Shame, Empathy and Looking Practices beyond a Disability Studies Classroom

Shame, Empathy and Looking Practices: Lessons from a Disability Studies Classroom co-written by Lisa Cartwright and David Benin raises a lot of issues for further discussion not just because of its theme but also its style of writing.
The vivid description of the class almost reads like a screenplay of a film describing the scene, which is one of the reasons why I would think this piece to be an extremely visual writing. Apart from this, getting quick access on the Internet to the photograph being discussed definitely makes concrete what was only imagined in my mind through the description, and emphasizes the visual character of the article. Also the beginning creates a sense of suspense, setting the stage for the kind of effect the photograph was aimed to achieve in the class and probably also in this paper. The article draws one in into the debate of looking through words like ‘awkward’, ‘moment’, ‘feeling’, ‘gasp’, ‘look’, ‘breathing’ all referring to a very human experience as opposed to an esoteric understanding of things. 
As a reader/participant one question that came to my mind was if shame was felt in the act of looking or in being caught in the act of looking? Is the photograph really the primary elicitor or is shame felt precisely because the spectator is aware of the presence of the professor and the teaching assistant, therefore subordinating the photograph (keeping in mind that is an object not human) to a status of only a factor facilitating in this feeling of shame? Can it be broken down to a three-step process of 1). Looking 2). The realization of being looked at, in the process of looking 3) shame.  One incident that comes to my mind that helps in exploring these questions is when I caught myself looking at a person in a wheelchair waiting to be pulled up into the bus in which I was sitting. My curiosity was more in the mechanism of the bus to be able to pull in a wheelchair but I was ashamed to have been staring all this while. This feeling didn’t arise due to the presence of a third person or the person on the wheel chair but as a self-reproach.  Therefore answering my own question shame may not be necessarily felt in the presence of an onlooker. Interestingly H.B. Lewis distinguishes between shame, which according to her is about the self, and guilt, which she says, is about action related to another. She argues that shame is produced by the events to be found in the mind of the person experiencing it. While she suggests that what causes shame in a large part is the loss of approval others, the sources of shame is one’s own thoughts about oneself. Thus according to Lewis the elicitors of shame appear to be located in one’s evaluation of the negative evaluation of others or of one’s self. The focus of the self on the self’s failure and an evaluation of that failure is what leads to shame. And in the case of me being caught looking at the person in the wheelchair by myself and feeling shame was to an extent due to the failure or an inability to conform to the cultural/societal norms where ‘one looks away’. In Practices of Looking discussing images, power and politics Lisa Cartwright and Marita Sturken use the photographer Arthur Felling a.k.a Weegee’s photograph The First Murder (1936) to talk about the act of looking at the forbidden and in some ways I think it is related to my looking at the person in the wheelchair, something forbidden socially.
To look at this photograph taken out of the context of the disabilities classroom and placed in an art exhibit as a photo-performance will create a completely different set of meanings for the viewer.  The lady could be assumed to someone posing sitting in the wheelchair instead of an owner of it. Such a displacement would completely eliminate any shame from this discussion. Because as an artwork it offers the viewer the power/privilege to look at the photograph that is being presented to one for the primary reason to be looked at. It is interesting how in the affect spectrum if one may call it so, the dislocation of the context of the photograph can create the surprisingly wide disparity between the two, power and shame. And such a re-contexualizing can also generate different sets of meanings than the earlier.
Though both the looking at say an art gallery and a classroom as authorized public looking like in the article, the authors write, “It is as if we are ashamed to be caught looking even in this context where looking is authorized…”
I would argue that is because in the context of a classroom where there is already a definite power relation between the instructor and the students where the student by being a student is already in a position to be judged and evaluated and is therefore conscious of conforming to certain accepted social behaviours. Secondly, the fact that is not an art/photography class but a disabilities studies class also shapes the way one may read a an image such as this. The authors note the aim of such an exercise.
…during the process taught new ways of looking, at photographs of people with visible physical disabilities, as they experience a range and mix of affects that include surprise and shared shame in context of authorized public looking.
Therefore the knowledge of “photographs of people with visible physical disabilities” changes the way one responds to these photographs. 
Lisa Cartwright and Marita Sturken discuss the difference between seeing and looking in the book, Practices of Looking where seeing is an arbitrary process of observing and recognizing the world around as opposed to looking which is a more active and involved process of meaning making which I think is important to mention in the context of this discussion of looking. Coming back to the photograph of the woman in the wheelchair showed in the undergraduate class interestingly connects to some of the issues raised in the book as well. If one were to consider what this photograph does, is it mimesis, a reflection of reality, a representation, a symbol with meanings?  As they write, “ a photograph is often perceived to be an unmediated copy of the real world…it is not”. One can assume that the lady in the wheelchair doesn’t wear a mask everyday and therefore this photograph doesn’t represent her everyday reality. Quite clearly it is staged almost as a photo-performance where again affirming that there are decisions a photographer takes before taking a photograph that may alter things. This leads us to the discussion of photography as a performance of power. One is familiar with both colonial and contemporary use and misuse of power in the context of power relations, representations and exploitation. A google search on Diane Arbus the photographer in question, offered a little biography mentioning how she was fascinated by taking photographs of transvestites, twins, midgets, people on the streets and asylums. “Arbus's pictures are almost invariably confrontational: the subjects look directly at the camera and are sharply rendered, lit by direct flash or other frontal lighting. Her subjects appear to be perfectly willing, if not eager, to reveal themselves and their flaws to her lens.”1 Interestingly I also happened to read something Diane Arbus writes about the subjects of her photographs. She says, "What I'm trying to describe is that it's impossible to get out of your skin into somebody else's.... That somebody else's tragedy is not the same as your own."2
Interestingly, the use of a child’s mask that the old lady wears in the photograph can be seen a sort of a temporary getting out of the skin not in the sense of empathy that Arbus talks of but as a probably a release or subversion. There is as Cartwright and Benin point out a certain playfulness in this masquerade because the mask is a concealment of probably the real, ageing self only by a mask of a witch (who is also an old woman only mean and cruel) and this resistance to ageing is both by concealment of what is behind (maybe we worse, who knows!) and by the use of a child’s mask.  The metaphor of masquerade is played out both by the mask that the old lady is wearing and at the same time at the hide and seek relationship that spectator has with this photograph as a result of both awkwardness and curiosity that one feels while viewing it. 
As a conclusion I think it is apt to quote the writers as to their answer to what the purpose of this photograph/exercise is: 
What is offered to the spectator is not a stable truth about disability or about this woman’s subjectivity, but a joke about what we ask for when we look at an image of the body for meaning about disability subjectivity and identity.


Spectacle vs Narrative

What is spectacle? What is narrative? Why are spectacle and narrative seen to be diametrically opposite? What effects do they have? Can they co-exist? These are some of the questions I wish to explore in this essay.
Debates on spectacle and narrative in cinema have been going on for sometime and the conversation for me starts from Scott Bukatman’s “Spectacle, Attractions and Visual Pleasure” as a point of departure where he places Laura Mulvey’s “Visual Pleasures and Narrative Cinema” and Tom Gunning’s “Cinema of Attractions” and "Attractions: How They Came into the World" in conversation with each other. I would argue that spectacle and narrative are intertwined in complex ways and it is futile to draw distinctions between them.  
Mulvey in her “Visual Pleasures and Narrative Cinema” examines Hollywood narrative films, which she argues are characterized by spectatorial passivity and spectator’s vouyeristic isolation and for her these films are explicitly ideological. Gunning on the other hand, analyzes pre-narrative experimental cinema, which he argues is basically exhibitionistic cinema, where the spectator is constituted as a social aggregate, and this kind of cinema is not explicitly ideological. For Mulvey spectacle is “an aberration within a primarily narrative system” (72) while for Gunning “attraction precedes and subtends the system itself”(72). Though Mulvey’s essay acknowledges the existence of “something else”(76) according to her, narrative is prioritized over spectacle in Hollywood films while at the same; she implies the limits of narrative cinema strictly in narrative terms. For Gunning, narrative theory as a hegemonic structure has restricted our understanding of the medium. He insists on the exhibitionistic nature of the cinema of attractions. He believes that this kind of cinema is not voyeuristic because it is  presentational, exhibitionist confrontation, “what is seen on the screen is manifestly shown.”(79) Bukatman points to a convergence of Mulvey and Gunning’s ideas that they both acknowledge the existence of this “something else”(76), however Gunning argues that it has always been there. Mulvey’s essay insists on the disruptive power of cinematic spectacle as being fundamental to the construction of cinematic meaning but she believes that it needs to be tamed or contained and hasn’t been fully or easily. Similarly, for Sergie Eisenstein, attraction was something that was attention grabbing and that which was not naturalized through psychological narrative. Therefore, suggesting something like Bertolt Brecht’s alienation effect where the viewer takes the role of a spectator who is actually aware of his/her witness position.  Mulvey, like Brecht opposes identification and calls for interruption at the level of spectatorship (which for Brecht was through a new mode of theatrical production) and considers spectators to be passive. Comparing Mulvey and Brecht’s stands, Bukatman writes, “Both demand the disruption of common modes illusionism and narrative presentation in order to establish a critical distance between the text and the spectator”(74); Brecht in the context of epic theatre and Mulvey in the context of Hollywood films. For Mulvey the disruptive character of spectacle is a threat to the stability of narrative system. I would argue that because she doesn’t allow for any agency at the level of the spectator, who would by virtue of being involved makes a decision in not being disturbed by the element of spectacle in the narrative of the film and has a fairly seamless filmic experience, that spectacle for her becomes such a big threat. Bukatman as a negotiation between Mulvey and Gunning suggests his own definition of spectacle as being “an impressive, unusual or disturbing phenomenon or event that is seen/witnessed” (81) and writes that spectacle can be used for ideological resistance and attraction can return as an untamed form.
A spectacle is a specially arranged display of a somewhat public nature usually on a large scale that is an impressive show for those viewing it. It is also used to mean a person or a thing exhibited to the public either as an object of curiosity or condemnation or an object of miracle or admiration. The word, spectacle is derived from the Latin root spectare which is “to view, watch” and specere “to look at”. But with the shift into modernity, the traditional notion of spectacle as a visual and affective medium begins to define a more complex understanding of the spectacle and its relationship to the spectator. The spectator, confronted by new modes of socio-economic production and technology, ceases to simply be a receiver of affect and arguably becomes the modern or post-modern subject. Though for Jean-Louis Baudry, the spectator even being within an ideological spectacle is unaware of the entire film labor processes like audio-video production, editing, etc. and the ideological effects of the apparatus. A similar re-definition and skepticism towards spectatorship appears in Mulvey's essay "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema," which locates the power of the gaze within male spectatorship. She bases her argument on scopophilia, which fetishizes the female into a sexual object and spectacle, and sadism, which demystifies and punishes the woman. Queer, Marxist, and post-colonial dialogues have responded and modified Mulvey's argument so that non-normative categories of spectator and spectacle Otherness can be considered. Another criticism of Laura Mulvey’s essay that I wish to take forward for my own argument here is against her claim of spectatorial passivity in Hollywood narrative film. I would argue that absorption, identification and “willing suspension of disbelief” constitute active participation on part of the spectator. Also, films like Gladiator and Moulin Rouge show that spectacle may not oppose or suspend narrative, but rather, it becomes an integral element in the unfolding of narrative. The spectacular sequences of these films, while being thrilling, corporeal and disorienting, also provide important information for the narrative of the film. It is becoming more difficult to make a clear division between what is spectacle and what is narrative, between what resists or suspends narrative and that which contributes to narrative. 
Vanessa R. Schwartz, illustrates the obscured distinction between spectacle and narrative in her chapter, “Cinematic Spectatorship before the Apparatus: The Public Taste for Reality in Fin-de-Siecle Paris”, where she makes an interesting argument about how early cinema was part of public interest in reality. She situates her argument within the study of three sites of public looking, Paris Morgue, wax museums, and panoramas. She writes, “Panoramas and similar entertainments reproduced reality in a variety of ways: by relying on spectator-generated optical illusions, by echoing other realist genres such as press, and by simulating reality. One can find no technological telos toward ever more perfectly realistic reproduction culminating in the invention of cinema. Rather, as this focus on panoramas during the 1880s and 1890s has tried to suggest, these spectacles technologically generated “reality” and its concomitant animation in a variety of ways during the same period. Further, the various representations of “real-life” experiences offered sensationalized versions of reality- a sensationalism that ranged from narrative suspense to physical simulations.” (315) She suggests how the real life was experienced like a show and the shows were becoming increasingly more realistic. Therefore, reality is continually redefined and is constituted in complex ways.  
Expanding this discussion further, I would like to point to Peter Wollen’s list of losing and winning cinema techniques from his article about Jean-Luc Godard’s Vent d’ Est (1972): 
The losing side                                                               The winning side
Narrative transitivity                                                       Narrative intransitivity
Identification                                                                  Estrangement
Transparency                                                                 Foregrounding
Single diegesis                                                                Multiple diegesis
Closure                                                                          Aperture
Pleasure                                                                         Unpleasure
Fiction                                                                           Reality

Such a division cannot be generalized to all genres because such polarities don’t exist everywhere. Like, absorption is not exclusive to spectacle, there can be narrative absorption as well, and also, one can be absorbed by both at the same time. Alienation can be understood as an estrangement of the spectator from his/her present environment into the world of the film in the form of involvement and identification. Therefore, alienation and absorption can co-exist. Also, with an increase in both televised and cinematic mediation, the spectator is not necessarily alienated from the spectacle but instead seems to produce a different type of awe and wonder which is based on the medium specificity of the filmic image. Roland Barthes writes on his enthrallment with the cinema, describing the "cinematographic hypnosis" and the pleasure of being drawn to the cinematic representation and the fascination of being close to other dark bodies in the shared space of film viewing. A similar idea is what Thomas Elsaesser has called “engulfment”. Elsaesser describes engulfment as a characteristic trend in contemporary Hollywood cinema that displays spectacular visual effects, which demands reactions of awe and wonder from the spectator, but also pushes them into modes of disorientation, affective complexity and shock.  
I would like to add “engulfment” to the characteristics of attraction offered by Tom Gunning namely, novelty, a presentational set of codes, direct address to spectator to illustrate how popular Hindi films particularly use both spectacle and narrative resulting in absorption and engulfment, that for Indians is mainstream cinema. Novelty not just in the case of a desire to see a display of cinematic technology but also in terms of new locations within the filmic world, innovative narrative styles, extravagant sets, costumes and accessories, the ways in which music and dance is incorporated and the presentation of latest consumerist products are some of the ways in which it is employed in popular Hindi films. A presentational set of codes becomes naturalized into the mise-en-scene of the films in the above-mentioned ways. The direct address to the audience can be traced back to iconic images from calendar art and poster art that influenced early Indian cinema. These images varied in styles, featured both religious and secular icons, they were always fore grounded, essentially still and immobile and its full-frontal address was the most distinctive feature. Film scholars like Ravi Vasudevan have suggested that darshan or the aspect of gaze in worship can be used to analyze Indian films. I would use the concept of darshan as a tool for making a connection between the iconic images in films and other arts and how that establishes the spectator’s relationship to the icon. Just as the devotee derives pleasure from a sense of involvement in looking at the icon and in the assumption that he/she is being looked back at, early film spectators received a similar pleasure from the iconic images represented in films. This pleasure from the sense of involvement by being directly addressed to gradually changed into being involved in the filmic experience through narrative absorption where even if spectacle if understood to be “a disruptive power”, it was the “willing suspension of disbelief” that allowed spectators to have a sense of involvement, where the spectator overlooked situations of contradictions and impossibility for the pleasure of being entertained. I would like to point out that in popular Hindi films, spectacle gets naturalized into the narrative and hence is not considered to be a deviation from the continuity of the film, even though from an objective point of view it may be. Therefore, even though the way the spectator was being acknowledged changed, the relationship between the spectator and the image, did not necessarily. And here again, emphasizing on the role of the spectator in the whole process, I would locate the issues of how spectacle is defined, what is its relationship with narrative and how does it affect the spectator, within the relationship between the spectator and the image. In any case, cinema’s function is not just to tell stories, which is done by many other art forms but rather to show its own specific and special properties and potentialities.

  1. Tom Gunning, "The Cinema of Attractions"; Tom Gunning, "Attractions: How They Came into the World;" and Scott Bukatman, "Spectacle, Attractions, and Visual Pleasure" In Wanda Strauven, ed., The Cinema of Attractions Reloaded (Amsterdam Univ Press, 2006), pp. 381-38732-39; 72-81
  2. Laura Mulvey, "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema" (online)

  1. Peter Wollen, ‘Godard and counter-cinema: Vent d Est’, in Bill Nichols (ed.), Movies and Methods, Volume II: an Anthology (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1985)
  2. Jean- Louis Baudry, “The Apparatus: Metapsychological Approaches to the Impression of Reality in the Cinema” in Philip Rosen ed., Narrative, Apparatus, Ideology: A Film Reader (New York: Columbia University Press, 1970)
  3. Thomas Elsaesser, “Specularity and Engulfment: Francis Ford Coppola and Bram Stoker's Dracula” in S. Neale and M. Smith eds., Contemporary Hollywood Cinema (London and New York: Routledge, 1998)
  4. Vanessa R. Schwartz, “Cinematic Spectatorship before the Apparatus: The Public Taste for Reality in Fin-de-Siecle Paris” in L. Charney and V.R. Schwartz eds., Cinema and the Invention of Modern Life (Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press, 1995)
  5. Gayatri Chatterjee, “Icons and Events: Reinventing Visual Construction in Cinema in India” in R. Kaur and A.J. Sinha eds., Bollyworld: Popular Indian Cinema through a Transnational Lens (Delhi: Sage, 2005)

Bad Girls of Hindi Popular Cinema

Many histories have been written about Indian Cinema especially, almost obsessively focused on the Stars mainly the actors and actresses of popular Hindi films. Iconization of stars as demi-gods and goddesses is obvious in every nook or corner in every street in every village, town or city, every television set, in every haircut or dress, every colloquial lingo, in every emotion of an Indian. But somewhere in this star-mania we seem to miss/ignore those as much loved as hated characters creating magic on the margins that play just as much a vital role in making the filmic experience complete. In this essay, I will attempt to trace a sort of a shadow history of Indian Cinema through the Bad Girls of popular Hindi cinema.

The influence of India’s rich traditions of popular folk theatre and oral performances on Indian popular films is palpable. This can be observed in the stage-like quality of acting, stereotypical characterization and the use of conventional tools of sentimentality like songs and dance sequences. Indian Cinema incorporated these features in its form of melodrama, which served to magnify the moral oppositions between good and evil, the righteous and the fallen, and imparted an intensity to the representation of emotional experiences. The staging of the melodrama entailed a Hero (the Good) - inevitably a conventionally good-looking young man, who is moral; a Villain (the Evil) who contrasted the hero in being immoral and feeling no guilt about it; then followed the Heroine (the supporter of the Good) an ally of the hero; and, of course, the exact opposite of the Heroine, the Vamp (the supporter of the Evil), the ally of the villain. This representative composition of opposites striking a balance of good and evil became a norm in almost all the popular films. And over the years this plot of conflict between the good and the evil became the tried-and-tested-formula at the box office.

The two women were products of patriarchy- both modeled to serve the men. The dominant forms of patriarchal ideology can be seen in how women are seen subjugated- as the nurturing mother, the chaste wife, or the promiscuous vamp. As mentioned earlier, the representation of the two women were diametrically opposite in their characters and so to say in their functions. The exaggerated qualities of one would bring out the qualities of the other. There would be distinguishing identifiers like the extreme behaviors and attitudes, contrasting costumes, distinctive hairdos, typical make-up and their widely divergent environments.

The sari-clad traditional good woman, who is a forgiving wife, a sacrificing mother, a dutiful daughter had identifiers like her head to toe sari1, round red bindi2, long black hair, subdued make-up and the usual stepping in or out of a mandir3 with the symbolic ‘pooja ki thaali’4 in hand. Patriarchy placed her on a convenient pedestal where the woman was expected to be “perfect”. She was modeled on The Devi5 – with no imperfections and flaws and consequently making her un-human. This woman was an asexualized entity whose sole purpose was to serve the men in the narrative. She was an embodiment of the concept of the Bhartiya Nari6.

The other was of course the vamp, a morally degraded woman. She could be recognized by social taboos like smoking, drinking, and wearing clothes that only the not-so-proper girls would wear, loud make-up, exaggerated Western hair-styles and dancing in public for entertaining men- all of which set the tone for the perfect setting of immorality- ‘the pub’. Unlike the heroine who was denied the expression of desire the vamp was exploding of it. She was allowed to explore her sexuality by various means. She was the intruder in the well-defined space of the heroine. The function of a vamp was varied but never really inconsequential because they did serve a purpose no matter how frivolous. At times they were part of the plot as an accomplice (like in those innumerable songs where the vamp is seen winking or gesturing so as to help the villain). Though, sometimes she was just there to play arm candy to the villain. And many a times it was just time of a song and the presence of the vamp gave the film an excuse to squeeze in a cabaret number. The song was the defining moment for the vamp because it gave her the desirable setting of a nightclub or a gambling den, Western costume, the outlandish hair-do and her blatant dance of seduction, all of which labeled her as the morally degraded ‘other’ woman of the film. All the identifiers were part of the whole package and worked either way -- ‘whoever smoked was usually a vamp, a vamp usually smoked’.

This degradation was associated with everything unwholesome about the Western world. The concept of the West as the cultural other being ugly and corrupt emerges from India’s colonial past. The West and the evil began to mean one and the same thing and they both could be substituted for the other. Thus, is reflected in the depiction of the evil as westernized and vice-versa. The sharp divide between what is Indian and what is not was portrayed by the two women. The vamp, who is interestingly usually called Mona or Lily smokes, drinks, wears westernized clothes. The marks of decadence were challenged and contrasted by the signs of Indian-ness. Suddenly the conflict between the good and evil was superimposed by the conflict between nationalism and colonialism.

Film scholar Ranjani Mazumdar suggests that the vamps in popular Hindi films can be likened to the femme fatale of the noir films who were characterized by revealing clothes, stilettos, blonde hair and invariably dark and mysterious character. These women were an epitome of power, seduction and evil. However stereotypical, the figure of the vamp permitted films to explore a different mise en scène where desire, wealth, sexuality, indeed urban modernity could be represented. Insofar as they were parts of Indian life, popular cinema could not ignore their presence. But by framing of the signs of modernity as Western, it offered a melodramatic critique that was as much aimed at the West as at the urban experience.

The History of Vamps

The lineage of dancing girls in popular Hindi films can be traced back to Kuldeep Kaur and a dancer named, Azoori. It is said that it was Azoori who influenced the one next in line, Cuckoo, an Anglo- Indian girl who made her appearance in two films of the time Pehli Nazar and Mujrim. In the credits of the film the name of the girl simply said, “Cuckoo”, her real name remains unknown. Considering the body of work and its impact, Cuckoo would definitely be the first ‘other woman’. In the year 1945, established actresses were far from playing roles of leading lady; the role of a vamp was unthinkable. Cuckoo captivated the audiences for almost 20 years. She had appeared in 49 films within five years after her debut in 1945. Though in most of her films she only appeared for a song, distributors considered her as important as the heroine.

But one of my earliest and most favourite memories of a vamp would definitely be the classic Nadira in Raj Kapoor’s Shree 420 where a small town boy, Raju gets trapped into the big-city world of dishonesty by a woman called Maya (played by Nadira). She lures him into cheating the poor and Raju is caught between two worlds, and two women -- Vidya, (which means ‘knowledge’), the heroine, and Maya (which means‘illusion’), the vamp. Maya plays a pivotal role in taking the story forward and by her crafty plans almost achieves her goal. The unforgettable song from the film picturised on Nadira “Mud Mud Ke Na Dekh” has Maya dancing in her typical ``Ek haath mein jaam, doosre haath mein dhooaan”7 vamp form in celebration of diwali8. The mise-en-scene of the club, an indoor space with lighting that played with shadows creating a dark and murky mood was accentuated by the contrast in the openness of the setting of Vidya’s school under a tree, on a bright day, shot with developmentalist photography that shared the aesthetics of the government’s development propaganda films of Films Division.

In 1958 a film called Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi had a mujra9 number ``Hum Tumhare Hai Zara, Ghar se Nikal Kar Dekh Lo" where Cuckoo, thirteen years after her debut was still going strong. She was accompanied by a young foreign looking girl. The credits said “Dancers- Cuckoo and Helen”. Helen though started her career as a part of Cuckoo’s troupe with a film called Shabistan (1951) had started performing solo in films like Alif Laila (1953) and Hoor-e-Arab (1955), but it was in 1958 that people knew she had arrived. Helen is probably one of the most celebrated dancing girls of Bollywood, with her career spanning over 500 films, stretching over 25 years. An Anglo-Indian refugee from Burma, the young Helen, accompanied by her mother, escaped to India from the Second World War generated life-threatening situation in Burma. Helen quit school to work in films, since her mother’s income, as a nurse did not seem adequate. It was while leaning Kathak that she discovered she had a flair for dancing.

The club dance numbers through the 50s till the 70s established her as a dancer with expertise in Western dance forms. But Helen proved her competence in Indian semi-classical forms as well, for example in songs like Tora Man Bada Paapi (Ganga Jumna) and Ghungarwa Mora Chham Chham Baaje (Zindagi).

Helen’s Anglicized looks were exploited in making her an icon of Occidental cabaret numbers and also for accentuating the distinction between the Westernized vamp and the traditional Indian heroine. Her looks kept her away from taking the leap into playing main leads, though there are a few unsuccessful films where she was attempted to be cast as the leading lady in films like Cha Cha Cha and Imaan Dharam.

But her golden period was definitely the 70s and 80s with the new revolution in the field of Hindi film music. Celebrated music composer R. D. Burman made singer Asha Bhosle sing to his new westernized tunes. Both masters in their respective fields, this collaboration became a phenomenon. The time was right for the Dancing Queen to spread her wings and conquer her domain- The Cabaret! An interesting trivia that I can’t help but add is that in spite of Helen oozing with sexuality; she always made it a point to wear skin-coloured body stockings in her cabaret numbers like Piya Tu Ab To Aaja (Caravan), Aa Jaane Jaa (Inteqam),Aaona Gale Lagaona (Mere Jeevan Saathi), Mehbooba Mehbooba (Sholay), Yeh Mera Dil Pyaar Ka Diwaanaa(Don). Luckily for Helen, she has been called from graceful to dignified and was never categorized as vulgar or indecent. She made the titillation look aesthetic.

Around the 70s Helen’s monopoly was broken by other bad girls like Bindu, Padma Khanna and Aruna Irani. Her increasing age and decreasing number of roles made the situation worse causing financial problems. It was at this point when she was involved with scriptwriter Salim Khan who was instrumental in getting her roles in films like Inaam Dharam, Don and Dostana, which he was co-writing with Javed Akhtar. It was only by the end of her career that she did roles, which appropriately exploited her acting skills. She won the Filmfare Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role in Lahu Ke Do Rang in 1979. But soon Helen accepted her fate and much to the audiences’ surprise she played Zeenat Aman’s mother in a 1980 film called Ram Balram. After she married Salim she took a long break from films only to be seen much later in films like Khamoshi and the recent release Mohabbatein.

The next to step in the world of dancing girls cum vamp was Bindu seen in a famous song “Mera naam hain Shabnam” from the film Kati Patang. In this film Bindu plays Shabnam who is a cabaret dancer in a club and helps the villain of the movie in his devious plans. With no so-called social stigma or moral responsibility attached to the vamp, Shabnam in this film is seen smoking, drinking, dancing to entertain men, wearing the clothes the heroines wouldn’t dare to wear, engages in pre-marital sex, tells lies, impersonates as somebody else; contrasting her counterpart- the heroine - an epitome of dignity and morality. Shabnam with the villain attempts to blackmail the heroine in order to win a large amount of money but of course “Jeet Hamesha Sacchai Ki Hoti Hai”10 (or that’s at least what we like to believe!).

Bindu, the daughter of a film producer Nanubhai Desai and a stage actress, Jyotsana, started her career in 1969 with a film called Do Raaste. But little did she know she was to be re-christened to Mona Darling. After her father’s death, this 13-year old being the eldest daughter took up the responsibility to support her family. She started with modeling assignments and graduated to films only after her marriage to Champaklal Zaveri. After the success of Kati Patang, she made waves with mesmerizing performances in Itefaaq (1969), Zanjeer (1973), Hawas (1974), Imtihaan (1974). Bindu appeared in over 150 films, her roles ranging from playing the vamp, the other woman, the side-kick, to the mean mother-in-law/sister-in-law. It was Bindu who made Mona Darling a household almost a synonym of a vamp. But where Helen challenged the stereotype of a bad girl with her innate grace who was incapable of looking sleazy Bindu broke out the myth of that married actresses couldn’t be sex symbols.

Bindu was given almost like a chance for redemption with a role in Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s Abhimaan starring Amitabh Bachchan and Jaya Bachchan (then Bhaduri). At the height of her career she played the character of a socialite friend of the main male lead, who fawns over him. This serious role changed her image as the classic Mona Darling. This opened the doors to more challenging roles like the one in the film Arjun Pandit where she plays a deglamourized wife of actor Ashok Kumar and in Chaitali where she plays the role of a crippled woman. Her career as the glamorous vamp was soon ended due an unfortunate miscarriage when she was advised by the doctors that she should keep away from dancing. But Bindu couldn’t stay away from films and returned with quasi-vampish roles and comic character roles in films like Biwi Ho To Aisi, Hum Apke Hain Koun and Mere Yaar Ki Shaadi Hai.

Bindu’s successor was Aruna Irani who started her career as a child artiste in a 1961 film called Ganga Jamuna. By mid-sixties Irani had taken that leap from a child-artiste to a dancing girl. With films like Caravan (1971), where Irani plays an iterant-gypsy woman who is part of an entertainment troupe, gave her enough scope to prove her mettle both as a seductive dancer as well as her histrionics. In this film Irani is in love with the main male lead played by Jeetendra and goes to all extents to keep him away from the main female lead played by Asha Parekh. Like Bindu, Irani was also offered a supporting role in a Raj Kapoor film called Bobby (1973) that altered her image. Aruna Irani ‘s most memorable characters is her role as a dance instructor in Yash Chopra’s Dil To Pagal Hai (1997). Irani is now busy acting, directing as well as producing for both film and television.

Aruna Irani was followed by divas like Padma Khanna, and Kalpana Iyer. Both of whom were acclaimed for their works but had short-lived careers. Padma Khanna after a few forgettable cabaret numbers resigned to Bhojpuri films, Kalpana Iyer shifted to television. Another music composer-singer combination of Bappi Lahiri and Usha Uthup gave Kalpana Iyer the opportunity to be a part of the prevalent disco fever with the ultimate disco song Koi Yahaan Aahaa Naache Naache.


Vamps and Villains were metaphors of stark reality in white and black. But this idiom took an interesting turn around the 70s. Gradually films began to question both these patterns of the clash between good and evil and therefore the existence of the characters on account of it. Only recently there has been an attempt to break these distinct boundaries. The spaces were no longer restricted; with the hero experimentally depicted with subtle shades of grey and the heroines serving the functions of the vamp. It probably began with India’s favorite Bollywood phenomenon “The Angry Young Man”, when the hero had shades of grey – he was no longer the moral hero who could do no wrong. Somehow now his actions could be justified by circumstances like torture by an evil father as a child or bad company. There was no longer simply right or wrong-and it is this chaos between pure good and pure evil and the somewhat convenient shift in morals that led to the acceptability of what we’d grown up to be known as wrong thus dissolving of one into another. As film scholar Rashmi Doraiswamy says that, “Now the heroes, heroines, villains, vamps display the ability to contain within themselves more than one- if not many stereotyped selves”. 11

During this time India was facing a general discontent. Films of this time demonstrated the urge and need of the generation to break away from the norms of the society. And in this period of crisis entered, actress Zeenat Aman singing “Dum Maro Dum”, in the film Hare Rama Hare Krishna. With all her freshness and charm, she naturalized the Western other. This non-conformist attitude became a general desire. Aman’s character in the film leaves her family behind in search of herself. The film attempted to mirror the outside world where the Flower-Power age was at its peak. And this acknowledgement of the happenings of the outside world led to an acceptance, opening new avenues of perception for the Indian film industry.

With the popularity of ‘Westernized’ heroines like Parveen Babi (Deewar) and Zeenat Aman (Hare Rama Hare Krishna), challenging the two stereo-typical female characters, the existence of the vamps was questioned. These heroines with characteristic high slit skirts, fur lined halter blouses and colored glasses were soon substituting the place of the vamp as the seductress. The functions of the heroines were extended to include things that only the vamps were licensed to do. The 80s also marked the disco age therefore the need to insert disco songs centered around the leads. While there are some who argue that it was the male domination that led to this kind of change where vamps became redundant with the one female character, the heroine fulfilling the functions of the vamps as well. Now one character had the ability to accommodate both.

Late 80s and 90s exploded with leading ladies like Sridevi (“Kaatey nahi kate yeh din yeh raat”), in the film Mr. India and Madhuri Dixit (“Choli ke peeche kya hai”) in the film Khalnayak. In this song, the character played by Madhuri Dixit impersonates as a prostitute therefore momentarily stepping into the domain of the vamp which sort of legitimatized her new look and her dancing to one of the most controversial songs in popular Hindi films. The heroines seemed to have become a full package of entertainment that was self-sufficient. All barriers of costume, setting, hair-do and make-up were crossed by the heroine and she leaped into the world of the vamps. The vamps were no longer required for sensational songs of seduction. She faded away! Or as the creator of Mona Darling (a popular, almost iconic vamp from a 70s film), Javed Akhtar says, “She got swallowed up by the heroine”.

This transformation liberated the heroine from being judged and scrutinized by the public eye. She was no longer the social yardstick for the perfect “Bhartiya Nari”. There was no longer a concern of Log Kya Kahenge12.

But this liberation for the heroine proved disastrous in being stereotyped again in violent and the so called ‘feminist’ films of the 80s and 90s. The characters from films like, Pratighat, Sherni, Khoon Bhari Mang, Khoon Bahaa Ganga Mein, Commando, Bhraschtachar, and Kali Ganga which primarily focused on hardened, cynical, strong (both physically and emotionally but rarely mentally), almost man-eating super women. Luckily, for them such films did not somehow appeal to the Indian masses. It is only recently that the heroines are being given their legitimate position in popular Hindi cinema without having to oscillate between two extremes.

But our poor vamps did dissolve into a bigger whole- the heroine. Let us try and deconstruct the composition of the vamp: a). The sensuous part, which is now being, fulfilled by our new age heroines with their song and dance of seduction b). The evil element, which has been taken up by the villain completely exterminating the vamp. Though in some films we also see a trend of quasi-vamp where the vamp is not wholly present but we get a glimpse of her evilness by a lesser important, almost insignificant evil aunt, mother or mother-in-law. So the poor vamp has been shredded into parts and has been distributed primarily amongst the heroine and the villain.

It has already been established that the bad girl of Hindi popular cinema was largely a male invention but it is due to the redefinition of the image of the heroine by herself that has led to the extinction of the vamps. The song and dance role of the vamps is now becoming some kind of a specialization with actresses. “Item numbers” as these songs have come to be called have become an integral part of any film, where an actress appears just for that one song. Established actresses like Aishwarya Rai, Sushmita Sen, and Shilpa Shetty are making an alternative career out of it. These actresses, paid well for their expertise, definitely match up to the skill of the earlier vamps; lack a little something- the thrill, the charisma and the same kind of glamour. They were an embodiment of both somebody you would love to hate but at the same time be so enthralled by.

This phenomenon, a product of globalization, with the explosion of the popular cinematic images into the “global village”, is no longer an anomaly but a trend. A cornucopia of images, both in cinema as well as television while serving as carriers of a glimpse of the outside world, also make it more accessible. Commodity circulation and images, fashion and shopping provided news ways to dress the heroine, thus eroding the sharp divide between the vamp and the heroine. Mazumdar makes an interesting comment about the elimination of vamps in this context:

Popular song and dance sequences of Indian cinema have become the medium through which spectators are offered a virtual, novel and innovative form of ‘window shopping’ experience. The sheer phantasmagoria of contemporary consumption brings about the demise of the former Westernized vamp whose gestures and performances are now required for the erotic display of women’s fashion….13

Though fashion is only one of the aspects of globalization that fostered the elimination of the vamps, the growing exposure to the outside world now made a few things to be socially acceptable. The lines between what was considered wrong and what is right began blurring. Social taboos were reconsidered and amended. And this acceptance was best exhibited in the popular films that were made to reach the common people.

Though it is difficult to say what comes first and with the ever-evolving world it would be difficult to takes sides with neither the Platonic view of art imitating life nor the post-modern view of the domination of images over absent/numbed audiences, though one can definitely draw a parallel between cinema and life. Indian cinema has always portrayed even if it has been typically melodramatic social issues, sociological changes and shifts in society in terms of everything – values, family systems, condition of women etc. Films by auteurs like Satyajit Ray, Bimal Roy and Ritwik Ghatak are representative of this argument. But popular Hindi films, like Yeh Raaste Hain Pyaar Ke based on the famous Nanavati case, in which a Parsi naval officer finds his English wife having an extra marital affair and finally kills her lover, also delved into social issues. Another popular film that comes to my mind is the B.R. Chopra film, Dharmaputra which in spite of keeping all the elements of popular cinema raised the sensitive issue of communalism. The gradual acceptance of widow remarriage is shown in a film like Prem Rog (1982) where the protagonist questions the acceptance of widow remarriage only in theory but not in practice. Path breaking films like Lamhe that deals with a difficult issue of age difference between lovers also represents the changing face of our society. Another film in popular genre that deals with relevant feminist issues is Rajkumar Santoshi’s Lajja in spite of being flawed by clichés and stereotypes.

Lives of people at the same time are influenced by cinema a great deal as well: fashion, styles, social customs etc. The annual trips with family or just a honeymoon to places like Switzerland was inspired by Yash Chopra movies. A sudden fancy to rather culturally restricted festivals like Karva Chauth14 making them national festivals crossing all cultures after its constant depiction in all family movies starting from Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (1995). And here it’s important to note the undeniable power of an image realistically as in, in real life and unrealistically as seen on the screen and the relationship between these images.

Another factor that is instrumental in such a marginalization is the economics of the film industry. Now a single heroine offering an array of emotions, characters, images, dancing styles and fashion statements seemed like a better option for the producers.

Real Life bad girls from Indian Cinema

Talking of financing, due to the high risks involved banks and other financial institutions avoided the film industry, an attitude that is now gradually changing. But due to the uncertainty of financing, money matters have always been a fishy business in the industry. After the studio system collapsed and with the increasing fees of the growing stars there was a greater need of finances. It is around this time that the gangsters started taking interest in the film industry, which meant regular extortion as well as financing films. Around 2000-2001 incidents like the murder of producer Gulshan Kumar and the alleged links of a financier Bharat Shah with the dreaded gangster confirmed the existence of such a nexus. Interestingly, these gangsters much like the ones in Hindi popular films in return of financing these films, demanded their girlfriends given a role in the film. Much like in the film Bombay Boys where the character of Nasiruddin Shah invests his black money in a C-grade film and insists his girlfriend is given the role of main female lead. It is interesting to see, how actresses like Mandakini (girlfriend of Dawood Ibrahim) and Monica Bedi (girlfriend of Abu Salem) brought to life the reel life of Mona Darling!

Therefore, it can be argued that the character of vamps can provide us with a counter history of popular Hindi cinema: to reflect on experiences of modern life- wealth, crime, fashion, sexuality, status/identity etc. Even if the films use the melodramatic form to cast them in an unfavorable light, their presence on the screen provides a contrapuntal as Edward Said would say, “commentary on the narrative drive”. The focus on vamps can be extended to other bad girls- the evil sister-in-law or mother-in-law, so as to explore the popular cinema from its margins.

Note: I would like to thank Ms. Ratna Rajaiah for letting me use information from her article ‘Whatever Happened to Mona Darling’ in The Hindu. 


1. Rajaiah, Ratna : Whatever Happened to Mona Darling,
2. Mazumdar Ranjani and Jhingan Shikha (1998): ‘Whatever Happened to the Vamps’ episode in The Power of the Image, A 12-part television series on Mumbai Cinema, BITV.
3. Berger, John: Ways of Seeing, Penguin, 1977.
4. Vasudevan, Ravi, ‘Shifting Codes, Dissolving Identities: The Hindi Social Film of the 1950s as Popular Culture’ in Making Meaning in Indian Cinema ed. Ravi Vasudevan, Oxford University Press, 2000
5. Gopalan, Lalitha, ‘Avenging Women in Indian Cinema’ in Making Meaning in Indian Cinema ed. Ravi Vasudevan, Oxford University Press, 2000
6. Mazumdar, Ranjani, ‘Women and the City: Fashion, Desire and Dance in Popular Bombay Cinema’ in, Kapital& Karma: Recent Positions in Indian Art: Ed. Angelika Fitz, Gerald Matt, Michael Wörgötter. - Ostfildern-Ruit: Hatje Cantz Verlag, 2002
7. Ghosh, Shohini, ‘The Troubled Existence of Sex and Sexuality: Feminists Engage with Censorship’ in, Image Journeys: Audio Visual Media & Cultural Change in India. Ed. Christiane Brosius & Melissa Butcher, Sage Publications, Thousand Oaks, CA, U.S.A., 1999
8. Hood, John W., ‘ The Essential Mystery: The Major Filmmakers of Indian Art Cinema’, Orient Longman, 2000.

Masquerade and Metaphor

Half an hour to leave for my University, I wonder what to wear. But the choice is not simply of ‘what to wear’ but of ‘what to be’. Should I be ‘the-typical-JNU-kurta-and-jhola-type’ or ‘the-jeans-heels-bag-type’? This thought of ‘putting on’ stays with me; I know I will be perceived to be ‘what I put on’. Not only will I wear my identity; I will be stereotyped by what I wear. Does one actually wear one’s identity? Does wearing one’s identity become a valid proposition because one gets stereotyped by what one wears? By wearing, here, I obviously don’t mean just clothes but an attitude, a personality and everything that goes with that personality that is not naturally one’s own self but an add-on, a ‘put-on’, a make-over and a mask.
This stream of thought automatically leads us to the concept of ‘masquerade’. Arguably, there is a certain role-playing in everybody’s life, where one ‘acts’ according to what people’s idea/notion of that individual is: one ‘acts out’ fantasies of otherness. An attempt to disentangle the paradox of ‘self x stranger’ leads one to explore how does the self become a stranger, how does the stranger become the self, and how does the self become determined by a stranger?
Interestingly, it is this game of enactment, stereotyping and masquerade that is both used and questioned by the artist Pushpamala N. I am referring to her project jointly conceived with photographer; Clare Arni called “The Native Women of South India- Manners & Customs”. A range of stereotypical images of women from newspapers, popular-studio photographs, film-stills, and advertisements are recreated as photographic ‘artifice’. For what is interesting is the construction of these images: physically, with the help of elaborate sets, costume and make-up; and also conceptually, decoding the idea of stereotype again using the same tools. The mise-en-scene plays a crucial role in evoking the memory of an already familiar image, of suggesting its past, reminding us of its context. Therefore what the artist constructs is only a part of what is finally constructed and made relevant through the viewer’s recognition of the image as a type.
Pushpamala says “the final photograph will be a copy of a copy--from original to the printed image which is then photo-copied and used as a reference for the set painter--to the painted set which is then photographed, and then to the final form of the image”.
It is in the process of this construction of a type that the artist or her ‘self’ becomes a ‘stranger’. For by stepping into the world of the stereotype, Pushpamala subverts the stereotype. The development of the artist from her ‘self’ to the ‘type’ involves a masquerade, and opens up a range of issues about the drive in favour of mimesis.
In the 1929 article, ‘Womanliness as Masquerade’[1], Joan Riviere argues that womanliness “could be assumed and worn as a mask, both to hide the possession of masculinity and to avert the reprisals expected if she was found to possess it—much as a thief will turn out his pockets and ask to be searched to prove he has not the stolen goods.” She concludes by saying that there is no difference between “genuine womanliness” and “masquerade.” Judith Butler makes an interesting point by saying that gender is an act, a performance, a set of manipulated codes, costumes, rather than a core aspect of essential identity. In ‘Gender Trouble’[2], Butler says that gender is a performance. It is what one does at particular times rather than a universal identity of what the person is. And therefore if gender is socially constructed, in part through femininity-masquerade is an inescapable part of female lives and therefore here a stranger or the idea of what one has to be becomes the self.
One can’t help but compare Pushpamala’s work with that of Cindy Sherman who in her works; Untitled Film Stills explores a range of stereotypes. Sherman uses cosmetics, costumes, setting, gestures and expressions to bring out the clichés she wants to evoke.
Stereotypes are tags given to others because of this obsessive need to classify, typify and compartmentalize. And, creating then demystifying these stereotypes is exactly what Pushpamala’s work aspires to do. Through the various manifestations of masquerade she is not only ‘masking’ herself to become somebody else but also ‘unmasking’ in the deconstructionist sense of exposing and critiquing that stereotyped stranger. The question of how a stranger determines the self is precisely the underlying thought behind her ‘stereotypes’. The work takes a playful turn when the characters are displaced and are given a new setting as in The Popular series. For example, when the ‘Lady in Moonlight’ from a Ravi Varma painting transforms into a modern day woman wearing dark glasses, when the Toda woman playfully points a gun to a man or when the goddess Lakshmi becomes white-skinned. And this mix-and-match generates the situation for alternative identities to emerge.

[1] Riviere, Joan, ‘ Womanliness as a masquerade’, in Formations of Fantasy, ed. Victor Burgin et al. (London: Methuen, 1986) pp. 35-44
[2] Butler, Judith, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (New York: Routledge,1990)

Doosri Posting-FAQ

Hi, since this is technically my first update on my work I thought I'd start
with the basics, so here's an FAQ compiled on the basis of several
meetings/chats/interviews with the people I've met so far.
More soon!
Vasundhara Prakash

*Frequently Asked Questions*

*What are Junior Artistes? *

Junior Artistes are employed to create authenticity, an appearance of
reality in a film, television, advertisement scene. An atmosphere of say a
market place, or a pub scene is made believable by placing appropriately
dressed, junior artistes in the background.

*What is the difference between a Junior Artiste and a Senior Artiste? What
is a Character artiste then?*

A senior artiste is the same as a character artiste. A character artiste has
a role, not a main lead but gets lines to speak. A character artiste earns
from somewhere between Rs. 25,000- Rs.2 Lakhs and may take months to get

*Is 'extra' a derogatory term?

*Yes it is. Junior Artistes is an accepted term. It was a senior actor of
old times, Chandrashekhar who demanded a change in name from Extras to
Junior Artistes.

*Are Junior Artistes different from the dancers that dance behind the main
leads or the men who get beaten up by the Hero?
Yes, those are dancers and stunt men, very different than junior artistes.
Though incase the junior artistes are required to do a little dance or be
punched they are paid extra. They also have different associations of which
the dancers and stuntmen are members of.

*What is the Junior Artistes' Association?*

Junior Artistes' Association (Tala no. 3, Navakalvari, Municipal Market,
Jogeshwari East) is as the name suggests the association that supports/helps
card-holding (members) junior artistes find work. Though the membership card
very clearly says that there is "no guarantee of work". There are about 700
to 800 members, who elect a-11 people committee out of which there is one
President, General Secretary, Joint Secretary, Treasurer, 1st Field Officer.

*What is the Mahila Kalakar Sangh?*

The Mahila Kalakar Sangh is the female counterpart of the Association.
Earlier both the organizations were one, but it's been 35 years since the
female wing broke away from the Association and demands a separate
identity. Apparently the women junior artistes are not called junior
artistes but members of Mahila Kalakar Sangh. The Sangh also has a 11 member
committee elected by the 700 members. The committee comprises of a
President, a Vice President, a General Secretary, a Joint Secretary, a
Cashier/Treasurer and 6 others who share the responsibility of an field

* What is a field officer?*

A field officer is a committee member, who has many functions. He/She
informs members about the work that comes to the Association through the
producers. It is also the field officer's responsibility to make rounds to
the various film sets to make sure everything is going ok and that there are
no non-members.

*What is the membership fee?
Rs. 1 lakh for men, Rs. 60, 000 for women. Though the fee is negotiable as
per the applicant's requirement and need. The membership is not

*What happens when they retire? Is it voluntary? Or are people asked to step

Retiring junior artistes(men) get Rs. 80,000 and the card gets transferred
to an new member who pays Rs. 1 lakh for it, while the remaining Rs.20,000
is kept with the association. The retiring women junior artistes get around
Rs. 70,000 when a new member gets registered. Though these figures are not
constant, there is also a contributory Trust set up by actors like
Chandrashekhar, Dilip Kumar, Dimple Kapadia, which ensures that atleast 3
retiring members every year get Rs. 15000.

*What is a "Classification"?*

The members of the Junior Artistes' Association (men) are classified into
Class A, Class B. As Mr. Aziz Khan said, the Class A men are "high-fi
looking". This class comprising of both young and old are required usually
for hotel scenes, airport scenes. Class B men are used for playing
villagers, constables etc.

The equivalent classification in the Mahila Kalakar Sangh (women) is into
Super Class , Class A and Class B. Super Class members are required for
parties, wedding scenes, airports etc, Class A members for a regular crowd
in hospitals, market places etc, Class B members are those who can pass off
as villagers, beggars etc.

There is a classification that is supposed to happen every five years if not
every year. All the members are called in the office one by one and two
producers, two Federation officer-bearers; two Agents/Suppliers grade them
into different classes.

*Are these two organizations affiliated to a bigger organization?
Yes earlier the Mahila Kalakar Sangh was affiliated to the Indian Motion
Pictures' Producers' Association but now both the Sangh and the Junior
Artistes' Association is affiliation to the mother organization the
Federation of Western India Cine Employees. The Federation holds 3-monthly
if not monthly meetings to discuss issues of the 21 crafts' associations
that are affiliated to the Federation.

*How much are they paid? How long is a shift?*

There is Rs. 50-70 difference in pay scale of the Classes.

Decent Class male junior artistes are paid Rs. 570 per shift for a serial
and Rs. 615 per shift for a film. Super Class members of Mahila Kalakar
Sangh are paid Rs. 650 per shift for a serial and Rs. 690 for a film.
Inclusive of food allowance (Rs. 38) and travel allowance ( Rs.39).

*One shift is of 8 hours:*

7a.m.- 2p.m- morning shift

9a.m.- 6p.m- normal shift

9a.m.- 9 p.m- 1 ½ shift

*There are also:*
7p.m.- 2a.m.( Rs.60 Taxi allowance)

9p.m. – 5 a.m. (No Taxi allowance)

*Extra ½ shift money :*

If the shot requires getting wet in the rain

Playing with colour/gulal ( Holi colour)


Fight ( like a punch or kick)

Riding a bike

*Extra 1shift money:*

Duplicate/ Stand-in

Dialogue (of 5 lines)

They also get Rs.30 as dry cleaning allowance for formal clothes.

*Who pays them?*

After pack-up it is the supplier who pays the junior artistes. They are
always paid in cash. And it is later that the supplier gets money from the
producer with his commission.

*Do agents also have an association?*

Yes they do. Their association is called Cine Agents Combine which is also
affiliated to the Federation of Western India Cine Employees.

*What is "completing a board"?
A producer or a production manager contacts the supplier/cine agent with
their requirement of number and type (the kind of crowd required, for what
kind of a scene). The supplier either contacts the artistes directly or the
Association with the requirement. Once he (always!) he is able to get his
requirement "the board is completed".

*Do all junior artistes work full-time?*

Not necessarily, some do some don't. You would find regular college kids
being card-holding junior artistes, or some having a side-business in
finance while there are many who earn a living from working as a junior

*What are "models"?*

Models are not men and women that walk on the ramps but non-members, better
looking, usually English-speaking, men and women that work as crowds. They
work for 12 hours and are paid Rs.1000. They are usually hated by members
because they take away work from the members. Though there notices in large
fonts saying "non-members not allowed in the studios" models are still
getting work.

*Why do they exist if they are not allowed to work?*

It is said that the ratio of junior artistes to models is 10:4. It is
because the stars and producers demand for models, they get work. The
supplier needs to take a permission from the Junior Artistes' Association
and Mahila Kalakar Sangh before completing the board with models. Also,
models are usually young college kids who are getting mere pocket money for
a 12 hour-sitting around-and-6-second-shoot. When completing a board models
turn out to be cheaper because they are paid less and don't create a fuss
about it.

*Are the junior artistes same in television as in films?*

Yes, they also work in television soaps, advertisements, info-mercials and
as TV live show audience. About 100 junior artistes get their daily wages by
working in television soaps. (Thanks to Ekta Kapoor).

*How many come through acting schools to become Junior Artistes?*

There are a few who get desperate to start work instantly and get registered
into the Association.

*Why do people want to be junior artistes? What sort of people decide they
want to be extras?*

There are a few think becoming a junior artiste is an entry into the
industry and hope to get noticed by some producer. But this rarely happens,
so even if they come with a dream to be famous, it becomes a means to earn a
decent living.

*What is a "compromise"?*

A compromise is accepting to go out say for drinks with the

*What qualities would make a good junior artiste? *

Good height, good built, patience, flexibility, eagerness to work, decent
wardrobe and make-up, punctuality, resilience to bounce back even after
being yelled at, building good relationship with the suppliers, the right

*Who tells them what is to be done on the sets?
It is the assistant director who tells either the assistant of the supplier
or the junior artistes directly what is to be done in a shot.

*Are they provided costumes? What about make-up?*

They are provided only special costumes for constables, nurses, waiters etc.
They are required to get their own otherwise. They do their own make-up and

*What is a "passing"?
A passing is when a junior artiste is supposed walk across the frame in a

*What do they do while waiting for their shot on the sets? *

Eat, sleep, chat, gossip, listen to music, and talk on the phone. In the old
times especially on outdoor shoots playing cards used to be a favourite


*Trivia:* According to the U.S. Labor Statistics, the average wage for a
movie extra tends to be approximately $13 per hour, depending on the medium
(it is higher for movies then for other mediums) and go as high as $36 per
hour if you have the experience, union membership and are on a big-budget
feature film roster.

An entry-level extra based in the Los Angeles area at the $31,000 to $38,000
range annually, assuming steady work.

*Special Thanks

*Chunky, Uttam, Mr. Bikram K. Singh, Anurag Kashyap, Deva, Babu, Darya, Mr.
Aziz Khan, Shamil Aunty, Kitty, Abu, Apu, Norma Aunty, Rohan Sippy, Shashi
from IMPAA, Jyoti Jha, Alok Sinha, Shama Aunty, Nirmala Aunty, Amritraj
Kapoor, Asha K.Chandra , Vinay, Peter Fernandes, Zuleikha ji,

Pehli Posting

15 Seconds of Fame!

Lives of Bollywood Extras: Junior Artistes in Popular Hindi films

My project aims to explore the world of extras, to uncover their space in
films. Though this goes against the whole concept of an extra, a faceless,
nameless entity that merely fills the celluloid space without imposing its
identity, it would be interesting to explore how some have unknowingly
broken the boundaries of being restricted to the non-entity status of an
extra and through their quantity as well as quality of work taken that leap
into the world of recognition though still far away from fame. I would like
to examine the "faceless" world of the extras by focusing on a number of
themes. How does gender inflect the extras' relations to the film industry?
How are women treated differently from men? How different are their
expectations and responsibilities and how that affects the choices they
make? My concern is also issues such as prejudices and biases against the
extras, their treatment on the sets. There are also class and linguistic
hierarchies at work – the stars are middle and upper class and English
speaking while the extras are lower middle class and non-anglicized. We have
very little understanding of how these factors play into the experiences of
the extras on the set.

I would like to be able to combine historical and biographical study with
ethnography and textual analysis of a select body of films and will study
junior artistes as "subaltern" stars that provide a counter narrative to the
dominant figurations in Indian Cinema.

I would appreciate any comments, suggestions, contacts or references that
could help my work.

Vasundhara Prakash

Can I borrow your term 'Reflected Appraisal'?

Reflected Appraisal is the perception of how others perceive us and evaluate us. This theory suggests that we see ourselves as others see us, or as we think they do. It is perceived reactions. The operative word here is "perceived" because research has demonstrated that a person's interpretation of others' opinion is conditioned by self analysis and may not necessarily be accurate. The research also suggests that the extent, to which this perception of external appraisal shapes our judgment of ourselves, depends on the importance to us of the people providing it. Particularly influential are the reactions of "significant others," people whose opinions make a difference to us.


January 23rd, St. Carmel School, Bandra, Mumbai. This was the first time I was going to meet junior artistes shooting for the film, ‘Marathon’. The first person I met was Kitty, an English-speaking, well-dressed, Catholic girl in her early 20s. After having struggled to explain what a fellowship meant, in the course of proving that I wasn’t a journalist, Kitty told me how they all hated journalists. “Many of the people have families in villages, but we live with our families here who read the kind of stories that journalists write about us, that spoils our reputations.”

They fear being misrepresented. XYZ told me about an article that had been written about dance bar girls which featured photographs of junior artistes. They felt cheated, betrayed and completely misrepresented.

From day one when a person comes to either the Junior Artistes’ Association/Mahila Kalakar Sangh office s/he is judged on the basis of looks and age ie; their exterior selves and classified into grades.

The Junior Artistes Association (men’s wing) has the following grades:

Grade A: This class comprising of both young and old are required usually for hotel scenes, airport scenes.
Grade B: men are used for playing villagers, constables etc.

The Mahila Kalakar Sangh (women’s wing) has the following grades:

Super Class: Class members are required for parties, wedding scenes, airports etc,
Grade A: members for a regular crowd in hospitals, market places etc,
Grade B: members are those who can pass off as villagers, beggars etc.

Members are to be classified at least every five years if not annually. All the members are called in the office one by one and two producers, two Federation officer-bearers; two cine agents/suppliers classify them into different grades.

When one does become a member a lot depends on your relationship/rapport with the Junior Artiste supplier/Cine Agent. If you’re in his (almost always) good books, you are bound to get more work. Therefore a supplier’s opinion about you gets you all the work.

So in a junior artistes’ life others’ opinions, judgments, classification, appearance, grading, reputation are crucial.

While a group of psychology students engage in finding answers to “Where do judgments come from? Are they based on human instincts or are they influenced by outside variables? If they are influenced, what is most likely to have an impact on judgments and what had the strongest impact? What are the patterns of judgment of others based on their own gender and other personal traits? Do people think they have the right to judge others more in one field if they believe themselves to be superior in that field?” I will share with you what the “significant others” really think about junior artistes. The following is based on meetings, interviews, chats, arguments and counter arguments with various people from the Hindi film industry on their experiences, treatments, grouses, perceptions and opinions of Junior Artistes.

“The irony of being recognized”
Anurag Kashyap is one of those directors who casts junior artistes in major roles. Junior artiste and Assistant Supplier, Deva was cast as a police official in Black Friday. Anurag refuses to work with the top classes of the Association members because eventually it is the same people who are sent for work. And a recognizable junior artiste makes a film look unreal and unauthentic. There are many who get stuck in this sort of a phase when they are relatively recognized but precisely because of their recognition nobody wants to give them work.
Anurag feels a huge difference in the way junior artistes are treated in India and in the treatment abroad. “Gai bhains ki tarah haankte hain” He adds that it is more difficult for women because they are assumed to be prostitutes. One often hears of such incidents concerning female junior artistes and production people, even big time stars at times. He adds that a lot of female junior artistes even get opt for C-grade films.
Anurag narrating his own experience of working as an extra in ad films and a feature called Chirantan for pocket money says that there are many people who eventually become members of the Association because it is difficult to go back to your homes with the humiliation of not being able to make it.
Anurag Kashyap
Writer: Love Story 2050 (2006) (announced) (dialogue), Fool and Final (2006) (pre-production) (dialogue), Guru (2006) (filming) (dialogue), Water (2005) (Hindi dialogue and script consultant), Main Aisa Hi Hoon (2005) (dialogue), Yuva (2004) (dialogue), Black Friday (2004) (screenplay), Paisa Vasool (2004), Paanch(2003), Nayak: The Real Hero(2001) (dialogue), Jung (2000), Shool (1999) (dialogue), Kaun (1999), Satya (1998), Kabhie Kabhie (1997) (TV series)
Director: Gulal (under-production) Black Friday (2004), Paanch (2003)
Actor: The Maharaja’s Daughter (1994) (mini TV series) as Lt. Sayed, Chirantan()

“Lower Depths”
Debu calls the junior artistes the underbelly of the Hindi film industry, drawing a parallel to Maxim Gorky’s Lower Depths. Because of their backgrounds, many being slum-dwellers, junior artistes are looked down upon. He says that it’s not about the profession that much as is it about the class they come from- exploitation of this class is rampant, anywhere and everywhere. One hears of female junior artistes being taken advantage of, especially on outdoor shoots, some women are specially brought for this. When I ask him if it is forced, he says money is an indirect force.
Other people on the sets have notions about junior artistes that they dirty the toilets, make a mess of everything. Debu believes that an orientation of junior artistes as well as about them is extremely necessary for promoting professionalism in the industry.
Bombay film industry is all about the money, there is no dignity of either art or the artistes. “Jo sabse zyada paisa leta hai, woh Boss hai, Junior Artiste sabse kam paisa leta hai, to woh naukar hai”. There are many directors who don’t even bother to find out the actor’s name. And Debu should know since he has himself risen from the ranks. “Yahan Art nahi hai, yahan pet hai”
Debuyandu Bhattacharya
NSD Graduate, Actor: The Rising (2005) as Krupashankar Singh, Black Friday(2004) as Yeda Yakub, Ab Tak Chhappan(2004) as Zameer’s Gang member, Aetbaar(2004), Maqbool(2003) as Chinna’s killer, Monsoon Wedding(2001), Divya Drishti(2001) as Hawaldaar

“I felt humilated….”
Richa was auditioned and signed for the original Munnabhai MBBS, when Shah Rukh Khan was supposed to play the main lead and the setting was supposed to be of a chawl (dhobi ghaat later). Ultimately her role was reduced to that of a Junior Artiste. She started being treated like one on the sets. She confessed to have felt extremely humiliated. Soon she walked out of the film.
Richa also told me that to know more about their lives it would be interesting to talk her TV actor friend’s driver, because the junior artiste interact mostly with drivers.
In the Indo-french film Hawa Aane De, Richa plays a bar dancer. She wonders why on one hand she was very proud to get the opportunity to portray a different kind of role, the junior artiste in the background would hide their faces.
Richa Bhattacharya
NSD Graduate, Actor: TV serials, Dhoop, Hawa Aane De, The Rising

“Gender Stereotypes and expectations”
There is a stereotype about the women junior artistes. They are expected to “compromise”. Since everything eventually comes down your rapport with the hand that feeds you, in the case of a supplier, he always tries to please the production by offering women to the assistant directors and production managers.
Apu recalls instances on the sets when women were thrown at him, so that the supplier could get a better cut or the Mahila Kalakar herself would be able to stand in the centre, near the main leads.
Apartiem Khare
Associate Director, Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, Devdas, Black

“The problem is with us”
Devang says that we can’t blame the junior artistes who are anyway extremely underpaid and ill-treated, for not being involved and responsible on the sets. Instead he takes the blame saying that there is a need for better planning and organization at the higher level. He suggests that the supplier should be involved in the pre-production stage and then it should be the responsibility of the supplier to make sure that the environment/ambience is created appropriately by the junior artistes as per the requirement. He proposes an orientation of the junior artistes about their work.
Devang Desai
Assistant Director: Bhoot, White Noise, Kaal, Salaam-e-Ishq(under production)

“Many experienced veterans”
Talking from experience Rakesh thinks that if one treats junior artistes as humans, they are fine. Unfortunately they are not usually treated as human beings. On the sets mostly their identity is from the colour of their clothes, “Oye! Red shirt!”, “Green pant, tum idhar se idhar passing dega!”
Rakesh also narrates incidents when some of the veteran junior artistes have displayed a far more informed technical knowledge of camera angles, lenses and frames than the technicians themselves.
Rakesh Sain,
Assitant Director,

“Tragic Comedy”
Most junior artistes come to the industry to become stars but unfortunately nobody tells them that they can’t, ultimately it’s a gradual acceptance. According to Vikramaditya junior artistes are an extremely important part of the film but sadly they don’t get the respect in return. They are treated badly, yelled at, many a times not provided with basic facilities such as toilets.
The junior artiste group is an extremely close-knit group, actually the only group that doesn’t interact with anybody else on the sets. Vikramaditya points out that the older women especially can be quite grumpy and uninvolved in their work probably because they are the most affected by trend of non members being roped in for their work.
When asked if he thought women were treated any differently he said “they’re all one”. Though what interests him about junior artistes is the relationship they have with the suppliers; suggesting obvious sexual undercurrents.
Vikramaditya’s favourite junior artiste moment was when he shot the rock song in Paanch. The song was shot in very long takes and therefore the crowd (junior artistes) got quite involved and started reacting to the performance (by actor KayKay) and the song like they were actually in a rock concert. “It looked right, it felt right”. He thinks the more involved they are, the better they work.
He considers junior artistes to be both insiders in terms of their importance and outsiders in terms of their treatment and involvement.
As we step out of the coffee shop, Vikramaditya says he always wonders why ‘extras’ is a derogatory term just for Indians who are doing “extra” work while everywhere else in the world it is an accepted term?
Vikramaditya Motwane
Executive Assistant: Deepa Mehta, Water (2005), Director, songs and Sound Designer: Paanch (2003), Associate Director and Sound Designer: Devdas (2002/I)

“I don’t find anything to romanticize about”
Prawaal thinks that there is nothing to romanticize about junior artistes, they are well-paid and well-treated. Everybody is here to do their job; a film set is not a family, it’s not supposed to be. “You do your work, you get paid, and you go home.” According to Prawaal junior artistes are not supposed to be creatively involved in the film, they are merely moving props but are just as much a part of the film as anybody else is.
A director/writer/actor is committed to or belongs to a film at least till the film is released but a junior artiste has no-sense of belonging to any film that is because they work in different films every shift, it would be ridiculous to expect them to be involved.
Prawaal Raman
Director, Zabardast (underproduction), Darna Zaroori Hai(2006), Loot (Stuck/On Hold)
Gayab, Darna Mana Hai (also the story writer)

“Baithe Hain Rahguzar Pe Hum, Koi Hume Uthaye Kyon?”
It is probably because of the fact that Imtiaz is so fond of junior artistes that he had so much to say about them. As a director, he compares junior artistes to props, they are numbers that one uses to dress a frame. Their treatment as mere objects that can be quantified causes further angst to their misery of shattered dreams. He says one has to be careful when it comes to junior artistes, you have to understand why they are the most seemingly desentisized people in the industry. The primary cause of their bitterness is probably because almost all junior artistes have higher aspirations which with time get crushed. The journey to become a hero and the feeling of self gets trampled along the way. Imtiaz believes that they are always wearing their armours, ready for combat, almost fortifying themselves against any possibility of being hurt. You can’t expect them to enthusiastically participate in your collective dream of the film because for them their biggest dreams have already been shattered. They put their guards down only when you make them trust you that you acknowledge the fact that they human beings too. Little things like who gets a chair, how many times does one can get chai and who can talk to the director are the kind of things junior artistes are sensitive about. He points out that interestingly the different grades determine their treatment and the demands they can make. Imtiaz argues that one can understand that the main actors are important but that doesn’t give anybody the authority to defile anybody’s sensitivity. Though it is difficult to be friends with junior artistes especially girls because they always think one expects something in return.
As far as the girls are concerned, he hasn’t had any direct experience but he has reasons to believe that there are many “informal prostitutes”. He explains that he understands why a woman junior artiste would be attracted to prostitution that is because she shares the misfortune that a film heroine has. Her film career span is very short and at the time when she is at the prime of her look, she tries to make the most of it. They have to be content with the fact that as the years go by the money be less. One often hears of women junior artistes being full-fledged prostitutes and ‘kepts’.
Then Imtiaz fondly remembers Saira, a junior artiste who turned out be a talented actress. After having given her a character in the TV serial, Imtihaan, he would encourage her to take the leap and try to become an actress. Since a board consists of only numbers of the requirement, you cannot ask for a specific junior artiste. “When I would insist on her the word got around that I wanted to sleep with her.” When Imtiaz met her after a few years, he realized that Saira was already on her journey down.
Imtiaz realizes that there is a certain comfort in not having to go from one director to another with your photographs and resume to be an actor but being a junior artiste. He says that it is almost like prostitutes where there are no pretensions; their worth is on their faces (different grades). “Main 600 wali hoon!” “Main 400 wala hoon!” “Jo hain yehi hai” He quotes Ghalib saying, “I am already at the lowest point, who is going to put me down further”
Imtiaz Ali
Director and Editor, Television for 7yrs, Socha Na Tha (2005)
Actor, Black Friday as Yakub Menon

“The obsession with the stars: a vicious circle”
Earlier there used to be three kinds of junior artistes:
1. In the crowd, 2. near the Hero/Heroine 3. saying dialogues. Now one usually finds crowd scenes being given to Association members while the better looking models are placed near the main leads and the talking roles are given to either struggling actors. One also finds a trend of special appearances by stars becoming a favourite.
It is an extremely sad story that film journalism is completely centred around the stars because that is what the masses are interested in while the other aspects of cinema are of academic interest only. Popular writing comprises of rumours, gossip and trivia about the stars.
~Legendary gossip columnist Liz Smith of the New York Post, author of Dishing, argues that gossip builds fame and legends: "I always say to people when they object to the things that are written about them, 'Accept it as part of your myth.'"~
According to Ajayji every junior artiste comes to Bombay to become a star. Though many people from Bombay who become members are slum-dwellers and for them this is a job opportunity that pays like any other B-grade C-grade job. There is no aspiration or a higher goal for stardom.
Ajay Brahmatmaj
Film journalist, Dainik Jagran

“Models do exist”
Navdeep after having admitted that he knew very little about junior artistes agrees that especially in ad films because of their glossy and glamorous look they usually require better looking junior artistes (Super Class and Grade A) and models. It is not a social judgment but just a requirement.
AD filmmaker, Red Ice

“The Model Game”
Jordyn dedicates a chapter on models in his book, Backside Bollywood. “This chapter details an informal system of how in-front-of-the-camera talent operates, displaying the internal dynamics of a huge chunk of the film world which receives scant attention.” He rejects the popular belief that almost all junior artistes come to become stars, his observation is that serious and able aspirants choose the model route instead. Going through model coordinators models get better work, better treatment, better exposure and also better money.
Jordyn Steig
Author, Backside of Bollywood: Hindi Films Up Close and Personal In Mumbai (unpublished)
Actor, Mitti, Page 3

“Most helpful….”
Shubhankar narrates various incidents when the junior artistes have stood out to be the most helpful and giving people in the industry. During a Sanjay Leela Bhansali film shoot, the producer Bharat Shah had been jailed, Bhansali informed everybody that he would not be able to pay everybody right away. Inspite of the fact that junior artistes are paid daily, they were the first ones to come forward to cooperate with Bhansali, and worked for months without money.
According to Shubhankar they’re an extremely close-knit community and he thinks them to be complete insiders of the industry.
Assitant Director, Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, Haasil, Devdas

“Parallel narrative”
In Nikhil’s 8-year experience as an assistant, while the director concentrated on the foreground with the main leads, he enjoyed constructing his own stories in the background. He believes that the foreground and the background should blend smoothly without either of them sticking out as a sore thumb. He doesn’t believe in unimaginative passings from one side of the frame to the other like zombies. He says he always encourages his assistants to develop corresponding stories in the background. A good example of this is the scene from Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, where the actress Neelam, playing a TV host, asks the crowd for love messages to be aired live on television. This is right before Kajol’s character Anjali finds out that the little girl, Anjali in the summer camp is her college friend’s (Shah Rukh Khan’s character) daughter. Interestingly, it is Nikhil Advani(assistant in KKHH) who comes out of the crowd and gives a nasty message to his wife saying he’s dumping her because he has found somebody else.
Another thing that he encourages his assistants to do is to find out the names of the junior artistes. In long schedules he would always make it a point to either find out their names or give them names lovingly. He realized that by doing so the junior artistes felt as if they were part of the film not just notionally but substantially.
Unfortunately junior artistes are usually treated like cattle in this industry. Comparing them to extras abroad, Nikhil jokingly says that if they were to be treated the way the junior artistes are treated here, they would shut us down immediately. He says that the disparity is ofcourse because of the difference between a developed country and a developing country. He adds that though there is no excuse for it, most of the production is treated like that.
Finally Nikhil shares his major grouse against the Junior Artiste Association. He argues that for a cinematographer to get work, s/he needs a degree from a recognized institute say the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), work under an established director of photography, who writes a recommendation and it is only then that s/he can become a member of their Association. The same goes for dancers, make-up artists, set designers etc. “So how is it that a junior artiste is not expected to act? How is that everybody behind the camera is supposed to have a certain skill but the people who are going to be seen on camera require no qualifications?” Besides, becoming a member of the junior artiste Association is a mere fulfillment of the Bombay dream of becoming a star. Therefore there are 800 members out of which only a small percentage know how to act.
He agrees with his assistant, Devang’s suggestion that there should be an orientation for the junior artistes that would equip them to understand the basics of the work better.
Nikhil Advani
Director, Kal Ho Na Ho, Salaam-e-Ishq(under-production)
Assistant Director, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, Mohabbatein Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham

“Those who get desperate, join the Junior Artistes Association”
Interestingly, Asha K. Chandra aspired to become a star herself but now she runs an acting school that trains aspirants in film acting, dance and fighting. Ashaji tells me that there are people who after having struggled for sometime give up and become members of the Junior Artistes Association as a way to sustain themselves.
Asha Chandra
FTII Graduate, runs a film acting school in Juhu, features in Lalit Vachani’s Star Maker

“Bas Ek Parivar Jaise Hain”
Deva insists that nobody becomes a junior artiste in order get a break into acting. Earlier only Muslim girls used to join this line but gradually people realized that it is a decent way to earn a living, now there girls and boys from all kinds of backgrounds and families that come.
According to Deva, the struggling actors and even the assistant directors should become members and work for atleast six months, he believes the kind of exposure and access one get to the industry and the people would be useful for them. For him, it is a perfect platform for learning and experience.
Coming back to the question of how many junior artistes think this line to be an entry into the industry, he insists that our junior artistes have no such ambitions. Many times junior artistes don’t want to be in the centre, be seen or given lines that is because once a junior artiste is seen in a scene, s/he will not get more work in that production. How things work here is that a particular supplier has his set of junior artistes that he sends to X,Y,Z production. If a film is being shot with junior artistes for 100 days, a junior artiste normally is used for various scenes say, railway station, market place, airport etc, so consistent work for 100 days is assured. But once a junior artiste gets a line say as a ticket collector, he is seen and therefore cannot be used again.
When I tell Deva that one thing that everybody says about junior artistes is that they have an extremely strong Association, he immediately corrects me saying that is us who are strong and always looking out for each other, the Association does its work in pulling out non-members from film sets.
Junior Artiste and Assistant Supplier, Guddu Suri, Suri & Co.
Actor, Police official in Black Friday

“Better facilities”
It was in the office of the Federation of Western Indian Cine Employees that I met Ms. Nones. She had been called by Mr. Ranjan, the Secretary of the Federation to meet me. Thinking that I am a journalist (as usual!) they’d already prepared a list of problems that needed media attention. Unfortunately only 10% of the members and that too of only the Super Class get consistent work, others get only 5-10 days work in a month. Another trouble they face is lack of basic facilities like toilets and changing rooms. Having said that, Delphin says that there are both people who are suffering because of lack of work as well as people who are quite well-off. The media tends to always focus on their plight, completely ignoring people who are earning a decent living out of this profession. She gives me a list of old people who did substantial work as junior artistes in their time and supported their families.
Delphin Nones
Vice-President, Mahila Kalakar Sangh

“Roz Kuan Khodna, Roz Paani Peena”
Aziz Khan says it is not an easy life. What usually happens is that the higher grades are connected with the suppliers on a daily basis through mobile phones, but the rest of the grade members have to go to the Association office everyday and wait for that one phone call from the production that will get them work that day. Therefore, it’s an everyday struggle.
Aziz Khan
Ex- Junior Artiste Association council member