listed him at number 3 on its list of the top 100 movie stars of all time. He is also acknowledged as one of the 50 most beautiful people in the world.
As of today, he has starred in 37 films and is still going strong.
If you asked Tom how it was attending an acting school, he'd say he couldn't tell because he never attended one. Tom Cruise never went to an acting school, and he is very humble and open about it.
Meg Ryan. Picture adopted from Total Film. Click picture for source picture.
"Sometimes, your life chooses you," says Margaret Hyra, or Meg Ryan as we know her.
Meg moved from Connecticut to New York to study journalism at the age of 18. Along the side, she took up acting as a means to support herself financially and to pay for her education. She auditioned for and won small parts in television commercials (Freixenet in 1979, AIM Toothpaste in 1981, Burger King in 1982, Barbie doll and many other products), soap opera and some small parts as an extra in films.
By 1981-82, her acting career began to heat up and people started recognizing her. Her first big success came with her part in Rich and Famous in 1982 and the soap opera As the World Turns. As a result, she left college a semester earlier before graduation.
Things only got better with time. She acted in several hit films such as When Harry Met Sally with Billy Crystal, Top Gun with Tom Cruise, and Sleepless in Seattle and You've Got Mail with Tom Hanks, among others.
Her salary for the film Kate & Leopold (2001) was $15 million. Meg Ryan did not receive any formal training in the art of acting.
Cameron Diaz. Picture adopted from kewlwallpapers. Click picture for source picture.
Cameron was born and raised in California. During her salad days, she was repeatedly approached by smooth talking guys who inquired if she wanted to become a model and promised help. But she was put off by their overtures and politely refused.
One day, at a Hollywood party in L.A, a photographer by the name Jeff Dunas asked her what agency she was with. When she told him she hadn't understood his question, he asked again, "You're a model, aren't you?" He gave her his business card and requested that she think it over and that if she decides to become a model, that she ask her parents to give him a call.
Cameron consulted with her parents and decided to become a model with an agency named Elite. For almost four years, she enjoyed traveling to different countries on modelling assignments. Then, one day, her modelling agency sent her to audition for a film assignment. The film was The Mask and the producers were looking for the main actress. Cameron auditioned and won the part.
Brad Pitt. Picture adopted from fanpop. Click picture for source picture.
While at school, Brad briefly toyed with the idea of acting in films, but like we all do when we dream up great ideas, he quickly abandoned it after he had derived the maximum amusement from it. Two weeks before graduating, when he saw that all his friends had signed up for jobs and he hadn't, his fascination for being an actor reared its head again. This time, he said to himself, "Hell, why not? Let's try it."
So, just for the hell of it, he loaded up his truck and with $325 in all, set off on a drive from Missouri to Hollywood chasing the scent of his whim.
When he made his final stop at Burbank, he had $225 left. Being hungry, he walked into a McDonalds. While waiting for his order to arrive, he saw an advertisement in a local newspaper for work as an extra in a movie. He paid the required $25, auditioned and got the part by the Friday.
For the next 4 years, he continued auditioning for and winning small roles as an extra or in television productions. To support himself financially, Brad took up odd jobs such as waiting tables at restaurants, being a chauffeur to strippers, and dressing up as a clown to sell some knick-knack.
Today, Brad is one of the highest paid actors in Hollywood.
If you ever find yourself in the grip of a desire to be or do something, before you dismiss the idea, remember to ask yourself, "Why not?" You'll be amazed to find that there is no real obstacle standing in your way.
James Stewart. Picture adopted from the guardian. Click picture for source picture.
I love suspense movies. Some years ago, I watched many Alfred Hitchcock movies.
I also loved that movie It’s a Wonderful Life. That’s not a suspense movie but it is no less. It made me weep and I can’t remember why.
I saw this guy popping up again and again in every one of them as the lead actor. I started to like his acting very much. I found out more about him.
And you know what? His name is James Stewart. And this guy too never had any formal training in acting. Yeah, he never went to any acting school or took any acting classes. He just started acting. Just like that.
Johnny Depp. Picture adopted from TopNews.in. Click picture for source picture.
Johnny Depp’s parents were gypsies. They moved into and out of more than 20 houses before Johnny was 12 years old.
When he was 12, he shoplifted a chord book, learnt to play the guitar and joined a music band. He moved from Florida to California to become a musician.
He and his fellow bandsmen lived hand-to-mouth. To support his habit of being a musician, Johnny took up his first job as a telemarketer selling ink pens over the phone. He jokingly refers to this as “his first acting job.”
While Johnny was selling ink pens to irate customers over the phone, his friend Nicolas Cage asked Johnny to meet his agent. Johnny met the agent and auditioned for the role of Glen Lantz for A Nightmare on Elm Street. He got the part.
And that’s how he got into the movies. Johnny Depp never went to any acting school.
Eddie Murphy. Picture adopted from celebritiesheight.com. Click picture for source picture.
Different people have different reactions to extreme pain and distress. It turns some people into stand-up comedians. That is what it did to Eddie Murphy.
Eddie’s parents divorced when he was 3 years old. Immediately afterwards, his mother got hospitalized for tuberculosis. Eddie and his brother were sent to foster care and lived there for over a year. That wasn’t such a great experience for a little child, to put it gently.
For young Eddie, watching television became the escape, the runaway from reality. He was an unruly, unstudious child who watched television most of the time, did different voice characters, and cracked jokes. He knew it in himself at that tender age that he wanted to be in the show business.
He started performing as a stand-up comedian when he was studying in the 8th grade in school. His school brief-case/bag had no books but his notes and stand-up comic scripts that he wrote.
When he was only 3 months into college, he auditioned for and got selected by the Saturday Night Live (SNL) team. Eddie Murphy played several parts in the show. Saturday Night Live aired 67 episodes between 1980 and 1984.
By the time Eddie was 20 years old, he was a famous stand-up comic and a household name because of his TV appearances. During 1981, his agent, a female, was dating the director of a movie called 48 Hours that was going to be made. She referred Eddie to her director boyfriend, who agreed to try him out. 48 Hours was a huge success, and so was Eddie Murphy.
That was how Eddie Murphy got his first movie. Eddie Murphy never saw the insides of any acting school.
Drew Barrymore. Picture adopted from Biography.com. Click picture for source picture.
Drew Barrymore's parents separated when she was a babe in her mother's arms. Her mum, a promising but not yet established actress took Drew to the shoots with her. Little Drew got her first acting assignment when she was 11 months old. From then on, her mum encouraged her to act in films.
Separation played a significant part in shaping drew's psychological make-up. First, the separation of her parents and then separation from her friends after every shooting schedule. She confesses that even after all these years, she hasn't been able to come to terms with the fact that people come for some time into our lives and then they go.
Not astonishingly at all, pain is what shapes great artists. All good actors draw from their painful experiences.
Drew Barrymore never went to an acting school.
More coming up...
- The Cavalry Aint Coming
- I am starting a theatre group in the next 2 years
- My first stage-play The IT Company will soon be a reality in the next 2 years
- My 36th Birthday
- The One Method to Acting or to Learning Anything
- The Strong Idiot With the Blindfold and the Infectious Maniac
- We learnt it all in Kindergarten
- How I almost got a part in a Bollywood film
- Institutionalized Education Is a Scam
- You can be whatever or whoever you want to be if you set goals