Tuesday, February 06, 2007

India giveth, India taketh away (part 1)

Long time no post, this I know. I am terribly sorry, especially since my fingers have been itching to type and leave a million entries about my experience so far. This is the first time that i've been online since last wednesday, almost a week. That's almost an era in India time. Hyderabad was amazing, overwhleming and heartwarming. I have been welcomed into the arms of family i didn't even know about. I have seen life from the upper crust, the middle class and the working poor. (All encompassed within my family, in 3 distinct areas within Hyderabad.)
I had the most awkward afternoon of my life with my grandfather's sister's family, which i promise i'll blog about another time. I left Hyderabad on Spice Jet, a low cost Indian Airline, from Hyderabad's provincial airport. The flights were delayed about an hour, and i found myself striking up conversation with a brazilian model who looks rather indian. We talked about her new boyfriend, an Indian model who is from Mumbai, and all the hilarious cross cultural misunderstandings they have had in the last 2 months they have known each other. Before we walked up the stairs to get on the plane, she said something strange about Indian people having bad skin and body shapes b/c of the spiciness of the food. I was totally confused by the randomness (and the ignorance) of this comment, and although I wasn't offended, I think she thought I was, and didn't speak to me again.

By the time I arrived in Mumbai and collected my baggage, I didn't even think about it, I was just excited to go meet my contact and finally begin the solo part of my trip, unsupported by the comforts of family and filial love. I stepped out into Mumbai and spotted the two folks who were waiting for me. A dark skinned man named Makesh and a lighter skinned woman (who turned out to be my lady-in-waiting, who stays at my apartment to take care of me and cook my meals) named Seema. We drove through Mumbai's midnight traffic while i tried to stay awake and get my first look at Mumbai. We arrived at my "guest house" which turned out to be a private apartment complex. My apartment is clean, internet capable and very American. I have a shower, cable tv and a roommate for the next few days. She's a woman of my same name from Kolkutta, who runs a NGO dedicated to the education of girls.
(I'm borrowing her laptop at the moment)

I spent Sunday sleeping in, and eventually met with my academic director, who is a well connected Bollywood director who has made 7 somewhat alternative Hindi films. . He told me my biggest responsibility was to have a blast, and that this program would become what I made of it. I am the only student this month in the program, and I would be spending the first two weeks on sets at currents film shoots. I would start the week at the set for Shootout at Lokhandwala, a film by a hot young director, starring a bevy of Bollywood stars, with legends, stars and newcomers. (Some names to note are Amitabh Bachchan, Sanjay Dutt and Vivek Oberoi, check them and the movie info out at Wikipedia.com!!)
After our conversation about film and the film I'd be visitng, I went to the nearest beauty parlor to get a pedicure and prepare for going to a major Bollywood set the next day. I picked out my outfit, reviewed my film technique readings, and tried to not have any expectations.

I woke up early, did my morning pages (yay me!) and began to get ready. My breakfast arrived with my lady-in-waiting, and the wait for my ride (in the form of mukesh) began. He arrived an hour late with no explanation and we hopped into an autorickshaw for a bumpy, windy ride that took almost 45 minutes to get to Film City, the place where the movie was being shot.

It was quite a shock. I've been on the tour at the Universal Studios lot in Cali like all good tourists who visit there, and I felt that seeing the sets took away a great deal of the magic of the films I recognized them from. But being a Hollywood studio lot, it was clean, well maintained and chock full of security to keep rabid fans and wannabes off the sets that were being used. Mumbai's Film City was nothing like this. There were security guards in police look alike uniforms at the front gate who hardly even looked in our auto rickshaw as we zoomed through. I had been told by more than one person that Film City was built on the outskirts of the city b/c it was hilly, removed and scenic. Huh. As we drove up, I was struck by how typically Indian the place looked. Dirt roads, slums off the road, people washing their laundry in the river, hanging it to dry on the tree limbs nearby, goats and stray dogs running amuck.... Didnt look remotely different to me. there had been no welcome signs, or company signs and I honestly thought we were in the wrong place for a time. The main road was rather long and brought us to some set in construction, a small chai shop and a little restuarant beside ot. Many men were standing around, leaning on cars and talking, with no official ID of any sort to indicate whether they belonged there or not. I saw a few trailers as we drove around, lost in this unlabelled labrynth of broken down buildings and dirt roads. The only sign of real work that I witnessed other than the set builders were two women, wearing drab brown coats over their colorful thin saris, walking wearily along the road with a bucket and hand held broom each. They were picking up small pieces of trash and dusting away debri over the sides of the road onto the slope near the river. Makesh got out of the auto while we stopped by the chai shop to call our contact to confirm location of the shoot. I used this time to try and get the wind and dust whipped tangles out of my just clean hair. I began to doubt we would beable to arrive where we were supposed and dread my empty day with no shoot. No need, it was the place we had passed with the trailers.

Our auto unceremoniously pulled over onto a dirt hump and I tumbled out. I followed Makesh aimlessly, taking in the many skinny, dust covered men standing around, the broke down, half built look of the concrete building I was about to walk into, the mangy dogs running about, fighting or sleeping in the sun and the many pairs of eyes that stared at me, in my white cotton tunic and pink pin striped pants.

We wandered around like this for some time, until film crew people noticed us and tried to see why we were there. Makesh pointed upward to the second floor of the exposed, incomplete building to a woman in blue. He said something I didn't catch and waved me inthe direction of this woman. I walked up a rickety, very hastily handmade looking wooden ramp made of what looked like pieces of other sets. I met Pranchi, an assitant director a few years older than me who went to Temple for her undergrad. We shook hands and she said I should meet the director, even though they were in the middle of a take! I stood back to let her get his attn while I looked around the dusty, dirty hallway I had walked into. I couldn't see the filming b/c so many people wer standing btwn me and the camera guy (there was harldy 3 feet btwn us) and realising she couldn't get Apurva's (Apu)attn, she asked me to take a seat in front of the playback screens and wait for him there. As I sit down, I hear "Cut! Superb! One more!" and in rushes a tall youngish, hip looking Indian man, covered in tattoos of Hindu significance, rimless glasses, and an Abercrombie/Hollister/American Eagle look of jeans, a polo t-shirt and Sauconys/Aasics. He comes in and Pranchi introduces us quickly, saying his name fast and unintelligably, and introducing me as "A friend of Hansal Mehta's (my academic director/film director I mentioned earlier). She's a film student from CT (Connect-i-cut." His eyes lit up at Hansal's name and it was apparent he knew I was coming. He welcomed me warmly, offered me chai and went back to the take he just shot. People were coming in and out of the room, hurridly speaking in Hindi about the shot and the next one. In a moment the film's anti-hero, played by Bollywoodmega star Vivek Oberoi, strides in. He's tall, with fantastic hair, big eyes and a nice smile. Apu introduces me and says "This is Vivek, he's a big star." I answered with a smile and "I know, I've seen some of his films." Apu goes on to gush that Vivek does great work, we exchange more pleasantries and then watch playback of the last take together.

There's the entire rest of my day and then my 24 hour bout with food poisoning to tell about, but if I don't post this now, I have no idea when I will be able to. I'm still borrowing my flat mate's laptop, and I have hardly any time on it. More to come! I promise!

1 comment:

Frick said...

I'm so glad you're blogging again! Sounds utterly amazing and beautifully described. I can't wait to hear more about your Bollywood adventures. I'll be sure to look up these actors. I'm proud that I know Vivek though lol. Hope all is well and your food poisoning is the only time you will be sick for this trip. Keep blogging! Love ya