The collaboration between two temperamental personalities, German director Werner Herzog and actor Klaus Kinski, is notorious in the film history, not because of the frequent altercations that they had on the sets but because of the incredible films that they made together by creatively channelising their hatred for each other. While Herzog would go to any extent to extract the best out of his actors, Kinski was a perfect madman who was notoriously impossible to work with.
The legend has it that on the sets of the film Aguirre, The Wrath of God (1972), Kinski’s lunacy breached all the limits that he ended up shooting at a tent from where he heard some irritating noise and injured a man. This was after he created panic by chasing and attacking the local natives who were working as “extras” in the movie. When Herzog encountered him, he threatened to leave without completing his work. Herzog who is known for his own mad ways, held Kinski at gunpoint and told him that he won’t leave the sets without completing the film. Though Kinski had acted in scores of films, his most successful partnership was with Herzog. He often interpreted the role given to him in his own way and clashed with the director on the way he would enact the role. Though they came together again after a long gap of seven years in the horror film Nosferatu, in which Kisnki was cast as Count Dracula, they made many films together till Kinski’s death at the age of 65. Herzog made a documentary in 1999 titled My Best Friend in which he spoke at length about the toxic relationship and why he considered Kinski as a great actor.
While reading the various spiced up stories about Shane Nigam’s clashes with the director of his upcoming film Veyil, I could not help but count him as an aspiring entrant into the long list of creative artistes who left their mark in history despite being bohemian and anarchists. Having watched most of Shane Nigam films, I consider Shane as an actor who has displayed limited versatility, his role selection being monotonous and hardly inspiring. Having established himself as someone who can just sleepwalk into the roles of the jovial millennial, the angry youth or the lost romantic, Shane has been the most sought after actor for budding directors who wish to tell the stories of today’s youth. With his abundant energy and his appetite to work more and more on unconventional projects, he holds potential to become a star in his own right.
The current controversy surrounding Shane has been blown out of proportion by vested interests and the media, which indicates that Shane’s problems are not going to end soon. The dimension of narcotics that was added for extra punch could result in unimaginable harassment for the industry as a whole. A section has been demanding narcotic raids on the sets and on the young artistes to make sure that they behave. Any behavioural issue on or off the sets should be dealt with by trying to strike a compromise at the behest of the industry bodies that represent actors, directors and other technicians. An actor’s habits, as long as he or she does not walk on the wrong side of the law, should not be anybody’s concern. Of late, attributing an artiste’s rebellious behaviour to the influence of drugs seems to be the easiest route to establish the moral high ground and one-upmanship in such arguments.
Late Padma Shri awardee actor Thilakan who was banned from films at the behest of the industry body FEFKA, had attributed his ban to the rise of “mafia” in Malayalam film industry trade unions. He had said trade unions in other sectors at least have a framework within which they work, but the film outfits, formed for the welfare of its members, are serving only the superstars who in turn get the backing of producers and distributors. They often threaten and blackmail actors with dire consequences ranging from spoiling their opportunities in forthcoming projects to an outright ban.
Though most of the previous attempts by industry bodies at banning artistes ended in vain, these bodies hold the misconception that their very existence depends on how they exert their authority over the industry through bans and diktats. Worse, when people look for clarity and protection, those at the helm speak in different voices, some in support of the actor and some others echoing the minister who wants to raid sets and impose government’s rules on cinema. That said, Shane’s outbursts and the stories that are doing the rounds make us wonder whether he is really capable of handling himself. 22 years is not a ‘tender age’ (as some of his supporters on social media claim) to manage one’s temperament or to have an understanding of how your actions and words could be misinterpreted to malign your image. Shane Nigam would do well to watch Rajkumar Hirani’s film Sanju. Though a much glorified biography, Sanjay Dutt’s life story would tell him a thing or two about how not to manage one’s career and image. If he indeed intends to hang around much longer, there is no other way than ironing out problems through discussions that involve mediators whom he can trust. Through his work and friendly demeanor, he has won over many directors, actors and other professionals whom he can still depend on to bail him out of this mess.
The fact is, the film industry has some of the worst examples of contract labour. Contracts that do not mention the duration of schedules, extra payment for the additional hours of working, the most basic labour rights including maximum number of work hours per day and an exit clause are forced up on professionals who do not have much of a choice but signing them. A number of professionals, especially women, had pointed out in the past that the industry is one of the most toxic workplaces, in which you are at the mercy of the producer and director the moment you sign a contract for a film. In a workplace where rarely things go as per plan because almost all the major technicians and artistes commit multiple projects, adhering to the contract timelines becomes almost impossible and someone violating the contract affects 100 other co-workers. I was once asked to go through a contract that a writer-director was asked to sign by a production house for his debut movie. The totally one-sided contract had terms that are characteristic of bonded labour, one of them being the writer-director would not have any rights over his work and would be paid a paltry remuneration for the work that he had written and conceptualised with great pain.
While commenting on the current controversy, the minister in charge of cinema in the state went to the extent of saying that the government mulls intervening in the entire process starting from production to distribution! Before any such adventure, can the government and unions please come up with uniform and fair contract terms and update yourselves with the changing times? How about a suo moto enquiry into the alleged sexual harassment and casting couch incidents narrated by women professional as a good start?
Some question Shane Nigam’s work ethics by comparing him with superstars who work day and night. Sure, superstars do all these, but to complete their favourite film in which they have huge stakes from production to distribution. The same media that vilifies Shane by characterising him as an anarchist celebrates the anarchy of the current superstars in their young age with nostalgia. Shane will surely go through ups and downs and add an enviable mix to his repertoire if he puts his heart into his work and keep a tab on his temper. There should be enough space for reconciliation and avenues to get professional advice and counseling. In every film promo, aren’t we tired of being told the same cliched lines that the entire unit lived like one big family during the shoot and the seniors gave the newbies valuable advice and support? Giving a second chance to those who make mistakes is part of natural justice, not magnanimity.
(Dress Circle is a weekly column on films. The author is a communication professional and a film enthusiast. Read his past works here.)