It's rare for an actor to sign his first film within eight days of landing in Mumbai. The talented Mohd Zeeshan Ayyub was lucky enough to land a two-scene part in 2011's No One Killed Jessica. For those who can't place him, he played Manish Bhardwaj, a character modelled on convicted murderer Manu Sharma. Over the next eight years, his roles got progressively meatier. We've seen him play significant roles in films like Shahid (2012), Raanjhanaa (2013), Tanu Weds Manu Returns (2015), Tubelight (2017) and Raees (2017).
We're used to seeing him as the hero's best friend or the antagonist, but this week Zeeshan will headline director Dakxin Chhara's Sameer. In the film, Zeeshan plays an engineering student whose life is turned out after he's arrested for two bomb-blasts. Here, Zeeshan answers some of the most frequently asked questions by aspiring actors who come to city. Though he's trained at the National School of Drama, his advice to those who can't afford a formal education in acting is – stop texting and start communicating!
If you don't have access to a film school, what it the best way for an actor to learn? Are there books you should read or films one should watch?
Don't read books related to acting. All of those books have been written after the actor has had a lot of experience and most are for acting for the stage rather than the camera. There are very few books on acting in films such as An Actor Prepares by Stanislavski which is about an actor who goes to his acting classes everyday.
When we read something, one starts thinking that certain things have to happen in a certain way. That's a mistake. Reading literature is very important. You also have to observe the people around you. And most importantly, aspiring actors should stop texting! People text so much that they don't understand voice modulation. Then on camera people stress on any syllable without realising what it will mean. Communication is not only about saying the words, the way they're said also makes a difference.
Watching films is very important and that includes all kinds of films. I used to watch Om Puri and Balraj Sahni's work and try to understand the method and process behind the scene rather that thinking that doing the same thing will make my work look good. Many a times, the perception after watching world cinema is that we should also do subtle acting but in the process of making it subtle, it's becoming flat in front of the camera.
What are the other classes one should take – does it help to enrol into dancing classes, martial arts, a gym, etc?
All kind of preparation is good, be it gym or dance lessons, but the intention behind those classes should be the correct one. Is it because you want to be fit and flexible while shooting or because it looks good when you go to the gym? As an actor you should be preparing your apparatus. Our apparatus is our body, we don't have an instrument, or a paintbrush, it's just our body through which we emote. If you're learning any kind of art, be it music or dance, learn it well because it will nourish you as a performer.
How should an actor stay in touch with the craft?
It needs to be a regular practice. When you're not shooting for any film, practicing regularly in front of the mirror works. Try to find the truth in your performance rather than just repeat earlier tactics. Reading good fiction and good literature will help tremendously. Acting classes or even voice exercises for just 15 minutes everyday will train your voice to an extent to keep it going. All these things would keep the actor in you, alive.
How crucial is it for an actor to have a portfolio? What kind of photos should one have?
I don't think it's too crucial. People don't like portfolio photos, they're, in fact, asking for candid photos. I have been in Mumbai for 8 years and I've never clicked any portfolio photos. The casting director and director want to see how you look, and not an airbrushed version of your face!
Is it wise to accept smaller parts till you land something more substantial, or should you hold out for something big?
Whatever comes your way, take it. Do it well. The director will notice you and may mention you to other people – that's how you can build your network. I had just two scenes in No One Killed Jessica (2011), and right from then I started getting roles. Don't start thinking – when I will be the lead on Baahubali 3, only then I will perform!
Is there a secret to a good audition?
First take should be yours, then there's always the second take! Put forth your interpretation of the character, the scene and if it isn't going in the correct direction then the casting director will point you towards it. Be open to change and if you are true to the character on screen, the director will spot it.