It’s not easy to make it big in showbiz.
Whoever aspires to be an actor has to confront, and sometimes comply with, inflated egos of those who call the shots. Then there will always be colleagues consumed by envy. If you’re lucky, you can escape all of that. But usually, that’s not how things pan out.
Young actors, debuting into film or television, often learn to address their lines to mere air. In scenes where they are acting alongside veteran actors, the latter often choose to take a break after having said their lines. The camera now focuses on the debutante, who has to pretend to be talking to a character that is no longer there to give cues. Often they fumble, looking the wrong way and hardly appearing convincing.
On other sets, the make-up man is the most-coveted entity. The hair and make-up for an actress can go on for hours, while the other one seethes and fumes. When finally the make-up man turns to the other actress, she retaliates with an even longer styling session. Inevitably, the entire shoot for the day gets delayed while the co-actresses lock horns over egos.
“Sometimes older actors feel insecure despite the fact that they are firmly established. They’ll either team up with other crew members and pass the occasional sardonic remark or they’ll just simply create this negative atmosphere that will make things uncomfortable." — Mehwish Hayat
“Politics are rife, especially in productions that are small-scale or that are helmed by new, inexperienced directors,” observes director and producer Wajahat Rauf, speaking from his extensive experience in working for TV as well as film. “It is basically the director’s job to maintain a firm hand and keep the actors in line. I certainly do so.”
More often than not, though, film and TV drama shooting locations are highly-charged political battlefields. Dissent varies from petty fights over make-up and wardrobe to ‘camps’ being created, where one group gangs up against another. Schoolgirl tactics are common in a quintessential Mean Girls way. One actress won’t get ready if the other isn’t or wardrobe changes may be demanded at the nth hour. The poor director, trying to keep the aforementioned firm hand, often ends up with an inconsolable sobbing heroine or diva who is too miffed to work for the rest of the day.
“I don’t generally face problems. Luckily, many of the actors on my sets actually make an effort to help each other out and there is no professional rivalry,” says director Asim Raza. “Having said this, I do know that one badly behaved actor can spoil everything. He or she may throw up a fuss which may rile the rest of the crew, making them feel insecure. They, in turn, also begin to get difficult. It ruins the atmosphere completely.”
While all professions are encumbered by power struggles, the acting profession is particularly an egocentric one. And when egos run rampant productions suffer, losses occur and gossip spreads like wildfire.
The young and the restless
“There is a lot of jealousy and the only way to deal with it is to focus on your work,” advises actress Mehwish Hayat, who weathered sporadic bouts of wheeling-dealing when she first started out. “Sometimes older actors feel insecure despite the fact that they are firmly established. They end up making life miserable for the newer lot. They’ll either team up with other crew members and pass the occasional sardonic remark or they’ll just simply create this negative atmosphere that will make things uncomfortable. Fortunately, I haven’t had many bad experiences but initially in my career there were times when I had to ignore everything else and just maintain my professionalism.”
Quite often, newer actors are eliminated from promotional trailers and teasers in a bid to appease the more famous names in a cast. Model Sadaf Kanwal comes to mind who recently made her cinematic debut with the romantic comedy Balu Mahi. She admits that it ‘felt bad’ when her appearances in the pre-release trailers turned out to be negligible. “I was told that it was because they wanted to keep my character as a surprise in the movie. I understood but I would have still liked it better had I featured more prominently in the trailer.”
New starlets may also encounter a lack of attention resulting in flaws in their overall styling, sacrificed because the production team is far too focused upon other more renowned cast members. Armeena Khan, who had a significant role in 2015’s Bin Roye alongside the lead pair played by mega-stars Humayun Saeed and Mahira Khan, elaborates, “When you’re new, you don’t quite know the ins and outs of what works in television and film. I learnt the hard way. I remember when I was cast for Bin Roye, I had to play the older sister and naturally had to be styled to look older. Although my wardrobe was beautiful, it wasn’t for my body type and it practically made me look 10 years older than my actual age. I went with it. When Bin Roye hit the floors, I was heavily criticised for being too done up. I am now very careful about my styling. When you’re new, there’s always a chance that you may get overlooked.”
Newbie Meher Imran, currently being seen in her first TV soap, the melodramatic Roshni aired on Geo TV, explains how her accent occasionally became a point of ridicule. “I grew up in London and need to work on my Urdu diction. While overall people have been kind, there have been times when my accent has been made fun of. Luckily, I have a tough skin.”
Another newcomer Mariyam Nafees purports the importance of staying confident. “You could get judged by the smallest things; from the fact that you’re not tall enough to the car that you travel in or the clothes that you wear.”
A game of thrones
At the other end of the spectrum, industry stalwarts often crib about the unnecessary airs and graces put up by starlets. “There are young actors who have barely made a place for themselves but who will arrive late or demand that a certain kind of car is enlisted to transport them to and fro from shooting locations,” says Humayun Saeed, whose years in the industry as an actor and producer have rendered him an expert on the topic. “If we are traveling, they will require a certain hotel for their stay even though the producers themselves may be staying elsewhere. The demands go on and on and as filmmakers, we try to fulfill many of them and keep things professional. But when stars create difficulties we are unlikely to work with them in our next project.”
One remembers actor-comedian Yasir Husain quipping about ‘Humaima Malick’s dramas’ at an awards show, possibly alluding to the actress’ notorious tendency to arrive late at shootings or worse, leaving the set, switching off her phone and disappearing for a day.
“Humaima was present throughout while we shot our movie,” recalls director Asad ul Haq, whose movie, the 2015 release Dekh Magar Pyaar Say had Humaima in the lead. “It was just during the pre-release promotions that she did a complete disappearing act. I was taken aback but there wasn’t much I could do about it. Ultimately, though, when an actor is unprofessional, he or she tends to lose out on important projects in the future.”
On another unfortunate film-set, Yasir Nawaz struggled through his first cinematic venture, 2015’s Wrong No., where his two leading ladies had developed colossal chips on their svelte shoulders. In an earlier interview to this publication, he had mentioned how he was relieved that the girls — Sohai Ali Abro and Janita — had only had one scene together. “They refused to talk to one another and had these frustrating preconceived notions about each other. They’d come to me cribbing about each other and I’d have to iron things out,” the director-producer had revealed. “It’s a problem with the new generation of actors. They start thinking too highly about themselves even though their careers have only just started out.”
“There are [some] young actors who will arrive late or demand that a certain car transports them to and fro from shooting locations... The demands go on and on and as filmmakers, we try to fulfill many of them and keep things professional. But when stars create difficulties we are unlikely to work with them in our next project.” — Humayun Saeed
Often, inflated egos lead to misunderstandings. Young stars have been known to complain that their scenes in a drama or movie have been cut short in order to please an experienced co-star. Humayun Saeed points out that these decisions may simply have been made to improve the overall production. “Experienced actors sometimes have a sense of what will work on screen and what won’t,” he says. “When working with younger scriptwriters or directors, they frequently make suggestions that are taken into serious consideration. It may not have anything at all to do with internal politics, especially in ventures financed by big production houses.”
In smaller productions, though, a small-time scriptwriter can be wined and dined into happily increasing or decreasing scenes and dialogues. “These things happen,” agrees Humayun, “but talented, hardworking actors can rise above them.”
The onus of what transpires on a drama or film set lies with the producer. Sultana Siddiqui, President of the Hum Network, stresses that she prioritises a healthy work environment in her productions. In fact, generally one observes that big productions with their heavy duty investments steer away from petty manipulations, focusing on churning out slick entertainers. “We invest a lot of time, effort and money into our productions and we would never put it on the line just to ingratiate ourselves with stars,” points out Humayun.
This is, nevertheless, easier said than done. In bigger projects stars earn more, both in terms of revenue and fame. Thereby, the competition is tougher and jealousies arise. It all comes full circle in a game of thrones of sorts with egos, talent and potentially lucrative projects culminating to form a veritable minefield.
There truly is no business like show business.
Originally published in Dawn, ICON, March 19th, 2017