Srikanth and Vishalakshi Geddada with their kids Pragnya and Aditya
He may be a guy in the sky who can run, swim and fly but Dino Man is no superhero. “He’s like any other dinosaur,” shrugged nine-year-old Aditya Geddada, about the half-human, half-dinosaur that had crawled out of his imagination in the pre-Covid years when he wanted to become an archaeologist. “I’m officially an actor now,” said the Silicon Valley-based above-average student who tasted blood when he made his Hollywood debut last year as the younger son of Oscar-winning actor Riz Ahmed’s character in the OTT sci-fi thriller ‘Encounter’. “I can’t give up acting,” moaned Aditya, earning cuddles from his mother slash “unpaid PA”.
Ever since a Hollywood agent spotted him playing in a hotel lobby in 2019, his techie parents Srikanth and Vishalakshi Geddada– who moved to the Silicon Valley 15 years ago–have been learning to navigate the alien showbiz world entailing “chemistry reads”, elusive casting agents, fitment issues, child safety laws, rejections, press days, trailers, on-set tutors, dummy body doubles and codes such as ‘pumpkin’ (signifying ‘pack up’ at children’s shoots).
What it takes for kids of colour to get a “seat at the table” was the rare outsider story that emerged when San-Francisco-Bay-Area’s Geddadas sat around a breakfast table in Bandra during their recent short trip to Mumbai. “We now have a rule in our house,” said Vishalakshi. “We do an audition and we forget about it. You never know what might happen.”
The credo springs from their brush with the “long chain of validation” that started when Aditya was playing in the lobby during his sister Pragnya’s “showcase”–Hollywood-speak for a session where actors pay the showcase operator so that they may perform a short scene before a casting director. On spotting Aditya, a Hollywood agent told Vishalakshi that he wanted to see her son as well. Video interviews, conference calls and requests for additional takes ensued before the final casting call. “We all almost fainted,” said Aditya, recalling the morning he was told he had been chosen among 1050 hopefuls vying for the role.
While American movies and shows are embracing diversity, “it’s still hard to break in,” said Vishalakshi. To get noticed by the elusive, website-less casting director of ‘Encounter’, for instance, “you need to have representation.” “Talent is the bare minimum requirement to get into the database,” said Srikanth, referring to the casting filter system for Indian kids. “Then come skills such as ice skating, looks including height and weight and accents etc,” said Srikanth, recalling that his daughter, Pragnya, faced rejection after coming close to landing a role. “Also, they may just not call if you don’t land the role,” said Vishalakshi, adding that amongts too are screened during the casting process. “The more chilled out you are, the better it is, because the show must go on,” she said.
As “the assigned parent” of Aditya, she accompanied her son on locations while his father and sister stayed back in hotels through the three-month shoot that took place in the cold interiors of middle America. Vishalakshi’s photo gallery offers a behind-the-scenes montage: Eagle Mountain–a “back of the beyond ghost town”, the stuffed dummy that served as Aditya’s body double “as they could not find someone his size”, the assigned PA Johnny who would ask what Aditya would like for breakfast daily, the ‘press days’ with genial actor Riz Ahmed and the hot packs with “the little charcoal things” that kept him warm in sub-zero locales.
While shoots could take place late at night, strict labour laws permit an eight-hour shift for kids out of which four hours must be devoted to studies. With the help of the tutor on set, Aditya would finish his home-work, building things like a candy dispenser on Halloween. “The tutor is also an advocate. If there is a scene that she feels is dangerous, say one that involves guns, she can rightfully ask questions,” said Srikanth, a techie impressed by the level of care
“Heaven” is how Aditya recalled his Wi-Fi-boasting trailer–the cozy part-time home parting from which left his face sullen, a mood captured promptly by his unpaid social media manager Vishalakshi. “I don’t let the children use social media,” said Vishalakshi, for whom “Silicon Valley horror stories” about the impact of social media on children, are cautionary tales. “Life is transient. I want the kids to retain their innocence,” said Vishalakshi, looking at Aditya, the guy in the sky who can run, swim and almost fly.
FOLLOW US ON SOCIAL MEDIA