Renowned Film & Theatre Actor Mr. Boman Irani conducted a guest lecture on Acting at Digital Academy-The Film School.
Boman Irani started his career in the entertainment industry as a photographer, but soon expanded to theatre with a cameo in Alyque Padamsee's play ‘Roshni’ and a double role opposite Pearl Padamsee in Raell Padamsee's play ‘Family Ties’. In 1996 Rahul Da Cunha was looking for an actor for his adaptation of ‘I'm not Rappoport’ and the 34-year-old Boman Irani was cast as a 75-year-old man for the play ‘I’m not Bajirao’. He then portrayed Mahatma Gandhi in the Feroz Abbas Khan play ‘Mahatma vs. Gandhi’. This play explored Gandhi's troubled relationship with his eldest son Harilal Gandhi.
He went on to do TV commercials for numerous products, such as Fanta, CEAT tyres, Smyle cough syrup, Parle Krackjack biscuits and more.
He made his Bollywood film debut in the 2000 film Josh. Since then, he has appeared in many Bollywood films playing a variety of character and supporting roles, ranging from comic roles in films such as ‘Main Hoon Na’, ‘Waqt: The Race Against Time’ and ‘Khosla Ka Ghosla’; to serious dramatic roles in ‘Lakshya’, ‘Veer-Zaara’, ‘Don - The Chase Begins Again’ and the English language film ‘Being Cyrus’. His first notable success came with his role as the eccentric Dr. J.C. Ashtana in the 2003 hit comedy film ‘Munnabhai M.B.B.S.’. He also appeared in the 2006 sequel ‘Lage Raho Munna Bhai’ as a different character, ‘Lucky Singh’. Another recent noteworthy performance was in the 2006 film ‘Khosla Ka Ghosla’, where he played a comic negative character, Kishen Khurana.
At the lecture, Mr. Irani began by throwing a host of questions at the students. He said, “What makes a good performance? How can we judge a good performance? Why do we need to analyze a good performance? We are no longer laymen, it is our duty as students of cinema to find out why a performance worked…or if it was appreciated for the wrong reasons or if it was sensationalized…” The responses from the students suggested that acting was perhaps about holding the audiences attention, being realistic, connecting to an audience, living the character on screen, believability etc. But Mr. Irani challenged them by asking if holding one’s attention, even through gimmicks & tricks could be construed as good acting. Cinema being such a complex medium, he felt that good acting cannot be defined rigidly, “To me Acting is lying…we are playing someone we are not...it is the most legalized form of lying in the world and it is about how well you lie, but in the process the only way you can do it and do it well is to do it with truth!” Reminiscing about one of his earliest plays, ‘I’m not Bajirao’, he described the sense of power he had felt & enjoyed, while playing the character of a 70-year-old man in the two-person play. He attributed that sense of power to the concept of the actor’s mask, a necessary tool to hide the truth about one’s real identity.
After traversing the philosophical territory of the Acting process, he moved towards the preparatory aspect, wherein the actor must think in great detail about how he/she will pitch their performance, their body language, speech patterns etc. but with respect to the ‘script’ of the film. He felt that the best way to understand the character is to understand the screenplay and that the director’s vision coupled with the actor’s physical interpretation results in determining the way a character is shaped.
Citing the example of his character ‘Lucky Singh’ in the film “Lage Raho Munnabhai” , he explained what he thought should be the basis of preparing for an acting role, i.e. what the Director is trying to say with the film, “Only when one understands what the director wants to say can an actor figure out the role of the character in the film…then if you want the script to work, the character must be the outcome of design & deliberation…” He dissected ‘Lucky Singh’ into the elements that form his character, using questions like a) What was the need to portray him as a corrupt builder, b) Was he created for the sake of it, c) Why was a Sikh required to play the role of a villain in the film, d) What happens to him in the end. Answering these eventually, he said, “It is very important for the antagonist to change through the course of a film. If he doesn’t learn a lesson then nobody learns a lesson, the film doesn’t progress, the situation doesn’t find resolution & everything stays incomplete.” When asked about how much research had gone into the character of ‘Lucky Singh’, he said, “Playing a Sikh was scary for me…after all I am a Parsi from South Mumbai…” He narrated his conversations with Sikh truck drivers whom he had befriended, along with cozy sessions of real camaraderie with them that brought him closer to the essence of being a Sardar. Along with this, the director & Mr. Irani worked together to create an image of the character, involving the characters body language, his clothes, language, idiosyncrasies etc.
His role in ‘Lets Talk’ dealt with marital issues whereas the role in ‘Honeymoon Travels Pvt. Ltd.’ was that of a single parent, both roles demanded a certain subtlety and sensitivity for portraying them. Mr. Irani felt that to achieve that kind of sensitivity towards a role one has to listen to people in general and listen with care.
In the film ‘Eklavya’, his process for reaching the final outcome was not through moustaches and costumes, but rather from incisively analyzing the script and the characters relationship with the script. By understanding the symbology of the character’s part & the layers in the script, he was able to create a ‘King’, who was to be portrayed as effeminate to suggest impotence or barrenness and as a masked personality to imply a closeted homosexuality.
A volunteer was called upfront to answer a volley of questions aimed at discovering her persona. Mr. Irani asked her general things like her name to personal questions like what her ambitions were, what kind of temper she had, the nature of her relationships, her likes, dislikes etc, thus almost painting of her a picture for the audience to see. With this he innovatively illustrated the nature of the questionnaire that he puts him self through to fully understand the part he is playing and assume the identity of that person. After what he termed as moderate probing of the volunteer, he said, “You must ask about the script and outside the script…You must try to achieve the knowledge of the character as much as you know yourself…”
On the subject of big roles and screen time he quoted Sir Lawrence Olivier, one of the most famous and revered actors of the twentieth century, “ There are no small parts, only small actors” and proceeded to explain how the character of ‘Kishen Khurana’ in ‘Khosla Ka Ghosla’, although onscreen for a mere 15 minutes, was a thoroughly well-developed character and so left a lasting impression on the viewer, with a decisive impact especially as the antagonist. He cited the film ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ by Roman Polanski where the actor’s role was almost nullified by excellent writing.
On current trends in the acting world, he commented that, “If you are being driven by star power then you are only riding a wave, which will eventually loose its power & die out…so its very important that actors don’t lose touch with reality…” Pointing out the difference between Hollywood and Bollywood he said that acting like cinema also reflects the culture of the place. But due to the complex nature of acting as a profession, he felt that there were some basic things any actor should be conscientious about, “If you walk into a shot, you should know where the light is, where the camera is, where the frame lies…all your senses must work together to create a moment that gets archived in history…” He said that the eloquence required to put in a nuanced performance could only come if the actors were thorough with basic things like knowing the lines and the actor’s marks etc. Emphasizing this he said, “In your sleep, your waking moments, your eating time, you should be able to say your lines and know the entire scene inside out…it should be second nature to you…”
On being asked about the process that should be applied when a character is completely fictional he said that he considered such situations to be a blessing in disguise as it lets you build the character from scratch and use your creativity. He felt that in such situations one should invest not just in educating oneself but also in understanding one’s instinctive nature. Stressing the significance of instinct, he said, “Nothing will ever educate you enough…cinema is all encompassing…we have to aspire to learn a little bit about Art, Lighting, Drama, Literature and more…but even knowledge of the theory of all these things is redundant if you don’t know yourself well…”
He ended the lecture by advising the students to watch a lot of films, even the ones they don’t understand and to constantly make an attempt to fill up the gaps in their knowledge. He concluded by saying, “You have to be really convinced about what you are doing…then everything works out eventually…”
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