The Rich Vegetarian

An Examined Life

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Actors and Projection

(Derived somewhat from an old post dated October 2012)

“Kaun Banega Crorepati,” India’s version of “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” was/is a popular show. The host Amitabh Bachchan would ask contestants what they’d do with the prize money they earned. Many men would respond quick, Go on a date with Aishwarya Rai. These were the days before Ms Rai became Mrs. Rai Bachchan. Anyway, Amitabh Bachchan would laugh lightly, then move on to other questions. The Aishwarya Rai answer was so darned common, it almost felt de rigueur. I never gave it a second thought. Everyone was joking, of course.

One day, my father (after hearing another contestant give the same answer) remarked, “Is Aishwarya Rai a prostitute that she’d go with anyone who is rich?”

He said it without any anger or annoyance, perhaps a trace of irony. It was a simple question, a rhetorical one. It made me stop and think. It hadn’t even occurred to me to think this way. With my complicity in this stupid joke about a game show winner going on a date with Ms. World, I had, like many others, bought into the “commodification” of Aishwarya Rai.

And then there is this.

One of my favorite films, a scene that is tough and unpleasant to watch for me.

Actors know all about projection. After all, they are constantly being projected upon. That is their job. The most talented actors function as blank slates, all the better for a director to project their vision on to.

And of course, projection is the way of this world. We are constantly foisting our dreams, expectations, fears, etc. on people around us. Actors aren’t exempt from this even though we don’t share physical space with them on a daily basis. They are projected upon, both on screen and off-screen.

And that’s how you land up with arrogant men who think that a female actor is a prostitute, AND the others who stand in deep awe of the personality, wanting to own her.

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