28 December 2012

What is the purpose of my existence? (Redux)

Very few of us are in a position to be able to choose careers. Some people have them stuffed down their throats. Others do not get the opportunities – the education and the parental support – to enable them to do what they want. But some people are blessed to have been born to parents who make sure their children want for nothing. Even among these people there are three types – those who use the opportunities given to them to fulfil their personal desires; those that use the opportunities to acquire abilities that they consider belonging to humanity at large; and those who are a mix of both.

What is the use of being an actor?

Performing gives me some amount of pleasure, yes. I like the adulation that comes with it. But at the end of the day, the product an actor creates is just like any other product. Entertainment is consumed. Just like soap. Or food.

That consumption adds to utility or satisfaction is a well-known fact, for the most part. You eat food when you feel hungry and it makes you feel better. You watch a good movie when you want to be entertained, and when you do, it makes you feel better. But consumption for the sake of consumption only adds to utility that much. There isn’t a lasting impact. There isn’t a lasting increase in utility.

Now, there are other things that make people better off permanently. For instance, better institutions, laws or infrastructure. These things raise standards of living. Anything that contributes towards changes in systems for the better is a brilliant thing, because those new systems let people live better lives. At the very core of it, better systems give more people the opportunities to lead fulfilling lives.

And what things contribute to better systems? They could be anything. Meaningful debate in parliament about the merits or demerits of changing a particular piece of legislation could lead to a better environment for doing business. Research on policy issues that might help clarify certain in such debates might enable meaningful debate in parliament. The media’s highlighting of certain social ills could help speed up the process of change, or indeed convince the population that there is a need for change. Movies can perform the same function.

I know the idea of movies being agents of change is fast losing currency in India. Audiences don’t like movies to be ‘preachy’ anymore. But movies still preach, and sometimes quite successfully. Take Dil Chahata Hai talking about having a relationship with a widow, Rang De Basanti making patriotism cool again, Tare Zameen Par tackling learning problems, etc. It is just a matter of degree I believe. Sometimes, you don’t even need to preach or take sides; you only need to highlight issues. A film like Guru highlighted both sides of doing business in this country – restrictive policies on one hand, and the scope for being underhanded on the other.

I digress. What is the use of being an actor?

To me, just being an actor in and of itself is not enough. Then, even if I achieve the utmost success an actor can achieve, I will have done nothing more than momentarily make people happy every time they see my work. Call me greedy, but I want to make more of a difference. If I become a successful actor – and I know that is a big ‘if’ – I would want my work to have resulted in more lasting change that goes beyond the realm of just entertainment.

There are three types of successful actors – those who use the fame and success given to them to fulfill their personal desires; those that consider their fame and success as belonging to humanity at large; and those who are a mix of both. I am none of these three, because I am not a successful actor. But if I do become successful, I am sure I want to be a lot more like the second type than the first.

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