If the latest virus has made anything clear to us, it is the incidental nature of human life. We no longer think ourselves the apple of Mother Nature’s eye. We are—on the planet’s 70mm screen—junior artistes, character actors, extras. Homo sapiens are the secondary cast, or worse, tertiary cast. You know, that faceless person standing in a crowd just before a fake bomb explodes in a C-grade movie. We are, as a wannabe actor described himself in TV series Hollywood, ‘supernumerary’.
The clueless guard, the late-reaching policeman, the background dancer. Replaceable, disposable, irrelevant, voiceless. We cannot move mountains, we cannot even move molehills. Faces covered, sitting quietly at home, just staying alive. That is what the virus has done: equalize human beings like never before. It is only about survival now.
But is that so bad? After the bristling and the victim's selfies, are we not coping rather well with this fall from grace? So the spotlight doesn’t shine on us, but in the absence of that harsh, glaring bulb we are communicating with a stranger we always avoided before—ourselves. Suddenly we have more time for us. Unsung and unheard, the hero who lived in us has revealed himself to be a rather ordinary chap, happy with scrabble and solitary birthdays.
In cinema and literature, we have always been drawn to the real underdogs, the itty-bitty parts played by unknown people. The lasting impressions these fleeting characters leave behind are unforgettable, they are more mood than man. In Manish Mundra’s film Kaamyaab, actor Sanjay Mishra almost plays himself, a side actor. The trials and tragedies of his profession light up the silver-screen with searing honesty. Obviously, the other performances are brilliant cameos, or aaloo as they are apparently called. But as Louis Armstrong sings, ‘All that meat and no potatoes just ain’t right’.
It is not the hero Heathcliff we always hear in Wuthering Heights, but Lockwood, the tenant and narrator. In one of Alka Saraogi’s short stories, a kitchen help who uncontrollably laughs is difficult to shut out. The woman who keeps falling asleep at dinner only to die in this manner in TV series Homecoming has no visible connection to the main plot, but still manages to hold her own against Julia Roberts even. Earth is now a stage for the main dramatis personae—the flora and the fauna. Human beings are just beginning to realize their role as a mere cog. The casting agent doesn’t know our name.