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Being a background artiste isn’t all that bad, says aspiring actor Sreyashi Mazumdar

A full-time journalist and a part-time actor, Sreyashi often made fun of background artistes and certainly didn't want to be one. But when such a role came her way, she realised her mistake

Sreyashi Mazumdar @Sreyashi27 29 June 2018, 3:43 PM
T2 Diaries
Acting is an experience and Sreyashi doesn't want to miss any part of it — big or small

Acting is an experience and Sreyashi doesn't want to miss any part of it — big or small Image: Facebook/ Sreyashi Mazumdar

It was my first ad shoot and the experience was pretty funny. I sort of revelled in the fact that I would be one of those background people, who would put their best foot forward for a second-long screen presence and would, perhaps, not even be noticed. I was prepared for it. As soon as I entered the sets, I was introduced to a whole lot of people, who were sweating buckets while racking their brains over the design of the set. I generally like to keep to my corner. So, when people around me, my fellow background folks to be precise, were busy socialising, trying to make the most of the opportunity, boys trying to make a move at the prettiest woman, girls trying to charm the grungy stud, I decided to plug in my earphones. Nope, I was not trying to be all cool and snooty, I was just being myself.

After a bit of contemplation and self-validation — 'it's completely okay to be a background artiste', I made myself comfortable with my colleagues inside a four-by-four, dimly-lit room. While we, the 'commoners', were chilling over fags, the demi-celebrity (she had a minute-long screen presence, hence the celebrity status) was fussing over her make-up. Now you might wonder about our make-up. Well, we were left to ourselves. We helped each other with our touch-ups and that was kind of good. We were like a community trying to make both ends meet with whatever we had.

From our motley crew of background artistes, I was the first one to be called for a shot. Obviously, it felt good to be the chosen one. While shooting the ad film, I soon came to the conclusion that background artistes have to fend for themselves. While the leads get all the attention, a background person has to use his/her brain to get captured on camera. But the realisation dawned on me late. My camera angle didn't work in my favour. And definitely, my camera angle wasn't much of a concern for the director, either. So the shoot went ahead.  

Coming back to my first shot, I was asked to chat up a guy, while the lead actor was entering the space. So, we were more like those merely-seen props. It was hot and I was sweating like a pig. And my inner voice was constantly asking me, "Dude are you even visible on camera? C'mon man, it's your first ad film, you have to be visible. Eff, the guy standing right beside me is giving a frontal shot, even... I should... but no, I can't... blah blah..." and it went on.

While my mind palace was in the midst of a raging confusion, the director was trying to take the best shot. She took three cuts to shoot a minute-long scene. Phew, finally the first shot was done and I heaved a sigh of relief. But like a typical middle-class person, who before celebrating his pay cheque, starts calculating his expenses, I, too, started thinking about the second shot even before celebrating my first. Now, I wasn't sure whether I would be asked to join the second shot, but fortunately, I was. And it was yet another achievement. I am no seasoned background artiste, but I feel that's how background artistes count their accolades.

Before I go on to my second shot, let me tell you even background artistes have their celebrity. Most of them were busy taking selfies, making the weirdest pouts and expressions. After all, Instagram feeds should be loaded with pictures from the sets with a compulsory hashtag #shootlife. And the ones who were too hungry to celebrate their mini-celebrity status were eagerly waiting for the first sight of food on the table.

Finally, after an hour-long break post the first shot, our entire gang was called for the second. Each and every one of us was eyeing the camera like a hungry beast. Visibility was our motto. Visibility was more important than oxygen. While we, background artists, were brainstorming over how to get visible on camera in a minute-long scene, the leads were standing in the room like a bawse, probably smirking at us.

Time for action, and again I was the chosen one. I was asked to sit on a couch along with a guy, while the rest were asked to stand. No, I am not trying to prove that I was better than the rest, probably my luck was working in my favour. However, my moment of glory didn't last long. Soon, I was asked to stand with the rest. After a couple of cuts and changing directives, finally, we were done shooting the scene.

Towards the end of the shoot, I couldn't help but laugh at myself. Wondering what was I doing there, why on earth was I being a part of something which would bear me no fruit? But then, never say never. It was one hell of an experience, which I will cherish all my life. You have to experience both the ends to choose which end befits you. In this industry, no one is at the receiving end, or probably everyone is at the receiving end. And that's the best part about it. 

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