One of the most exciting things about Mumbai is that it really is a city of many possibilities. Walking around Colaba Saturday afternoon, while waiting to have lunch with a friend from Billings, Mike was approached by an agent: Imran Khan of Casting Planet. Lonely Planet mentions that this happens occasionally to the beautiful fair-skinned Westerners touring Mumbai.
“Would you be interested in being in a Bollywood movie?”
Mike and I exchange glances. “Maybe, what movie?”
“Don, with Shahrukh Khan.” Wow, this is a big film…classic action and big stars!
“What kind of scene is it?”
“Oh, it’s a bank robbery. Explosions and action.” Okay, now we HAVE to check this out.
“…And Heena can come too?”
“mm, sure. She can chat with you when you’re waiting.” Maybe they don’t want Indians for the scene, but I could go see Film City! Finally, Mike is using his skills for doing sight-seeing.
And just like that (plus some google searching to make sure Imran was legit), we woke up at 6 AM to join a group of 30 tourists to head to Bollywood.
For the first time in 5 months, I was a minority, and it was odd to be standing with so many non-Indians. I wasn’t sure what my place would be during the day, but for now I was excited to just tag along. In fact, the bollywood staff I met that day, also wasn’t sure where I fit into the group, but were too timid to ask how I’d come to join this group.
We arrived at Film City around 8 AM. We were dropped off at one of the scenes under construction to get ready. I was amused to find that rather than using garage-like studios like in Hollywood, they construct make-shift huts using poles and tarps –similar to how cheap huts are constructed.
Now, Bollywood staff aren’t the most hospitable people I’ve met. They just kept herding everyone back and forth for about an hour without giving any information about the movie, schedule, etc. It turns out, the only people who knew anything about the day’s filming were me and Mike –because we asked Imran questions the previous day. So, I told everyone about the original Don from the late 70s.
Finally, one of the casting guys came out and told everyone they needed to practice their facial expressions: “Act like you’ve just seen an explosion and someone gets killed.”
They liked Mike’s facial expressions. We thought they might keep him to the front of the group. They also asked me to make a “scared” face, so I thought maybe I’d be in the movie too…but I think they were just trying not to be awkward by skipping me (in turn making it more awkward). Maybe I would’ve been in the movie if I was supposed to give a “skeptical” or “warm, friendly” look…Or maybe if I was blonde-haired and blue-eyed.
The scene they wanted the extras for was a German bank robbery. So everyone got dressed up business style. It was really interesting to watch Lonely Planet style backpackers (we’re talking real hippies) go from bracelets, ponytails, and genie pants, to designer suits. I suddenly realized that the people India seeks out to be slutty-looking in dance scenes or just be “white” to portray a homogenous West, are actually just very chill free-flowing people. Next time you watch a Bollywood movie, see if you can spot an odd piercing or tattoo.
Mike got dressed extra snazzy too.
By 10 AM everyone was dressed up and ready to go. And so we waited to be called. They had to first film the explosion with the stunt doubles.
I finished reading my book. So did Mike. And we still kept waiting. Finally around 1:30 PM we got called back into the hair and make up tent. Maybe they wanted to freshen everyone up? …Nah, it was just time for lunch.
After a lunch of channa masala, roti, and hakka noodles, finished off with kulfi, we were energized and ready to…wait some more. [Apparently a stunt double had broken a leg and the explosions needed to be done bigger…basically, the filming was going to take even more time.] We started socializing with other travelers: a US couple who had just landed in India for a 1-yr adventure, a girl from Denmark working in Nepal and on holiday with a friend who was heading home after a semester in Australia, and more types.
Finally, at 2 PM, I got bored and annoyed with waiting around. We hadn’t even seen anything else in Film City. So, I walked up to the #3 guy and asked in English:
“Don’t you at least have a TV or something. We could watch a movie.”
“Sorry, we don’t have one here.”
“Okay fine,” I switched to Hindi. “Can’t you at least show us the set or something?”
And a lightbulb went on. He walked to the gate, instructed us to follow, and took me and Mike up the road to the set! As we walked he chatted in Hindi, pointing out landmarks (the filming school where people learn technical skills for lighting, set-planning, etc.), and just asking if I was in Indian and how I managed to be part of the “foreigner’s group”. We weren’t allowed to take any photos, but we saw the Bank, and people planning the scene. Unfortunately, Shahrukh was at lunch when we came over. It was great to see the set. Sometimes being Indian and speaking Hindi has its advantages.
The rest of the day turned into a waiting game. Around 6 PM, Mike and I realized if we stayed much longer we’d miss our train to Goa, and there was no way were going to let that happen. Before, we could decide to bail though, the Casting director announced that the filming was done for the day (director’s birthday), and everyone could change and go home. Sadly, an uneventful day, but we got some insight into Bollywood, and met some new traveling friends in India.