Film Education

AN ACTOR’S JOURNEY: Struggle and Ecstasy

An Actor’s Journey of Struggle and Ecstasy

By Sahil Sethi

Childhood Fantasies

Generally childhood is all about your dreams and fantasies because in childhood your mind and soul is so sensitive that it gets influenced by an extraordinary thing or person or any fictional character. My childhood was also the same.

If I think back today, I was a very sensitive and emotional boy. I used to day dream at the age of seven. I remember I was very attached to my mother. But I was influenced a lot by my father. My father was a very angry and strict man and as children are initially influenced by their parents I use to imitate my father’s behaviour and mannerisms. I was also a fan of The Jungle Book and The Ramayana and I was very influenced by various characters. In my dreams I used to fantasize myself as Mogali and Hanuman. Then I was a big fan of the film Shahenshah and used to imitate Mr. Amitabh Bachchan.

From Childhood to Teenage

Soon as I started growing up and turning into a teenager, I became very conscious about myself, the way I looked and the way others perceived me. So  unknowingly I started portraying someone else, may be to impress people or make a strong impression on others. My dressing style, hair style everything was turning fake or it was not the real me. But all these things were happening unconsciously and that was the time that I immaturely realized that there is a performer in me. And also my dream and fantasies were pushing me to do something big and be famous.

Following a Dream to become Famous

Slowly the performer in me was evolving and I was attracted to acting. I personally believe that my childhood and teenage years are a very important phase of my life specially if one chooses to be an actor.  At sixteen I was still carrying my childhood fantasies somewhere deep down in my subconscious but there was no self realization. When I use to look at my self in the mirror there was just the external me visible in the mirror. At the age of sixteen till the age of eighteen my role models were Akshay Kumar, John Abraham etc. there was no space for the real actors or I didn’t bother about those actors.

The Years of Transition

When I turned eighteen I was pursuing my dream to become famous and  enrolled into an acting course and the theatre arena. So that was the first step towards my goal. I was very sincere and very committed to my work. But I didn’t know that I was jumping into a well from which I will not be able to come back because the water it had was sweet, healthy but poisonous and it was going to effect my mind and then my soul. But to realize the affect you have to completely surrender – like a wife surrender to her husband on bed like a disciple surrenders to his god.

In my case I entered into the acting arena with a dream to be one of the greatest actors of the world and that pushed me to completely involve myself  into the two years which involved meditation or rehabilitation programme or to witness the truth about everything, about me, about the world.

Slowly I started going through a transition, not one but many. A boy who lived in a materialistic world totally unaware about the truth, truth about his ‘self’- started changing. The fake identities in me were wearing off. The ‘me’ was coming out slowly and slowly. My dressing sense , the outer body language, the inner body, the walk, the mind, the soul started going through a process of transition. The role models changed instead of Akshay Kumar , Salman Khan actors like Nasseeruddin Shah, Dilip Kumar, Marlon Brando, Robert De Niro , Al Pacino, Dustin Hoffman became my inspiration.

Personal Truths

Today at the age of twenty-four being in the field of acting for five years I have come to an understanding of some deep truths and have experienced the process of acting.

Its very important that before anybody or anything else you first observe yourself, find answers about yourself, know yourself. Because the tools and weapons you have as an actor are only your body, your mind and your soul and believe me its like being naked in front of the world, its like living in the Antarctic without clothes. Its that painful and a torture sometimes. Its like being high without drugs. The questions keep arising and the process becomes very confusing, embarrassing and very pleasurable at the same time. As an actor I kept evolving not because I was focused but because I started evolving as a person. When I witness Marlon Brando, Pacino, De Niro, Naseeruddin Shah, Mohanlal , Om Puri, I realized its like playing with fire because as you use your mind your body, your soul to enact someone else it effects your identity.

At twenty while doing an acting course there was a moment when I had a fight with my mother and started crying, I was hurt, emotionally shattered, but was still observing myself. And that was natural I didn’t do any effort. That was the moment I realized the painful pleasure of acting had started.

The great acting guru Lee Strasburg said “an actor never plays a speech , lines, he plays a occurrence , a situation, a happening”. To achieve this level one has to become a great observer. There comes a time in an actor’s life when he starts experimenting with his relationships knowingly and it’s a painful process.  When I was in the initial process of this method to madness I seemed to be lost, psychotic, silent, dangerous. To be an actor you really need to get deep down in the mind, but the hurdles that occur are breathtaking, hallucinating.

Preparation for a Role

I have done 7 short films as a lead protagonist and I have done couple of plays on stage. Some characters in the films I portrayed needed thorough preparation or I believed that I need the preparation. One character I played of a psycho killer who 24 x 7 roamed the streets injecting infected AIDS syringes to people, and who does not bathe for days, smokes a lot. To start with I was not a smoker but the preparation I went through was painful – I slept on the footpath for a day with street dogs, I was wandering all over the city without any reason, smoked atleast 40 to 45 cigarettes in two days.

People liked my portrayal, applauded my performance and that’s how it becomes a painful pleasure. Believe me after going through a torturous process, a process which needs great amount of solitude to achieve the goal that is the applause this pleasure of the painful process overcomes the pleasure of sex, food or any materialistic object.

Of course the drawbacks are not just the ‘time consuming process’ it does or can effect your own identity because during the process of learning acting if you dive deep down into your thoughts you will find your own created fake identities which you get rid off slowly and that is only to again portray someone else’s identity but now knowingly. I have been on the edge of going mad or having a multiple personality disorder but have always saved myself.

Acting is a science about the mind

Acting according to me is a science about the mind and its almost next to impossible to understand your mind fully. Actors in the world who stand out among the crowd have understood this science but not completely and no actor can understand the mind completely.

Now as I am growing older and my observation power has become a bit stable I am understanding the present ‘me’ more completely and am ready for  more transitions because then can one evolve as a person and then as an actor.

Acting actually comes out of life – you live – the way you live, why you live and where do you live is all acting and I absorb acting out of my life to portray the truth which only few actors all over world get success in doing. So that means I have to live my life as truthfully and honestly and be as real  as I can. Also with this I have to keep observing myself and understand myself as deep as I can. Its such a torture – its like I am always watching myself standing in front of me, so does that mean I am not living with full honesty or I am nowhere truthful – now here is the edge where an actor has to train his mind , his brain in a way that both the activities observing and living life truthfully merge well balanced and go hand in hand.

Moksha through Acting

Acting has always been the source of entertainment for years but I feel actors who believe in showing the truth in each and every part of their performance are like a mirror to a society and they are carrying a great responsibility.

Listening to Osho and listening to Marlon Brando is like going on a spiritual journey because to achieve Moksha and to achieve the truth, one needs to play with his mind but also has to be careful that his mind doesn’t start  playing with him.

If today at the age of twenty-four anyone would ask What’s the best and worst decision of your life? I would answer – the worst decision is to become an actor because the process is painful, but the best decision is also to be become an actor as you experience ecstasy and its like a spiritual journey to achieve Moksha. I believe that through the art of acting some day I will achieve Moksha.

For me to be an actor means to carry with you all the insecurities of life, fears, joys, keep them alive in you and keep it safe in a box of  your subconscious mind without effecting your conscious mind. Its complicated but I have been trying to master it. I am trying to keep the child alive in me, the ‘bad me’ alive in me  and the ‘good me’ alive in me and trying to explore the extremes of all the faces of my personality. But I have to do this with the ‘real me’ always activated in me. Once a very great actor said become C.A., I.S., I.P.S. or any big rank holder but not an actor because the only tool you are provide with is your body, mind and soul.

Alone but not Lonely 

People usually hate solitude it tortures them, annoys them, depresses them but for actors solitude feeds their hunger to know the complications of the mind and they are in love with solitude. For me I can’t live without solitude, a public solitude is always there in my mind. I am reminded of a line from a song by Jim Morrison ‘riders on the storm like a dog without a bone an actor out alone’. I can relate to this line very well because to perform in front of the public or in front of a camera an actor needs to be alone somewhere in his mind.

* Sahil has been my student from Kishore Namit Kapoor for the Michael Chekhov  Acting Course April 2011. This article does not address his experience of the technique.


10 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Wish you the very best Sahil 🙂

Comment by kuljeet Singh

very inspiring!!

Comment by sumit kumar

Sumit, Thank you

Comment by oorvazifilmeducation

This so detailed. Simply great!

Comment by Agastya Kapoor

Agastya! I am so happy that you enjoyed reading it and it was helpful.

Comment by oorvazifilmeducation

First of all sahil all the very best for your acting career. And secondly sahil after reading your life story it started inspiring me. Thank you oorvazi mam for sharing such a beautiful thing with us

Comment by Ashish Hegde

Ashish, I am so happy that you found the post inspiring. Comments and interest like yours keeps me wanting to keep the blog going 🙂 . Will convey your thoughts to Sahil.

Comment by oorvazifilmeducation

wow!!! it must be a great to have the ability to transform into a new character!!!!

Comment by Siddhesh

Siddhesh ! you should try it yourself. Its nice when the director can experience the struggle and ecstasy of an actor. I’ll share with you an exercise in class if i get the time in our breaks.

Comment by oorvazifilmeducation

Sure!! that would be exciting! 🙂

Comment by Siddhesh

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