Friday, 25 March 2011

India - The first Bollywood movie set

March 16

Hello everyone!

I forgot to mention last time that I changed hostels. I was initially staying in the Salvation Army hostel. I then saw the room, and decided to move after our sightseeing. When we returned from the Taj hotel, the security guard at the Salvation Army beckoned me over, and then asked me a question. ‘You want Bollywood?’

Now normally I would be hesitant in agreeing to anything a strange old man asked me, but I had been told about this. To fill in those who are clueless, Bollywood is the home of India’s burgeoning film industry. There are numerous rival companies, very much like its American equivalent. Unlike Hollywood, however, the Indian companies need Western actors to use in the background as extras and, well, there aren’t as many here as there are in L.A. So what they do is they scout the Colaba area of Mumbai looking for white people, who they will pay Rs500 for a day’s work.

I was told that I would be picked up at 8 the following morning. At 8.15, a large man drove up to the side and leant his frame out of the window to tell me that I would be picked up at 10.30. I walked around the area, and saw a prettier side of Mumbai to what I had expected before my arrival, and then returned for the stated time.

This time a different man approached me, and led me around the corner onto a main street, where a rickety bus was waiting. The tension gripping my body eased when I saw that there were lots of other foreigners on the bus. After driving around for another half an hour, during which time they picked up the Aussie guy I had talked to in the hostel the previous night, and then we were off to Bollywood!

Well, to a studio of a Bollywood company, at least. Mehboob Studios. Yes, it’s an interesting name. As was the name of the film we were to be involved in – Double Dhamaal. No idea what it means, but apparently it will be an ‘action comedy’ when released, starring those pictured below. With all of the Bollywood singing and dancing, of course. At this point I will apologise for the poor quality of the photos – you weren’t supposed to take any, so it was difficult to get good ones.

We spent the first hour or so watching the stars and dancers performing a routine. Lots of colour and choreography, complete with diva star in the middle. Apparently the female lead is a former Miss Universe. The lads agreed: the girls just commented on how irritating she was. Both ideas were true. There was a moment when we took a break – one of many, it turned out – and people sat down on the floor. Except for her. She got a chair. Which she then turned to face away from everybody in the room. Diva with a capital D.

The setting she had refused to look towards was a Hong Kong casino. As a result, everybody had to be dressed to be seen as fit for purpose. The costumes were the first thing that we were involved in. The girls were in interesting dresses, and the boys were in suits. Some suits were jazzier than others, and most agreed that I had unfortunately won the gold medal for that particular competition. Just look at the suit they had picked out for me! I do wish I could have taken it home and worn it out just the once, just to see how people react to an all-peach number. Very well, I have no doubt.

So lots of Westerners (and Russians, who we were trying to decide if they count as Western or not) were on the floor of this lavish set, waiting for orders. Waiting was a common theme of the day. Waiting for the diva to have the curly thing taken out of her hair. Waiting for the dancers to get the moves just right. Waiting to be given a role which was then often changed on the next take, resulting in someone being on the other side of the room. It didn’t seem particularly organised.

My role was initially on one of the side blackjack tables. One which didn’t have a dealer, a fact that they didn’t spot until they did a practice run. After a massive reshuffle, I was urged elsewhere. Into the middle. Seemingly in line with the camera. We couldn’t work out whether we would actually be in shot, but the excitement rushed through the four of us who were selected to dance inbetween the camera and the stars.

This excitement turned to weariness and irritation when they kept on doing a take of the same dance. On another break – which was for the diva’s stunt double, who turned out to be English, to do the daring act of…the hula hoop – we opted to play roulette for an hour. And also to comment on another, larger choreographer in a very immature way. I will never be able to eat a chapatti when Fatman Scoop is on the TV, and I am glad that only one other person will understand why. I stayed awake though, unlike some...

We were provided with food, chai, water and, when they decided to give up as the male dancers just could not get the moves right, our money. We finished at around 9pm, and after reluctantly (ha) giving back the suit I had sweated through all day, and the shoes I had worn with no socks which seemingly had swimming pools inside, we were returning to our respective hostels. A tiring but wonderful experience, in which I met lots of fascinating people and got an insight into a phenomenon of an industry. And potentially became a star, whenever that movie gets released.

Love you all


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