Award winning actor, Samir Soni speaks to The Sunday Guardian on his new book, ‘My Experiments with Silence: The Diary of an Introvert’.
Samir Soni is an award-winning film, television and theatre actor. He was born and raised in Delhi. After finishing his schooling from St. Xavier’s High School in Delhi, Samir moved to Los Angeles for higher studies. He graduated (cum laude) from the University of California, Los Angeles, in business economics. Samir went on to work as a financial analyst in mergers and acquisitions for Merrill Lynch. After two years on Wall Street, he decided to chuck everything and moved back to India to pursue his true passion, acting. Over the last 25 years, he has won several awards and recognition for his work as actor in various mediums including web series. In 2018, he turned writer/director with his critically acclaimed debut film My Birthday Song, a psychological thriller, available on Netflix. Samir has been very vocal about the importance of mental health and challenging the meaning of the word “success” in society. He lives in Mumbai. He spoke on his book, My Experiments with Silence: The Diary Of An Introvert, published by Om Books International.
Q: Show business is a glamorous world filled with a lot of social events. As an introvert, did you find this lifestyle intimidating, or was it much easier than you reckoned it to be?
A: I don’t know if I would use the word “intimidating”, but definitely it was uncomfortable because that is not me. I come from a very conservative middle-class family where we didn’t have very big social functions, we had dinners with relatives and that’s about it. I remember when I started my career, I was nominated for my first film and after that, I disappeared. Then one of the biggest directors at that time told me “Samir, you have to be seen” and I didn’t know what that meant.
To me I thought my job was to act. I made my feeble efforts, there was this inner struggle of going back and forth “Should I make the effort? Or not?”. Some people just love to socialize but I don’t, so once in a while, I would make the effort but that would be so tiring. Now I’ve learned to accept myself for who I am, so I believe my work will speak for itself. This is the most challenging part which I still haven’t overcome but it has made me realize who I truly am and hopefully through the book people will realize that too.
Q: In the book, you talk about coming to terms with failures and accepting them as a part of the process. How do you cope with them now? How have those experiences contributed to your life?
A: There is a lot of emphasis on “hope” because here every project is a “hope”, not a guarantee. People around you might say it’s going to work out really well and you know you’re just one phone call away from getting busy and hitting a jackpot, for some people it does happen, and for a lot of people it doesn’t. Whenever something happens you look forward to it so as you start living not in the present moment but in the future moment where you believe it is going to happen, you build a lot on it. And when it doesn’t happen then the world comes crumbling down because you build such high hopes on it. It’s a hit-or-miss kind of business.
For example, Sholay, which is one of the biggest successes ever, was a washout in the first week because people didn’t like the film. There have been projects which I didn’t like but still went along and said yes to, and they later became huge. So there is no way of figuring out how this is going to go. Through the years you get accustomed to it and whether it’s failure or success you learn to detach yourself from it. Now I don’t get too excited about something good that happens or get pulled down if it doesn’t. To me once I’ve done my part, which is to perform in front of the camera or even write this book, I pretty much detach from it and believe what is bound to happen will happen. So do your job, give it your best and move on, live in the “now”.
Q: The book is not the usual celebrity-written book, but feels more like an inner monologue to which everyone can relate. Why did you decide to keep it open-ended? Was it intentional or just came naturally with your writing style?
A: One of my friends that I gave my manuscript to read, called me halfway through and she was crying and said how she was reminded of her struggles. We went back and forth on whether we should give context to the passages and I was against that because it is not just my journey. I am just a catalyst to help the readers to discover themselves with the idea that while reading it will take you to your own emotions. I didn’t want it to be a memoir of Samir Soni and that is why we chose not to have me on the cover. What I have captured are basic emotions like fear, anxiety, loss, disappointment, and excitement, which to me in a way have been oversimplified, like saying “5 steps to success”, but I’ve felt that they almost talk down to you and make you think that you’re a dummy. I always felt that if a person is telling you to quit smoking and has never smoked before, how do they know?
Everyone around you is trying to give you a solution but nobody wants to talk about your problems. So, I wanted to bring something which said “I might not have the answer but I can share my experience with you and if in that you find your answer then fabulous”.
Q: The book not only is a diary but also contains beautiful poems. Did you write the poems in the flow while writing the diary or add them after? What was the idea behind the format of this book?
A: For the structure and format, I would credit the Editor in Chief of Om, Shantanu Ray Chaudhary. To me this was spontaneous, there would be times where I would just think in poems, sometimes a phrase would be stuck in my head. For example, there was this line that was stuck in my mind, “I am a liar, I am a cheat”. I just kept saying it over and over in my head while I was in the car and I went home and wrote a poem on it in 10 minutes. It was very organic, it wasn’t like I wrote a poem to squeeze it somewhere, if there were any insertions made that were my throwbacks to my childhood because otherwise I thought the book might get too dark and needed some relief through those interesting instances.
My First ‘This Is It’ Moment
Growing up in the late 1970s, the Oscars, rather the award ceremonies of the Oscars, had a great impact on me. I would sit in front of our black-and-white TV and absorb all the speeches given by these tuxedo-clad people. I don’t think I knew who they were but the look in their eyes and the glorious words they spoke, thanking everyone, especially their wife, with the black trophy in their hand mesmerized me.
I would spend hours in front of a mirror with a bottle of water in my hand, giving my own version of their speech. The peculiar thing was I always thanked my non-existent ‘wife’. Being a die-hard romantic, I found that very touching. I always looked forward to getting married, winning an award, giving a profound and entertaining speech and of course thanking my wife. As luck would have it, the very first TV serial I did after coming back from the US gave me my first (there were more to come) ‘this is it’ moment.
The entire cast of our show was going to be felicitated at an annual function of an organization. The show hadn’t even been aired but the makers saw this as a good opportunity to get some publicity and the organizers thought the audience would find it entertaining.
So, there I was in a hall full of people ready to give my much-rehearsed speech. One by one our names were called, there was a thunderous applause and a cast member would receive the trophy, say a few words and gracefully step down from the stage. My turn was just round the corner and I was super excited, wearing my black-pin striped Armani suit, a shirt and a tie. Finally, the anchor announced, ‘Next to receive his trophy the debutant, SAMIR SONI!’ I took a deep breath and got up from my seat but one thing was different. There was no applause, not even a token clap.
One would have thought they had announced a two-minute silence as a mark of respect for the passing away of some luminary. Those fifteen to twenty steps to the centre of the stage felt like going to the gallows. I thought to myself, hey I’m new, they don’t know who I’m yet, and proceeded to receive the trophy and start my speech. ‘Ladies and gentleman, it gives me great pleasure to…’ Pin-drop silence.
I could feel droplets of sweat around my collar. I was starting to stutter now. And then it happened. A loud booming voice from the balcony, ‘Abey angrez, Hindi mein bol’. The entire hall broke into roaring laughter and among them were six of my own family members, hiding their faces. I ran off the stage. Later when I confronted my family for not clapping, my brother said, in his own unique Delhi style, ‘Yaar main taali bajane wala tha, phir itna silence ho gaya ki lagaa ki taali bajai toh hummein padegi.’ (I was about to clap, brother. And then it became so silent that I felt I would be thrashed if I clapped.) Thus ended my first ‘this is it’ moment. And there were more to come.
Extracted with permission from Samir Soni’s book, My Experiments with Silence: The Diary of an Introvert, published by Om Book International.