Lights, Camera, ACTION! My Bollywood experience
Trip Start Oct 26, 2007
54Trip End Oct 26, 2009
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I love India.. I love how haphazard and unclear and silly it can be.. I also love how things seem to work out. I had faith that my time in Trivandrum happening to coincide with their film festival was not for nothing! I was meant to see those films.. Some of my UK based friends will remember my attempt, years ago, to start a "friends' film club" - I had moved out of London, and missed getting together with my London based friends, also missed movies.. I was averaging something like one film a year for a while there! We met once a month.. after myself, my friend Mary attended all of them! I loved watching, and talking about the films afterward. The opportunity to talk about the films is limited here in India, as I am often the only non-Indian in the audiences, and those audiences are predominantly male. They look at solo women oddly.. not unpleasantly or threateningly, just oddly
Back to the waiting game.. an hour or so later Mr Sinister returned. (And really, looks can be deceiving, he turned out to be the Vice Chairman of the Culture Committee, and was a great advocate.) He told me that they had oversold passes, should have only sold 6000, had already sold 7000. I asked how about making it 7001?! He didn't appear to have a sense of humour.. or perhaps just didn't get mine.. I know many people in the US and the UK who don't.. he gave the impression it was an impossible task. Then he asked me did I have a photo? NO! My hopes of going to a 3pm movie were rapidly vanishing, as it was now 2:30pm. I had arrived at the site at 1:00!
There was a photo place right across the street, I scooted over and was told 10minutes.. 35minutes later I emerged with my 16 wallet sized photos, plus 16 free teeny weeny photos, and one small calendar with my photo on it, all for 100 rupees! (or 20rupees more than 4 wallet sized.) You may find a tiny photo of me winging its way to you soon.. or I may use them as business cards on my travels. Here's a photo of me, and here's my email address.. So I returned to base, handed over my photo, Mr Sinister reached into his breast pocket and pulled out a battered and folded application form.
I was in! Before attending any film event, I was asked to the home of my generous benefactor, whose name was Mr Prassana, to meet his wife, and hear about his two children who currently live in the UK, in Hertforshire! We arrived at his very nice, and very cool, house, met his charming wife, and immediately set to the photo albums featuring their children and many house guests over the years. I am happy to say there were no corpses among the photos.. (you will have to read my Kerala entry to find out about that one!)
All of my Indian visits and adventures have been embarked upon with both a sense of amusement, as well as a modicum of sensibility! I have learned that you tend to get what you expect here.. and if you expect things'll be difficult, they probably will be! The heat, and getting from A to B are enough to frustrate anyone.. I'm dealing with the heat by avoiding it mostly. I spend time in the morning at an internet cafe that's kept fairly cool with ceiling fans, then go to my morning movie, then to a restaurant with A/C for lunch (same lunch every day, rice, vegetable curry, chapati, fresh pineapple juice.. yum! all for a whopping 55 rupees.. less than a pound, which is less than $2.)
I am well under control in terms of my expenses, so far. I suppose New Zealand and Australia will test my budgetary limits! And the traveling.. I've found it helps to take care of things as much as I can, ahead of time
We get back to the film festival - in time for the opening Open Forum, featuring Miguel Litten, a Chilean film director, who had to flee Chile during Pinochet's reign. He lives in Cuba. He and his Indian interpretor took the stage, along with some Indian festival dignitaries.. and we were off! The session was from 5-6:00. I was bemused to see more than half the Indian audience had left by 5:30.. whether they got tired of the translation, or just lost interest I did not know. But I could not imagine leaving when a great film director is conducting the opening session of an international film festival
During the Open Forum, Mr Passand was on my left. He was one of the many exiting Indians I mentioned earlier! Past his empty seat to the left sat a young Indian who spoke to me after the session was over, wondering if I was American. I said yes.. we then walked out and talked some more. He asked about my opinion of the Iraq war, and after declaring my pacifist and anti-war sentiments, he asked if I'd be interested in playing the part of an American Journalist in an Indian film that was being filmed/finished the following day. Are you kidding! Sign me up! It was so funny, because as I was waiting, waiting, waiting for my festival pass, I did fantasise a bit about "being discovered" or being involved somehow with some film production.. and right off the bat I was asked to be in a film! It would never happen anywhere else in the world.. well, in the world that I have known so far! Perhaps when I get to Latin America...
Anyway, the following day, I was told to meet at 6:30pm at a hotel downtown. I got there, to a text saying they were running late, and it would be more like 7:30.. I read this to mean more like 8:00.. and I was right! Chayan, the young man who asked me if I wanted to be in the film, arrived after a full day's shooting, and said that evening's shooting was to be the final of the film. I was a bit concerned about dialogue, learning lines, etc
I was taken to "makeup" and was worried they wouldn't have makeup light enough... I was the only white person on the premises! The film's star, an Indian woman, was light skinned (curious that most of the Bollywood film stars are light skinned.. and one current one even has bluegreen eyes, which to me is silly. Indians are so attractive, most have darker skin, and dark brown eyes. It might be that Indian women suffer pressure like Western women, but instead of pressure to be thin, there's pressure to be light. It's been nice to see there are voluptuous film stars in Bollywood films in general, and definitely in the Indian films I've seen at the festival
Back to the shoot! It turns out that Chayan's nonchalance about the script was one of the many things irritating the film's star. That and a lack of organisation, and timeliness, and order prompted her to lose her cool more than once. She felt she had a confidante in me I think, and vented some of her frustrations. She was very kind, and practiced our "scene" together. I gave her my opinion about script changes.. rather than call me "M'am" that she use my name, given the context of the scene.. she did that! She was scathing about the dialogue in general, and sounded like she did not have much confidence in the film project. The director was a young, local Keralan man named Dr Bijou.
What amused me was the fact that everyone had their shoes off.. not unusual at all in India, where people takes their shoes off upon entering a house, temple, etc., but being on a film-set, and looking at the cameras, and lights, and seeing all these bare brown feet made me smile. There's such a casualness about India.. and it's there on the film set too! The actress lived for seven years in New York City.. she was very much the modern woman, and reminded me of a number of people I've met along the way in the corporate world. Her real job is a communications consultatant to corporations.
I think my attitude of no expectations and thoroughly enjoying myself endeared me to the film crew. Many of them came up to me and told me about family members either living in the USA or UK. They were lovely, friendly, appreciative of my part. They also were quite complimentary! Our rehearsal session went fine, then we got on set and I thought I could zip through it all in one go.. but the director suggesting cutting the filming in three parts. I found it confusing that they had us go out of order in the scenes. Separates the professional actor from the rest of us I guess! They can churn up emotions and turn things on and off.. someone like me, who just learned my lines, would have preferred to go from beginning to end.. and there was a point that I flubbed my lines.. but they were cool, and forgiving! We laughed a lot, and I delivered my lines like a pro pretty much! Some wondered if I'd acted before! hahaha.. I suppose working in an investment bank constitutes acting.. especially the last couple of years.. haha
The film's name is Raman (Travelogue of Invasions). It is the story of an Indian woman who is separated from her American Secretary of Defense (haha) husband
As we wrapped up at 11:45pm, I declined attending the post-production party, or whatever it's called! Chayan, my casting agent! lives in Brisbane. I'll stop by to see him when I am in Australia. Might negotiate myself a fee for my appearance!
So, the upshot of the film festival was that my favourite film, a Chinese film called Getting Home, was voted best film by the audience, myself included. I was surprised, and impressed, that it won, as I was somewhat expecting the local Indian audience to vote for their local filmmakers' efforts
Okay - interesting fact time: The capital of Kerala is Thiruvananthapuram, which has recently reclaimed its original name. It used to be named Trivandrum to appease the British who were unable to pronounce Thiruvananthapuram! Many of India's cities are going back to their original names - Mumbai, Kolkata, etc., see more info on this website.
That's my mini-adventure from this southern state of India. I have a few more days before I travel to Sri Lanka. Until then, toodleooh.