What you are about to read is a true recollection of the events that took place on Monday 25 October 2010. However elaborate or ridiculous the facts may seem, I would like it recorded here that not even I can make this kind of stuff up.
There were about 30 of us. Foreigners (ferengis). Extras. We were all approached by slick Mr. Bollywood the day before and were now waiting to be collected from our hotel and taken to the movie set. It was 8am when around the corner suddenly appeared a bright yellow bus with blue letters on the side ‘DESTINY’. It was an auspicious start. The bus ride through the Mumbai streets was incredible and I definitely got to see parts of the city that I would not have seen otherwise. It looked like this was going to be an unforgettable day.
We arrived at the studio an hour later and were led to a large room where we were told to wait for further instructions. We were all a little nervous, not knowing what to expect and to break the ice, my new German friend, Benjamin (we met on the bus) made a joke and said that he thought this was a Bollywood scam and that we were going to be called in one by one, and then robbed and murdered. Everybody laughed. Everyone except the 3 Swedes (they looked even more nervous than before).
We did not get robbed or murdered. Worse, we got assessed: short/tall, fat/skinny, dark/light, pretty/ugly, male/female, dancer/non-dancer. After you are assessed you go to ‘hair and make-up’ and then ‘wardrobe’. I met Leda (from Argentina) while standing in the wardrobe line. We were both tall and dark (compared only to the Swedes, I thought) and were given our costumes together. The wardrobe lady took one look at me and yelled ‘dress! Yes! Yes!’ She was overjoyed that she would get to put one of us into a dress and to be honest, so was I. I’ve been riding a motorcycle for a long time and I’ve been fantasising about wearing a dress again (and take a bath with scented candles, buy flowers and other girly things). Yes, I was excited about wearing a dress, until I saw the dress I was supposed to wear. Leda and I both nearly had a heart attack followed by a laughing fit. It was a summer dress, yellow with a big brown corset closing around my bosom with, matching, yellow buttons. That in itself, was not so strange but didn’t quite ‘fit’ with the make-up I had been given. Thus, from the neck down I looked like a Bavarian dairy farmer and from the neck up, a prostitute. Ok, just work it girl, I told myself but Leda and I nearly rolled on the floor laughing. She also looked ridiculous but I took first prize.
Next, shoes. Needless to say they had no shoes in my size. I wear a size 8 (7 on a good day) and had to force my poor feet into a size 6 silver sandal (again, ill-matched to the outfit, I think). The wardrobe lady told me not to worry (who’s worried?) I would not have to walk in this scene. This would prove to be incorrect as, in this particular scene, I not only had to walk but I also had to dance, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
All made up, Leda and I returned to where they had all the extras waiting and the moment I walked in, the room froze. Nobody knew what to say until an Australian guy at the back managed a ‘whoa, now THAT is an outfit’ and everybody (including me) broke down laughing. At that moment one of the assistant-directors came in and did a double take when he saw me. ‘What?!’ I felt like saying to him ‘it’s not like I did this to myself’. But everybody looked a little ridiculous and I assumed it was part of the plot. By now, I had overcome any shyness or reserve I might have felt earlier in the day. It was clear that I was still going to feel very foolish and I made peace with that. An hour later we were called onto the set.
A bar (a Cuban bar).
In Scotland (?)
1991 (suddenly the wardrobe made a little more sense).
The extras had to occupy the bar, i.e. sit at the tables, stand at the bar, dance on the dance floor and so on. I was told to sit at a table with Benjamin and pretend to be in deep conversation. This, I have to add, is much harder than it sounds. Benjamin has a wicked sense of humour and kept saying things that made me burst out laughing when I was supposed to be ‘in deep conversation’. On the dance floor were the ‘stars’, a young Indian couple, wearing normal (not 80-ish) clothes and dancing very closely together. Another assistant director told us that there is a big difference between ‘actors’ and ‘stars’ and very rarely do you find both qualities in one person. These were stars. Vain to the core.
The Australian guy that told me I had quite an outfit had a big role. He was supposed to dance up to the female star, rub against her and pick a fight with the male star. He also had to pretend to be extremely drunk while doing so. The poor guy was a terrible actor and looked retarded rather than drunk but the director didn’t seem to notice (or mind). After what felt like 500 takes of the same scene an assistant director (there seemed to be at least 10 of them) told me to wait for the music to start, count to ten and then stand up and walk out of the bar. And so for the next hour, I counted to ten, stood up, walked across the dance floor (in my size 6 silver sandals) and out the door where I waited with the light and sound people until the director yelled ‘Cut! Back to positions!’
My feet were screaming by now and just then, another assistant director told me to rather sit down again, wait for the music, count to ten and then get up and walk over to a table he indicated and have a short (15 seconds) conversation with the guy sitting there and return to my table. I waited for the music, counted to ten and then got up and walked over to a table on the other side of the dance floor occupied by a young guy from Finland. ‘Hi’ I said when I reached his table ‘I’m supposed to come over here and have an imaginary conversation with you. What’s up?’ But he was too shocked to react. Nobody told him that I was supposed to do that and all of a sudden I heard the director scream ‘CUT!!’ ‘What are you doing?’ he asked me, bewildered. I blushed, instantly, and (stuttering) told him that the assistant director had told me to do this. Of course, at that moment, that particular assistant director was nowhere to be found and I was told to go back to my table and sit down. Thankfully, shortly after that embarrassing incident we ‘cut’ for lunch. During lunch we all had to wear massive pink bibs (to keep our costumes clean) and I remember thinking, in that moment, that I didn’t think it was possible for us to look more ridiculous than we did, but I was wrong.
After lunch we were shooting the fight scene, which sounds exciting but after 500 takes gets a little old. In this scene, I had to dance with the others on the dance floor until the fight was picked and then act really surprised. I went for this scene, whole-heartedly, dancing and overacting my little heart out. After all, this was the 80’s. This was Bollywood. Overacting was expected.
At 22h00 one of the extras, a charted accountant from London said that she wanted to leave. We were told in the morning that we would be finished by 21h00 and everyone was tired and wanted to go back to the hotel. I was also tired but I knew that we would never finish on time. By now, I knew India better than that. But before I knew it the lady from London had gotten all the extras to walk off the set and demand to be taken home. I didn’t want to feel left out so I went outside and stood at a distance while she argued with the assistant director. He begged us to stay for ten more minutes but our spokes woman was fierce and refused to budge. Boycott! Boycott! Moment later, Mr. Slick arrived on the scene and also begged us to stay (the real drama was taking place off the set) and offered to pay us each 300 rupees more if we stayed for ten more minutes and eventually we were convinced to go back to the set.
For the next ten minutes we were all gathered around the 2 guys fighting and had to act really shocked. Everyone was too tired to act anymore and we ended up just pulling strange faces until the director yelled ‘Cut’ and then we were on the bus, Destiny, on our way home. All in all (and all and all..) it was a great day and I even earned a full R 100. You gotta love India.