Hi, I’m Mario Jerome, an actor, theatre professional and filmmaker. The path to this career of mine was not a straight one. I grew up wanting to be many different things and ultimately decided to indulge in the Biosciences (academically), something I still hold a strong liking towards.
Fortunately, I grew up in a household where, I was allowed to pursue any passion I wanted. Like most middle class Indian families, academics did hold a prime position, but extra curricular activities and other interests were supported and nurtured. If I wanted to try out the piano, I was sent to a music school. If I wanted to play a new sport, I was provided with appropriate sports gear and sent to a training camp and so on. While cousins around me were topping different examinations and getting admitted into premier institutions, my parents had more realistic expectations of me and gave me the freedom to pick the career I wanted the most. For this I will always be grateful to my parents.
In college I picked Bioscience. It was an option that was ‘safe’. At the time, that was a booming industry and it made sense to pick that, especially since it was already a stream I was deeply interested in.
While the theatre and arts are something I’ve been well entrenched in since my school days, it was never something I seriously considered as a legitimate career option. The fact that such streams were never taught to you in school as something one could make a career out of was definitely a contributing factor for this mindset.
After completing my Masters degree in Bioscience, I attempted to enter the Bioscience industry. An industry that was so promising when I started my higher education, over the course of my studies had already become a saturated, with very few opportunities that attracted me. I worked as a biomedical writer for a short while and that is where I realised my heart lay elsewhere. My soul was clamouring for something more creative, more free. While I was getting my fix of theatre periodically involving myself in little productions, there came a point where that wasn’t enough.
Around that time, a couple of my best friends ran a production house and they needed to fill the role of an in-house producer. What started off as a casual conversation ended up with me starting work the next Monday with arguably one of the most sought after and awarded productions houses in the country today, First December Films. I walked in that Monday and stayed there for close to 5 years. Almost everything I’ve learned about filmmaking began there and I wouldn’t be the filmmaker I am today without those opportunities.
After nearly 5 years there, by the end of 2016 I decided to part ways with First December. Not because I had stopped enjoying my work there, but because I wanted to chart a different path. I wanted to direct my own films and dive into professional theatre in a more earnest way. So I did.
This was probably the biggest decision I have made when it comes to my career. I left the comfort of a steady income and now I chose to live a life where I was doing only what I was passionate about. I started working on my craft as a performer and a filmmaker. There were things I had to unlearn and things I had to relearn. As artists, I think that is an extremely important exercise. We have to constantly learn, unlearn and relearn. Sometimes, all three simultaneously. Keeping all our senses and wits constantly stimulated.
The last 3 years have been a journey of self discovery and more significantly, self doubt. Could I make it on my own? Was this the right decision? How can I strike a balance between making money and following my passion?…were just 3 of a whole self doubt cache that operated in my head. There were multiple times where I was pushed into a corner by self doubt and circumstance that I just wanted to walk away from it all, get a secure job and live a ‘safe’ life. Even when the projects were streaming in, I wasn’t a 100% happy somehow. If I was doing a lot of film work, I was craving more theatre and vice versa.
At the end of 2017 I decided I needed a break. I was working myself stupid and after a string of back to back projects, I realised I needed to take some time off to assess my life. I had enough money to be able to take my foot off the pedals (like I said, back to back projects) and just sit down and think about what I was doing with my life. What started off as a month long break extended into a full blown sabbatical. The sabbatical helped me figure out where I wanted my life and career to go. I dived fully into things I’d always put off because I couldn’t make the time for it and also realised that you can always make time for things that interest you, but only if they truly interest you. If there is something you can’t make time for, you’re probably not invested in it with all your heart, so let it go. Holding on to it, will only fill you with regret and negativity.
In those 6 months I wrote a play, went on 2 scuba diving holidays, networked in the theatre space and just reflected on everything about myself. One of my biggest gripes was that I never knew how to manage my 2 passions, theatre and film, but over the sabbatical I had figured out a system to balance the 2. That will be my biggest learning from my time off.
After almost running my savings dry, I decided to get back in the game. But this time with my new system, I was able to take up professional theatre work simultaneously and I couldn’t be happier about it. The old monicker of “theatre doesn’t pay” can be true. However, it ultimately boils down to how much you want to work and how you choose to make money from anything you do. I’m currently a part of 2 commissioned productions with the esteemed Ranga Shankara and working on a couple of other productions with other premier arts and theatre collectives. I’m still making films and have been working with artists and brands such as Brodha V, Spykar jeans and others.
There are still days when I question myself. Those questions have not disappeared and I don’t think they will. But I now feel confident to face them, confident that I have the skills and mental calmness to address them, at least for the time being. Its okay not to have all the answers all the time. Whats important is that you acknowledge the questions and try to address them in a mindful way.
Victor Wooten, arguably one of his generation's best bass players, in a TED video talks about how one should not do something just to make money, but if you do something so well that you become the best at it, the money will come. That is something I strive for everyday, to be the best. The money will come (hopefully).