By February 6, 2019

Body language in cinema: In conversation with actor Neeraj Kabi

The premise of conducting this interview with a seasoned actor as Neeraj Kabi was to understand how much we, Simply Body Talk, can rely on the authenticity of body language in good movies which we show to our clients from the corporate background to explain about human behaviour.

As discussed with Khyati Bhatt in a telephonic interview

Bhatt: I want to start by understanding how deception is addressed in movies. When it comes to real life, supposing an employee has made an accounting error and his boss is asking him whether he was responsible for it. The employee might deny that he had any role to play. But since he knows he was responsible, his body language would reveal this through either a longer than required pause, or hard swallow etc. When it comes to cinema, are such specific instructions of behaviour given to the actor?

Kabi: It varies from director to director. Those who are very intellectual and highly well read, they understand philosophy, psychology, everything. The way they converse with the actors is much detailed, but it would not be in the form that you are stating as example. Direction is never given in quarter or two lines. There are so many things that come in before you do any one scene because the actor is functioning inside a much larger orbit of the entire movie. The directors who work with intensive actors and scripts will go much beyond because the actors need to understand the context of the entire script, where his character comes from etc.

Bhatt: So can I conclude that if one were to watch movie scenes from the better directors, they are very accurate in terms of subtle human body signals? So if I take good movie scenes from good directors, I can rely upon the authenticity of what’s been played out in front of  the screen?

Kabi:  Yes absolutely. With trained actors the director will tell you that this is a scene of deception and I’m leaving it up to you, that’s all.  They will say, because they know the actors are highly trained, so the way the actor will persist is not only by saying that what I will do will be with my body. A true actor will be able to handle and depict multiple emotions because he is into acting and not entertainment. His mind begins to think like the character, the whole physicality functions like the character, and an actor would not change it only in the scene.

In cinema, we work with human psychology, which is very complex. Deception would be different for different people. Therefore how a particular actor plays deception would have to come from the background of the character. The actor has to read up so much just to able to do one scene. When we come on set, we are given just one scene of 2 lines, for that we have to prepare 6 days in advance. We go through the entire script multiple times, we study about the character in detail, we do a lot of research work, everything just to deliver that 2 lines. So the physicality that comes in performance has to come from the mind, it’s not just a created physicality.

Bhatt:   Speaking of mind, there was this one scene which hooked me to getting this interview from you.  In the movie Byomkesh Bakshi, in the last scene, you were fascinated by the character Byomkesh. What I observed is that you were twitching just one eye multiple times. How do you bring about these physiological changes, because it’s one thing to show the more evident body language like hand movements, feet movements etc. But physiological changes are not easy, sometimes impossible to control.

Kabi: When the performer is given a particular character, then for a particular character they train vigorously into that form. For example for my role in Byomkesh, I kept aside the dance, I kept aside yoga, I trained for martial arts of a specific type. All those details which you noticed in Byomkesh were because of my training. If I were to do Gandhi, the training for Gandhi would be different. It would be yoga and pranayama, I would be singing bhajans and so on. The whole physicality changes because of that. In Byomkesh the whole mind was being prepared continuously. And the mind was being prepared from the resource material  given to me by the director. 

Bhatt: When you get into the character, even the way that you react would be different from your usual manner?

Kabi:  You not only react, in acting you respond within the context. For example if I were doing Romeo and Juliet and say you have a pretty looking female playing Juliet. As a person I might get attracted to the girl herself during my rehearsals or shoots, so my whole response in looking at her eyes would be as Neeraj. But that would be false, that is not called performing. I have to stick to Romeo and respond like the character would respond. I will respond like Romeo not Neeraj. So there is a reaction and a response, both of them put together come under the gamut of acting.


Bhatt: When you attempt to bring emotions into your voice, is it possible to do that without body language showing that emotion as well?

Kabi: There are so many things giving you the voice, which is the meaning of performance. Voice is the result of mind, breathe, face and body. Voice cannot come out automatically on its own. And as for body language, I would say it’s more of physical intelligence, because body has its intelligence not a language. A language comes in the dance form, the dance has the language, Bharatanatyam has a language, Odissi has a language. A human body doesn’t have language, it has its intelligence. 

Bhatt: One last question – do you keep the target audience in mind when moulding into the character?

Kabi: No, it’s very difficult to do that for a genuine actor. For an entertainer, yes. When you are talking about the entertainers, they will do the little details which even the audience could be communicating. It’s so badly done, but the audience is sitting and  crying away because the audience is very vulnerable. Certain streaks and flavours that you create, they fall for that. Even amongst the love stories that you see, a lot of love stories done by entertainers is fake. One has to take the audience into the journey of romance. If you just do it at a superficial level, the audience will love you for that. But you are simply entertaining them; actually doing a love story is different. Have you seen Falling in Love by Robert De Niro? That’s a love story, these are actors performing in it, and you don’t have the big audience taking that out, because of the upbringing of the audience. You put a love story out there or a blockbuster and they will go for the blockbuster. I can thrill you into the romance, but I should be able to take you into the journey of romance. A recent film called Once Again, is an actors’ love story, which is different from an entertainers’ love story. Ultimately, when you can pull up the audience from their seats, you can suck them into the screen, you have fulfilled yourself as an actor. 

Excerpts from this interview would be featuring in the book being written by Khyati Bhatt on nonverbal communication, releasing next year. Images republished with permission from the actor. Original pics on his website

Posted in: ExpertSpeak

About the Author:

Khyati Bhatt has trained for mastery in Nonverbal Communication with retired FBI special agent Joe Navarro. She founded Simply Body Talk in 2013 to help individuals and corporates fine tune their nonverbal behavior and nonverbal communication. Khyati believes in taking a scientific approach to body language. Her experience as a wealth manager, currency trader, and family entrepreneur has helped sharpen her nonverbal instincts. She is a fervent reader and has explored the work of many psychologists and anthropologists in her field of work.

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