Camera! Sound clap! Action!
Sambu remembered having heard these three words every single hour of every single day of his life. Sambu’s family for generations, had lived out their lives in the temple town of Madurai. Sambu remembered when he was a little kid, his grandfather would reminisce fondly of his family’s glorious past,
‘Your great grandfathers would tailor the clothes for the Royal family themselves… Do you know what an honor that was!’
Sambu would pull down the curtains, tie them around his neck and gloat around the neighborhood as if he were the king himself. What he failed to realize was the fact that every house in the entire town had been under the Royal patronage once.
‘The Araca Dressmakers’ they called themselves when they moved to Chennai to work with a production house. The house in Chennai was much smaller than the one that they had lived in before. There were two rooms for six people. The walls on any day would be stacked with mountains of uncut cloth; the floor painted with spillover cutouts; the noise of the sewing machine spinning, humming in every corner of the house, drowned the cries of little Sambu.
Sambu got his big break as an artist when he auditioned with hundred other kids for the role of Thailava’s son in his next blockbuster. Sambu’s father who on other days would spend his time away from the sewing machine as judiciously as a banker spending money, spend two whole days training his son. Three thousand, two hundred, fifty-seven times and still Sambu couldn’t get the right delivery.
Just these two words made all the difference that Sambu’s father had hoped for. All that suppressed anger, in a flash every single slap, every single taunt, every single time he was shunned away, every single time he was ignored, every single drop of tear he had shed, it all came running back to him. It was Sambu’s sheer hatred for his father that made him the actor that he was. Anger, sadness, disgust, bravery and fear– all these came naturally to him, he had lived through them all. It was the love, compassion, peace and laughter- that he struggled with.
He first experienced wonder when he saw Thailava give out the first scene in one shot. Like a moth drawn to the fire, he was smitten- this was the father that he had always wanted. A hero- He could silence a thousand cries with a wave of his hand. Like a doe-eyed little cat he started following him everywhere. He gulped down the gut wrenching fear and squeezed together his trembling limbs during their first scene together. He could barely fumble out the few lines that were running back and forth in his mind like a record player stuck on a wheel.
“Who is this kid! Someone come and teach him his lines! I don’t have time for all this!” and with that the director escorted Thailava into the RV till Sambu had perfected his lines.
A broken heart- his first lesson in the industry.
The film was destined to be a super-hit. Although shadowed under the aura of the great actor, there were a few keen eyes that spotted Sambu hiding behind the veil. The offers started pouring in. If there was one child-artist to look out for in the industry, it was Sambu. Be it comic relief, be it the portrayal of a young protagonist, be it the role of an angry rebel kid, be it the hero’s sidekick, everyone demanded for Sambu. As dates got busier, Sambu had to quit school. It didn’t really matter as long as he was making enough money to feed his family.
The Araca dressmakers met its fateful end after that. Grandfather died, embittered uncle left their company, mother moved back to Madurai with the sister. The only person to benefit from Sambu’s success was his father who had now started masquerading as his manager- not that he did that job any well; drunken outbursts, mixed up dates, no professional candor, all these started affecting Sambu’s reputation. But Sambu could never build up the courage to fire his own father.
There was not even a semblance of guilt that Sambu felt when he found his father lying on the floor choking on his own vomit. There was a hesitation in his voice when he called for help the next morning. With no family, no friends, no earthly bonds to hold him back, he was scared of embracing the new found freedom.
All Sambu had left with him after his father were his dreams. A couple of bad investments, resentful associations and crippling addiction, Sambu’s father had burned away all his life’s worth of earnings. There was still time, he thought. He could get back in the game with whatever role he could grab, restore back his reputation, maybe even get a new manager. But it had been a while since Sambu had seen a mirror. He was no longer the cute kid nor the angry preteen that the roles demanded of. He had grown into a young, frail man. The competition he had to enter was a whole other realm. There were thousands, nay, millions, trying to climb the same wall as him. There was no shortage of talent in this city.
Several failed auditions later he would score a two-minute role in a small television opera. Waiting lines, auditions, portfolios, mug shots, it all started taking a toll on him. He wasn’t getting any younger by the day. The sleepless nights, the hunger pangs of the starved mornings, the anxiety, the stress, it had all started showing on his face. His talent had no more value left in the city. He wanted to leave it all and go back but he didn’t know which direction to head into.
It was a cold winter night. Sambu was sleeping on the same street that he had grown up on. He felt safe sleeping under the shutters that once belonged to the Araca Dressmakers. The holes in the blanket could barely cover up the spirit that was trying to escape from his body. With shattered hope, in dire poverty, with hunger and sadness, he could no more see the light, all he could do is to wait for the sweet embrace of death.
The impaling sound of the firecrackers woke him up, the man distributing the blankets to the poor seemed familiar. He couldn’t help but breakdown into tears when the production assistant from one of his earlier movies recognized him in his disgraced state. The production assistant helped him find work as a spot boy on a film he was working on. For Sambu, it felt like he was living out in something worse than hell to see someone else realize his dreams while he followed him around with an umbrella. The pain got easier with time as Sambu started embracing his reality. He was not destined to be the star, the actor whose laurels would be written down in history, the fame that he had peaked on was now far out of his reach.
Sambu started paying more attention to the reality around him once he stopped living in his dreams. He started engaging with the people around him. A few films later, he moved up from the spot boy to the mike guy. The more he listened to his recordings, the faster he started picking up on the noises in the background, the cues led him on to their source. He started recording everything and anything that reached his ear. He found a new calling in work as a Foley. The more he worked with sound engineers, the more his ears started tuning to the acute sounds around him. Over time he started learning the meaning behind the buttons on the big console.
He sat in an air-conditioned office now with big black headphones on. He loved the noise-cancelling feature, absolute silence, all the white noise from the world blocked out, when he closed his eyes he could almost plug out his thoughts. It was his first assignment as a sound editor.
He fade out the lights and started the first clip of the video reel – ‘Camera! Sound clap! Action…’
You need to login in order to vote