Cam and Nicole do Bollywood!
It is not uncommon for Bollywood scouts to comb the streets of Colaba and Fort Area looking for Western people to be extras in movies, TV programs, videos and commercials. If you've been living under a rock, Bollywood is the sub-continent's version of Hollywood.
Our guidebook said that the selection process was hit and miss, dependant on demand and a little luck. This was echoed by a couple that we met en route to Udaipur. They wanted to find a job as an extra for the day but were unsuccessful. It sounded like a pretty cool proposition, a truly unique experience that we could get nowhere else.
On the train to Mumbai it was decided that we would not seek out Bollywood; instead we would leave it up to fate and let it decide. We returned to our guesthouse after dinner on the first evening and heard a doorbell ring. "What could that be?" We looked at each other confused. The bell rang again. It was for our room… someone was in the hallway looking for us. Nicole curiously opened the door… there was Polo.
Polo is a hustling Bollywood recruiter and he was called by our guesthouse manager. Ironically he arrived shortly after we returned from our dinner. He was obviously given the tip that two Western tourists had arrived and they were staying in Mumbai for a few days; we assume a small commission was involved. Fate had led him to us and we had agreed that "if approached, we'll do it". We were going to Bollywood!
We were up at the crack of dawn, okay it was actually 7:00am. Polo was there to greet us but mysteriously left immediately afterwards. We didn't see him again for 30 minutes? He was looking for one more extra to fill his quota of three. He found Sophie, a Parisian tourist about our age, at the long haul bus terminal. She had just arrived following a 13-hour overnight bus ride and she hadn't slept or eaten… but she was fearlessly up for the task and joined our small squad.
How often would an opportunity like this occur in one's lifetime?
Polo passed us off to his assistant who whisked us away in a taxi. He didn't speak English so this was the first challenge of the day. The taxi trip was short. We got out and noticed that we were at a very large train station with thousands of commuters exiting the building. Clearly we had not arrived at our destination. We boarded the local train and headed north. Little did we know that this journey would be a unique cultural experience on its own!
The beat-up trains were like a metal cage with every inch stuffed with agitated commuters. It was 99% men and serious pushing and punching occurred to get on and off at each station. It was organized mayhem! Evidently this is an accepted practice… but it was barbaric. We saw old men being pushed around and knocked to the ground because they weren't moving fast enough. It truly was 'survival of the fittest' when you ride the Bombay rail!
We were told that it would be an 'office scene' and that our look was right for the part (I guess we can't shake the office look!). We didn't quite know what else to expect. But one thing was for sure, it was not going to be a big blockbuster set with pyrotechnics and explosions… unfortunately.
The train journey was surprisingly long. After over an hour we were pretty far from the Colaba area where the trip began. We took another tuk-tuk and arrived at the studio twenty minutes later. The studio was low-key and ordinary; in fact you'd never know that it was a studio. It blended into the surrounding residential and industrial area quite well and looked like a small storage warehouse.
We were quickly shoved into a small makeshift room that said 'make-up'. This was the only air-conditioned room… the other dressing rooms were tiny closets with large, loud metal fans. The only thing 'make-up' about the room was that it had a mirror and a small make up bag on the table. The make-up artist was rarely in the room and only touched up a few people throughout the day.
So we sat and waited.
Actors would come in and out of the room. At first it was kind of awkward as everyone was sizing each other up. Once the ice was broken it was a good time, with good conversation. We met a few Bollywood actors that have minor roles on cheesy Indian soap operas. Most of them were starving artists from other countries, obviously no big name actor was attending this set.
It seemed very disorganized and hectic but we're told that everything was normal… that's just how Bollywood operates!
Finally, after about two hours, Cameron was called to 'dress'. His was to be a 'smart professional looking to buy an Audi sports car'. When he entered the set it was evident that this was not an 'office scene' at all. It was a green screen set that would allow the producers to superimpose a digital background. The producers were very tight-lipped about what the project was about. Throughout the day we got more information and put the pieces together. We gather it is for a virtual website for either an international duty free business or the government.
It was strange and uncomfortable standing in the middle of a giant green cube with twenty pairs of eyes staring at you. English and Hindu commands were being shouted. The scene seemed to be partially made up on the fly. Cameron was told to act a little and talk with the 'car salesman'. The crazy thing was that there was no car or showroom… only a green stool that they were supposed to look at.
It was actually a pretty comical and fun. What a bizarre way to spend an afternoon in India?
Then we waited some more. The day went by slowly and we had no idea what we were doing or when we'd be needed. People came and went. People shouted and ran up and down the hallways. The set was hysterical and amusing, meticulous and frantic, chaotic and structured… it was Bollywood, and we were soaking up every minute!
Cameron was then called upon again to do a 'romantic walking scene' with another female extra. The scenes were quick and the producers rarely needed more than a few takes. Cameron's final scene was the funniest. He was an 'American fisherman' that had to do different fishing poses and pretend to fish in an imaginary pond. It was quite hilarious. Check the photo album, Nicole was able to sneak in a photo.
Nicole's scenes were with two different male extras. In both circumstances she was to act in love while walking into a store and down the road after shopping. Both Cameron and Nicole had some laughs at the choice of clothing. A favourite was Nicole's second scene when the stylist teased her hair in a ponytail. It looked more like she just woke from bed after a long night than an updo for a Bollywood scene.
At the end of the day Cameron was in four scenes and Nicole was in two. We were in the cramped studio for twelve hours and were very tired. We pockted our 1,000 rupees (our days pay) and were taken back to the train station to tackle the Western Rail! We shared a taxi with a very chatty and friendly older Indian businessman upon arrival at Churchgate station... we hit the sheets shorty before midnight. We were exhausted.
Our day in Bollywood was a long, amusing and highly educational experience that we'll never forget!