Saturday, November 20, 2004

Billy Breaks Bollywood

namaste! Wow what a week! There's just far too many stories to tell you, but I guess I'll just try to tell one or two...

I'm sitting in the garden of an Indian summer mansion in the baking heat wearing an all white Indian pajama suit and a white headscarf. My hands are together in prayer and I have an inane grin on my face. I am grinning because I am watching my 6 year old nephew being forced to eat something that looks like a cross between peanut butter and lard. His neck is being snapped from side to side as another of his uncles, a large bearded man with a giant turban, wraps his head with an orange piece of cloth. Also sitting with me are 3 beautiful Indian ladies wearing expensive looking saris. They too are staring adoringly at the small boy as he goes through this strange ritual. Is is a dream? Has Billy finally "gone native"? No, it is in fact the filming of a commercial for "East End" Ghee. Let me back-track a little....

So, me and Sarah managed to buy our tickets from mumbai to Ajmer, the closest station to Pushkar. Unfortunately all the 2nd class sleeper tickets were sold out, so we had to buy air con class tickets, which cost 4 times as much.. Anyway, we headed home to chill. Back at the hotel, the reception guy seemed very pleased to see us. "Ahhhh, my friends, you are back! I have good news for you! My friend he wants you to be in Bollywood film!". I knew that sooner or later someone would spot my potential as a big screen bollywood star, I'm just surprised it didn't happen sooner. "What's the part?" I ask. "Wait, I call my friend, he come!". So, 20 mins later we are chatting with a young dapper looking Indian guy wearing hip western clothes. He tells us that actually it's a commercial for an as yet unknown product, and that they need a western couple as extras. We'll be picked up at 8am, and then taken to our train by 7pm. And on top of that we'll be paid the whopping fee of 500 rupees! Now I'll be honest here, I wasn't exactly that keen. I mean, I've done filming before, and to be fair it's more about boredom than glamour, but Sarah was really keen so I figured ahh, why not, even if it sucks it'll be good blog material!

So we agree and at 8am the next day we are met by bobby the Bombay stud. Bobby is wearing a wifebeater vest underneath a flowing black chiffon dress/Indian garment, and looks like a bit of a lady's man. We head off for the local train. Once on the train we manage to get seats, but Sarah decides, against our advice, she wants to stand by the doors to watch the view pass. Bad move. Mumbai local trains are like American stomachs at an all you can eat buffet. Empty at the start, full by the middle, and yet always making room for more. After half an hour, Sarah was so crammed in by Indian men that she couldn't get back to us even if she tried. To add to her predicament, every time the train stopped at a station, about 50 people would try to get off at exactly the same time as 50 people tried to get on, making each stop a mini hillsborough disaster, with Sarah in the middle of it. Add to this the fact that lots of these Indian men had the tendency to accidentally cop a feel in the confusion and you've got one uncomfortable English girl. Eventually she did manage to get back, and promised to listen to our advice in future!

Meanwhile Bobby had been telling me about his 16 girlfriends. "Sixteen?! But how do you manage to see them all? There's only 7 days in a week!". "2 days each girl them move on" he explains. Cunning. Eventually we arrive in some remote part of the city and jump in a rickshaw. The journey to the film set is pretty crazy as we drive through some of the most alien environments I've seen so far. At one point we see a crazy man in the road doing a perfect imitation of John Cleese doing an imitation of a crazy man. Fascinating!

We arrive late at the film set, which is a big old "bungalow" (mansion with two stories, a pool, etc) and head to the "changing room". There are lots of people milling around the place. They are mainly separated into two categories. Beautiful people and ugly people. The beautiful people are the actors, producers, director etc. The ugly people have lots of different jobs, but in true Indian tradition each person has only one job and sticks to it. For example, the is a guy who's job it is to bring you water. However, if you want water, you cant ask him for it, you have to ask the guy who's in charge of taking care of the actors. There's also a guy who's job is to hold an umbrella over our heads while the shooting is stopped. However, he doesn't seem to know when the camera is rolling or not, so he just stands at the side opening a closing the umbrella and trying to look busy. Another guy is in charge of filling up some empty chapatti flour bags with cotton woo; to use as props. One might think this would be a fairly easy job, but this man has other ideas. After about 3 hours he has still only filled up 3 bags (they are the size of a bag of doritos) and is still looking very unsatisfied with the result. He keeps trying to make them stand up, as if they are filled with flour, but of course they fall straight over. He then shakes them a bit, to help the cotton wool settle to the bottom and tries again. He was still doing this when I left him....

So, we are called and made to sit on a rug on the lawn with other extras who are playing the family and friends of a small boy whop is obviously going through some kind of rite of passage ritual that uses ghee. The poor kid spends the entire day sitting in the baking sun having his head yanked about and brown sludge shoved in his mouth. I hope he was getting paid more than me! After about 53 seconds the novelty wears off and I start to get bored. And hot. Very hot. Sarah gives me a look that says "Sorry! You were right, this is going to be a nightmare and it's only 11am!". I ma informed by the producer that actually this commercial is not being filmed for Indian TV. Oh no. In fact it's being filmed for ENGLISH TV!!! Yes that's right, if you are a big fan of that Asian cable channels, as I know you all are, then you will be seeing me on your screens very soon indeed!
Nothing very interesting happened for the rest of the day. I just sat around waiting for nothing and eventually we left to catch our train at 6pm. The train journey was pretty pleasant. The AC class we were in was good and bad really. It was very clean and more comfy etc, but it was like being in a bubble. You couldn't hear the sound of the train going over the tracks, you couldn't smell the sudden contrasts in aroma (poo... toffee.... flowers... poo...) or feel the wind on your face. We were sharing our compartment with a nice Indian Lady with two children. The younger was only 9 months old, and had a habit of trying to chew through my rucksack. We also met a nice old man in the compartment next to us. "Did you sleep well?" I asked him in the morning. "Oh no" he replied, "All night I am rushing for urination!". Poor thing.

We arrive in Ajmer and set off to look for the bus stop. At one point we have to cross the main road, but as we reach the centre dividing wall, Sarah trips over her flip-flop and flies headlong into the traffic on the other side. Somehow, despite the momentum provided by her giant backpack, she manages to pull herself back just in time to avoid being decapitated by a giant rickshaw. The first thing she says is "Owww! My knees!"....
At the bus stop we meet a nice young guy names John who runs a guesthouse in Pushkar with his older brother. We agree to look at his guesthouse, but when the bus comes it is too full. "No problem, we ride on roof", says John. Cool. On the roof we have to keep our wits about us as some of the branches we pass under require us to actually lie completely flat to avoid being whipped off the roof and deposited in a heap on the road. Finally, we arrive in pushkar!!

So that's where I am now. Good old Pushkar. It's the "Camel fair" at the moment, which is pretty damn cool. It's kind of like a cross between Glastonbury, Indiana Jones, the fairground, and Mad max. Today I want to the big stadium to watch "Women's Musical Chairs Competition". It was a close competition I can tell you, and there was quite a crowd!! There was a large army contingent, as well as an entire primary school in attendance. I had my money on nice black haired little thoroughbred, but she let me down in the closing stages, getting outrun by an old lady in a sari.

right, that's more than enough for one day. I'm staying at a great little place out of town called Nanu's Garden Paradise. Come visit me! :)

No comments: