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Vijay Bond (dir. Shanoob Karuvath, 2019)

This post first appeared on Totally Filmi on July 25, 2020.

Vijay Kunnamel is an aspiring actor who attends every audition put on by the AJ Casting agency, no matter what the role.  He takes his auditions seriously, asking the casting directors, Anand and Raja, what kind of shot they’re using (Tight-shot? Mid-shot.), asking questions about character motivation and situation.  We are first introduced to him through his self-introduction for an audition, where we quickly learn he’s been auditioning for five years, for a wide range of roles.  He painstakingly lists skills he has learned apart from acting – horse-riding, kung-fu, karate, classical singing, dancing – that he feels enriches his ability as an actor.  Vijay is upbeat and tries to exude confidence, pointing out the website URL (which he has taped to the front of his tee-shirt), assuring the casting directors that it contains all of his demo reels which will reveal his abilities in a range of avatars.

When asked what he has prepared for the audition, he states that he never prepares anything, as that would just be monotonous, confidently stating that he is “a director’s actor”.  Anand and Raja look a bit skeptical, but decide to present him with a situation from their script to see what he can do in a restaurant scene.  Vijay’s first response is to ask what kind of restaurant it is (Three star? Five star?)  Vijay continues to pepper them with questions about the situation (where can he move so he’s still in the frame?  Can he try out something he’s been working on, the reactions of a Chinese guy to the food?)  Everything seems to be going well as Vijay reacts to the prompts from the director, until he reaches the point where he tastes the food brought to the table, when he suddenly looks like he’s having a fit.  “Are you portraying epilepsy?” they wonder.  Vijay reminds them that he’d planned to include his variety number, noting that Chinese people can’t tolerate Kerala food, because it’s too spicy.  It’s sad in a way, because Vijay thinks he’s doing a great job – and he is, right up until the point of his Chinese character improvisation, which effectively skewers his audition. 

But Vijay continues to come to every audition arranged at AJ Casting.  He listens to the casting directors, but always has questions to ask about the role.  During an audition in which he must imagine he’s skydiving, he’s at first frantic and fearful, but what they want is someone who is passionate and delighted by the experience.  Vijay, true to form, wonders if his character would have eaten before skydiving —  wouldn’t he throw up if he’d eaten before the jump?  Vijay’s dedication is palpable, but Anand and Raja grow increasingly disenchanted with Vijay and his constant questions at each ad audition (is the car manual or automatic?  Is my wife in the front or back seat?  Can I hold her hand while driving?)  We, the audience, know that no matter how many times he auditions, Vijay is never going to be cast.

Contrast this with Sagar, who comes to an audition for a cold drink commercial at the same agency.  He follows directions exactly, though they find him a bit flat.  When the casting agent asks him to repeat what he’s done, but this time following a running commentary, he manages to improve on his first attempt.  You can see that Sagar’s ability to “follow directions well” will win him a role over Vijay’s enthusiasm that is peppered with questions and a need to understand motivation.

When Vijay turns up at the agency for a dancing audition (which they don’t even bother to film, thinking it a waste of batteries since they know they won’t cast him), one of the casting agents receives a phone call about an actor they cast for a spy film, who has been rejected, a problem for the casting agents, who just want to get rid of Vijay so they can deal with the issue.  Vijay picks up on the fact that they will need to re-cast the spy movie role, researching by watching Rowan Atkinson in Johnny English, sporting sunglasses and using his hair dryer as a gun to practice moves in the mirror. The casting agents don’t even want to let him audition this time, telling him they have a brief from the client that doesn’t suit his character at all – the height, for example. The client has asked for someone 6 foot 3 inches, which Vijay is not.  Why bother when you don’t even fit the first criteria?  Vijay insists that these kind of disadvantages can be turned into advantages, for the first time showing how desperate he is to get a role.  It works, because the casting directors decide to give him that chance, but stipulate that he will not stop at any time between “action” and “cut” to pepper them with his usual questions.  Vijay agrees, and they begin the audition.

The casting director talks Vijay through the situation, correcting his mistakes for each take – Vijay starts out crying when he’s hit, calls for his mother, but the casting director reminds him he’s a brave spy who would never cry out, and instead asks for more intensity.  Vijay – it’s as if he can’t help himself — pulls out a twist, confronting them with a gun. The casting agents object, but Mithun, the spy film director, arrives just at this moment, and is thrilled with Vijay and his improvisation, calling him “Vijay Bond, 008”, and casting him in the film. 

We jump ahead to two months later, somewhere in the USA, where the spy movie is being filmed – Vijay’s character arrives in his Mercedes Benz, and I love the little hero touch they give him, shooting his foot first as he exits the car.  Snips from the film screen as the credits roll, and I also love the fact that they include things that Vijay has already done or mentioned in his auditions, like horse-riding, skydiving and car driving, all of it with music that echoes the Bond theme on a sitar.

Vijay Bond is funny and entertaining, but it’s also effective at conveying Vijay’s growing despondency, using colour (like a mauve filter that deepens in colour to show the depth of his sadness, or a blurry frame that, upon focussing, shows a saddened Vijay, or a mauve filter with pouring rain as Vijay sits by his phone, waiting for a callback).  Shanoob Karuvath (who also wrote and edited) packs a lot into his short film, and his actors (Renjith Ravi as Vijay, and Arun Sunny and Ramesh Menon as the casting directors) give us performances that are deft and compact, subtly showing us the shifts in the relationship dynamic of this hapless actor and the casting directors who see him for every audition.  I found myself rooting for Vijay to get his break, and happily, Karuvath gives it to him.

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