Mumbai Memoirs: A Brush With Bollywood

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Paul Gasnier Photography, Bollywood, Mumbai

Paul Gasnier Photography, Mehboob Studios, MumbaiIt was just a regular day in downtown Bombay. My friend and I were strolling down Colaba Causeway when a small man came up to us, introducing himself proudly as a casting agent for Bollywood. At first I shoved him away, sensing another scam from just another Colaba hawker. But the man meant business. He was looking for foreigners to act as extras in Bollywood movies, and had no time to waste. He took down my name and phone number, and muttered, “Be at Mehboob Studios, in Bandra, tomorrow at 8a.m. sharp”. And off he went, fishing for more tourists ready to sacrifice a day of their time here.

What about my friend? How come he didn’t get invited to act as an extra as well? Unfortunately, my friend was black…

Paul Gasnier Photography, Mehboob Studios, MumbaiKeeping my promise, I woke up early the following morning and whizzed through Bombay to be on time at the studios. I entered, not really knowing what I was getting myself into – and not knowing I could have arrived hours late. A whole crowd of foreigners was waiting in line, in flipflops and shorts, eyeing each other and wondering how this little man had managed to muster them all here. For most of them, Aussies and Brits in search of the ultimate Indian experience, who had agreed to come for the sake of telling folks back home.

You would expect actors to be pampered and looked after as soon as they enter a studio. Dream on. One after the other, we were huddled into the make-up and dressing rooms, where a whole crowd of professionals was making sure we looked pretty before going onstage.

Paul Gasnier Photography, Mehboob Studios, MumbaiAs I entered the dressing room, a contemptuous woman thrust a flashy pink V-neck t-shirt in my arms, “Take off your shirt and put this on”. From the little information I had gotten before entering this place, we were supposed to act in a party scene set in an arty East London apartment.

Looking at the others, I realized I had gotten out of it just fine. Some had to wear leather trousers and furry shirts. I dared a reply, “You know, in Europe, people never party dressed like this”. “Just wear what we give you and don’t ask questions”, she retorted, squinting her eyes.

And in the studio I was directed to the dreams of so many, the set of a Bollywood movie. Sanjay Dutt and Akshay Kumar arrived, quickly followed by a crowd of assistants. Our small party waited backstage for a cue to get on the scene. We killed time by sharing travel stories, smoking cigarettes, asking crewmembers the eternal question: “When will it be our turn?”.

Paul Gasnier Photography, Mehboob Studios, MumbaiAfter I had spent two hours waiting and exploring the ins and outs of the Mehboob studios, an assistant pulled me by the arm, and threw me inside the reconstructed bricked London apartment. Just another Indian movie showcasing the success of NRIs abroad, I thought.

My job was fairly simple. I had to hold a glass of grape juice, pretend it was wine, and chat up with the other guests of the party, while Akshay was dancing with a Russian model in front of me, with music blaring from everywhere.

“ACTION!” “CUT!”.

In 20 seconds time, the scene was over.

Paul Gasnier Photography, Mehboob Studios, MumbaiI still had to wait. Four hours. “In case we may still need you”, I was told. As I was looking around, I actually started to feel the thrill of being here. As a Frenchman, I always laughed at Indian cinema, mocking its tacky childishness and lack of subtlety, and the ridiculous way it portrays over muscled men and alluring white-skinned women, thus fuelling the sexual frustration of the Indian youth that remains mired in taboos and conservatism. But actually being at the heart of it was rather exhilarating. Being inside the dream factory responsible for the entertainment of a billion souls throughout the country was something fascinating and I enjoyed it.

I was finally allowed to leave and go home. A man at the exit gave me my salary for my day of work, Rs. 500. Just enough for the taxi that will take me back home.

The film is called Desi Boyz. It turned out to be a flop. But whenever I hear the theme song on the radio or elsewhere in the city, I always recall that incongruous and unforgettable experience of having been in a Bollywood movie.

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Post By Paul Gasnier, Guest Writer (1 Posts)

Student of life. Traveler. Photographer. Aspiring filmmaker.

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Paul Gasnier, Guest Writer

Paul Gasnier, Guest Writer
Student of life. Traveler. Photographer. Aspiring filmmaker.