Thursday, February 28, 2008

Lottie goes to Bollywood

So there I was, minding my own business, buying a samosa from a roadside stall, when this chap came up saying he's from Bollywood and would I like a part as an extra in a movie. Why not, I thought. He said I could come in the morning, or right away for a night shoot. Since I'd had a nap in the afternoon and figured I wouldn't sleep well anyway, I went for the night shoot and climbed into the minivan with about 15 other westerners of assorted nationalities, mostly above-averagely attractive.

After 2 hours with my knees wedged against the seat in front, I was rather going off the idea. It was dark by the time we pulled up at a rickety shack surrounded by shiny trailers, and piled out of the van. There was some discussion, it turned out we were on the wrong set. So we all piled back in and trundled off again.

Arriving at the right set, we were shepherded upstairs to the "costume department". Some were given a suit or dress to change into, others were deemed acceptable in their own clothes, dirty and smelly from a day's sightseeing - classy. A statuesque German blonde, obviously unused to wearing heels, staggered about like a trainee ladyboy on the tall wedges she was provided with. I was handed my costume: a scarf. Then, with kohl-lined eyes and hair like an 80's aerobics instructor, I joined the set outside.

I don't know what the scene was supposed to resemble. I found myself surrounded by - what do you call them - little tent things without sides - draped with chiffon curtains and dotted with velvet-covered cuboid couches and velvet-covered wicker basket stools (don't sit on them - they collapse) and velvet cushions, all in shades of turquoise, crimson, indigo, gold, violet and vermillion, and sparkling with beads and sequins and fairy lights. It's everything Bollywood should be. Then I nearly fell over the camera tracks, and got told off.

It all seemed a bit disorganised really - no-one was given any instructions, so I insinuated myself into the set as they began setting up the background shots. I chatted to westerners in Indian clothing and Indians in costume-department western clothing. The Indians seem to take this Bollywood lark really quite seriously. "Etchuleee," said Anoushka, with a flick of her hair, "etchuleee, I was supposed to play the main character's best friend, but I agreed to do background, you know, for continuity. As a favour to the director." Another head flick. Two or three rearrangments later, I had to walk from here to here a few times.

Much discussion amongst the crew - mutter mutter, "these people don't look like rockers" (no kidding - I look down at my loose-fitting salwar kameez) - and a bunch of us were sent back to the costume department for accessorising.

I didn't get any accessories, but I did get another makeover (despite one of the make-up guys' protests that I'd been "sitting with the good crowd") - the 80's hair went and was replaced with a loose style. Costume lady, meanwhile, was attempting to undress Simon, to show off his tattoos (so rock 'n' roll), eventually agreeing to let him wear a waistcoat (immediately afterwards, the assistant director took one look at him and said "put a T-shirt on him"). And we were bundled back outside, with strict instructions not to take photos because the main actors would be there.

Back on set, nothing much was going on. I was positioned in a group to one side, surrounded by faux-hookah pipes emitting a sickly-sweet smell like the waxing room of a Bangkok beauty parlour. I was next to a 14-year old boy trying to affect a worldly air, "my mom's in the industry", he told me nonchalantly.

My big moment, a carefully choreographed cross-camera walk (which I had to do through five or six rehearsals - each time being told I was going either too fast or too slow - before the cameras started rolling), ended up with me being paired with Monika for the rest of the night. One of the Indians in western clothes, she was obviously uncomfortable in the low-cut black cocktail dress, but prepared to do whatever it took to make it big in Bollywood.

We weren't needed for the next few shots, so we took up residence on one of the velvet couches and watched the same two minutes of dialogue being filmed 25 times, from every conceivable angle. Monika told me about her home in Himachal Pradesh, where the climate is cool and they grow exotic fruit, like apples. She came to Mumbai with hopes of stardom, and at 22 is an old hand at acting, having been in two skincare commercials. But although she "loves acting too much", she tells me earnestly that it's very hardwork, very hectic, so much in your mind. Four things, you must think about. First, the script. Second, your face, your expression. Third, the people looking (yes, really). And fourth, instructions from the director. Taxing stuff, certainly.

And we're up again! This time to walk from here to here, and sit down. "Be cheerful!" the assistant director chivvies us up, "happy, smiling - you're enjoying the party!". But we weren't allowed to talk - the background noise soundtrack will be added later - so we make animated silent conversation, throw our heads back in silent raucous laughter, and smile and nod in time to the one vaguely plausible rocker, quietly strumming his guitar.

By 5am several people had started to nod off, sprawled over couches. One dozing extra has to be woken up, hauled to his feet and chivvied into position by the assistant director. Those on camera stare listlessly at their martini glasses of water, or stumble dazedly between their marks.

By our final appearance Monika is like death walking, but it won't really matter - we're only going to be blurred background shapes anyway. At 6am, as the sun starts to rise, we can finally call it a night. In the minivan, I'm presented with my pay: a 500 rupee note (6.25 pounds - not bad for a night's work, eh!).


At 2:28 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You didn't need photographs here. I could see Monika and the statuesque German girl in my mind. I didn't know extras didn't talk. How unkind. Dddy

At 2:30 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Loved Anoushka's etchuleee


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