MOMENTS OF TRUTH – MY LIFE WITH ACTING || ROSHAN TANEJA

Rating : 7/10

Review by Ankur Sardana

Masters are gifted, Teachers are faithful and Students are curious. Masters challenge and invent the philosophy of their subject, while teachers imbibe this philosophy and spread it further, students execute and create.

Roshan Taneja is no master and was a mediocre student, but it seems that he has been a solid teacher. 

It is unusual for Irfanji (who is pursuing a historical journey in Indian Cinema with RSTV) to be rude to anybody during his Guftagoo (Interviews). He is pretty tough on Roshan Taneja, especially in the first half, where he talks about the dichotomy of the fact that RT was a young, small-time failed actor himself, without much experience in almost anything, when he created the acting course at FTII. The interview is ruthless. Maybe RT made him wait before the interview or maybe Irfanji was thinking that a teacher being called a Guru (Master) is not so appropriate. Have a look at both the parts :

Coming from the man who taught acting to almost everyone in Bollywood, the book is only good in parts, especially the first half..which is about the fundamentals of  his (Sanford (Sandy) Meisner’s) acting philosophy. The other half is a PR exercise for his acting school, containing testimonials and resume’ of his celebrity students, which could have been easily left out (he already has hundreds of videos of testimonials on the school website). There are also worthless bits on his flings in NY. He never goes deep into the issues of teaching acting in India or his own family life. What an opportunity wasted !

If you’re an actor who has read about Meisner before, or learnt his technique, there’s nothing new for you in this book. Though, for the uninitiated ones, this could be a good summary of the Meisner Technique and start of a journey into method/real acting.

Another good summary of this technique can be downloaded from here.

Sanford Meisner Master Class Summary

~~~deviation~~~

Sandy Meisner took the Stanislavski (Russian Theatre Master) method of acting to the ‘next’ (or a parrallel) level. Stanislavski vs Meisner.  He was a part of Group Theatre (which is a huge milestone in the history of Amercian Theatre) and later was the master at the Neighborhood Playhouse (where RT studied in NY). Meisner disagreed with Lee Stasberg on his method. Strasberg vs Meisner. Another thought is that an actor needs to have both the techniques, or maybe for theatre Meisner is better and for cinema Strasberg is better.

 

A documentary on Group Theatre :

~~~deviation ends~~~

Some of my favorite passages from the book :

On Improvisation (absorbed and inherited from Sanford Meisner), he has absolute clarity and firm fundamentals. Haven’t come across a better explanation of the need for improvisation as a tool for actors.

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In the freedom of Improvisation, the character reveals the actor because the character is the actor. The ultimate benefit is a realisation of self; of who the actor is, how he reacts to various situations. The actor experiences the feelings he will later be able to impart to the written text. The improvising actor learns what full-blooded emotion really feels like, and also what it naturally leads to. Later, when he requires this emotion in his work, he will be able to express its shadings clearly because he has known the full color. And, because he develops a sense of natural progression, he will be able to catch the untrue reaction or illogical turn of events when its appears in any dramatic situation. Improvisation makes him a keener critic of the dramas, and consequently, a better interpreter of it..

The actor comes to establish genuine contact with his fellow player when he had conveyed a truthful emotional climax. He comes to learn that acting is bad when his choices are wildly melodramatic and illogical; when he is so preoccupied with his own performance that he doesn’t register the presence of others; when he sidesteps the emotional high point and resorts to convenient cliche’. Eventually improvisation becomes his own personal laboratory in which he experiments with such basic elements as contact, conviction and involvement.

..Improvisation is a useful, indispensable, emotional, human thing ! Its constant use trains the lively, organic part of oneself. It restores the natural elasticity, it encourages purity of feeling. Pure, because it is uncluttered by conventional assets, pure too, because it utilises the raw material of the actor’s personality from which all performances are made.

 

Here’s more on the Meisner Technique

As RT mentions, Meisner gave improvisation a framework under which the exercise had to operate. This is a wonderful explanation of the vague world of improvising in a scene.

The student should create a situation based on the 5 W’s :

  1. Purpose (what is his need)
  2. Motivation (why)
  3. Place (where)
  4. Time (when)
  5. Relationship (whom)

Meisner’s most famous quote is RT’s guiding principle

Good acting is living truthfully under imaginary circumstances

Have a look at some other Sandy Quotes.

RT’s thoughts from Stanislavski :

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Stanislavsky

Stanislavsky discovered that the really great performers functioned in a realm completely divorced from the of most actors. They seemed to be ‘away’- hypnotically immersed  in their character and circumstances of the play. He found the absence of cliche’ peculiar in all of them. They had their own ways of interpreting emotion. They had had forsaken those well-woven mannerisms which indicated to an audience, but never their feelings.

Stanislavsky’s greatest discovery was that the most impressive thing in the theatre was truthfulness, and the least impressive was sham. The object, then was to create better theatre through a distillation of artifice and superficiality and the introduction of ‘felt’ acting. In practice, the ‘method’ is nothing more than a personal perception applied to the art of acting. Acting is the art of the self; the supreme revelation of self. It is the ‘self’ that feeds the actor and the ‘self’ which is fed by the actor.

In that sense, acting is an art form which is closest to the ‘self’, maybe more than painting or music, for the tool is the artist and the art is him as well.

The ‘method’ is the first articulated appreciation of this fact. It encourages the actor to approach a role as if it were an invitation to reveal himself; the role becomes a wonderful vessel especially created for the kind of life he will fill it with.

explaining more about the ‘Stanislavsky System’

By improvisation and exercises, the student actor was to store up a rich, accurate amount of sensory experiences for later use. The actor had to be naive and to believe in the creative “if” – the imagined truth which the actor had to believe as sincerely and with great enthusiasm than the believed the practical truth.

The actor, Stanislavsky taught, must think most of all about what he wants to obtain at a particular moment and what he has to do to achieve it, but not about how he is going to feel. The emotion, as well as the means of its expression, is generated subconsciously, spontaneously in the the process of executing actions directed towards the gratification of a desire.

His thoughts on ’emotion – memory’ are also worthy (in continuation with the Starsberg Vs Meisner topic mentioned above)

..an actor cannot plunge into the past circumstance of his personal life without taking a leave of his character. The best was to ensure the proper expression of the appropriate emotions is for the actor to involve himself in the substances of the scene, to believe its reality and to respond to its stimuli.

Quoting Aristotle, RT talks about the prime duty of an actor.

‘to have an emotion that he portrays, he should really feel it. In composing, the poet should even – as much as possible – be an actor, for by natural sympathy, they are most persuasive and affecting who are under the influence of actual passion. We share the agitation of those who appear to be truly agitated – the anger of those who appear to be truly angry’

This is fascinating as we all like people who are real and its not just to do with acting. If I see a fruit seller, genuinely involved in his practice, working hard and maybe enjoying as well, chances are that I will be sticking to him. One always love to see dancers, musicians, sports people etc. deep into enjoying what they are doing. We all love natural, organic, involved people.

RT quoting another Latin poet on realism in acting –

‘if you would have me weep, you must first of all feel grief yourself’

quoting English critic George Henry Lewis, about individuality in good actors

‘Bad acting, like bad writing, has a remarkable uniformity. Good acting, on the contrary, like good writing, is remarkable for its individuality.’

Naseerudin Shah, in his autobiography lovingly talks about Taneja Sahib’s classes. Where he asked people not to act while acting. RT talks about it –

I’d tell my students not to act in the beginning..what I meant was to get rid of those cliches’, mannerisms, and short-cut tricks of the trade that were being employed over and over again by the well known actors my students were emulating. 

My favorite line from the book is the last but one line.

An actor can lie a lot with words, but they tell the truth with their body language, which, in turn, is generated by what they feel when they act.

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