On October 30, 1938, America’s Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) radio network aired an adaptation of HG Wells’ novel, The War of the Worlds. The broadcast, narrated by actor and future director Orson Welles, was presented as a series of simulated news bulletins, which suggested that aliens were invading the world. This is one of the earliest examples of the mockumentary format. Since then, American TV shows like Modern Family and Arrested Development, have explored the genre to great success.
Mockumentaries present fictional stories shot in the documentary style of filmmaking, and hence, include mock interviews and hidden-camera shots. Now, India has its first web-based mockumentary in the form of Not Fit, a series presented by Dice Media, digital wing of the entertainment company Pocket Aces.
Not Fit is about a struggling actor in Mumbai, and his (mis)adventures as he tries to make his mark in Bollywood. “He has an inflated image of himself and thinks that acting is all about having a chiselled, bulked-up physique and showing off. He tries to exercise his megalomania, which presents opportunities for comic situations. We’re exploring the lighter side of the struggling phase of an actor,” says Sudev Nair, who is the writer, director and lead actor of Not Fit. The title takes off from the term used by casting directors to declare aspiring actors as “fit” or “not fit” for an audition.
The 10-episode series (the pilot went online on October 28), is based on Nair’s own experiences. The post-graduate in acting from the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), Pune, got his big break with the Malayalam film, My Life Partner (2014) — for which he won the Kerala State Film Award. But before that, Nair did the rounds of Malayalam film studios. When the stress and uncertainty got to him, he realised that he was depressed and bitter. He used humour as a tool to deal with it, and thus, the idea of Not Fit was born. Being a big fan of mockumentaries, it was a natural choice for him to choose the format.
Around a year ago, Nair invested his own money to make the pilot episodes. His house doubled up as the venue for the shoot and he worked with FTII actors and technicians. When he approached television channels with the episodes, he was turned down on the grounds that the concept was too smart and urban for TV audiences. “The whole idea was to make it look like things are happening on the fly and a camera just happens to be there. Otherwise, it looks like a set-up. So, the acting needed to be extremely natural. Most actors in the show are either theatre actors or trained FTII actors and I’d given them complete liberty to improvise,” Nair says.