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Adventures in Southern India

First Day Chollywood, Last Day Bollywood!

INDIA | Thursday, 20 March 2008 | Views [1269] | Comments [1]

Dear Friends and Family,

I had to add this story after the fact, because it was one of the major highlights of the trip. So, earlier I wrote about how Nirmal took us to AVM studios in Chennai and we took over the stage of an Indian talk show in a wild dancing ruckus, thus becoming stars for a day in Chollywood (Chennai + Hollywood). Well if I thought my 15 minutes of Indian fame was over, I was wrong . . .

While I would bet that few of you are familiar with "Chollywood", most of you have probably heard of "Bollywood". The center of Indian cinema, it is probably the biggest film producer in the world next to Hollywood. Much like Hollywood, it is full of huge stars, glitz and glamour, and cliched love stories, but with more breaking into song and cheesy slo-mo action (and for some odd reason, they LOVE having Westerners as extras). We had heard travelers' tales that if you put yourself in the right part of Bombay (now called Mumbai), you WILL be recruited to be Bollywood extras. Naturally, we had had our hearts set on it.

Ryan had decided to stay in Goa for some extra yoga, so Kyle, Noah and I headed north on the train. As we pulled into Bombay, the last stop on our southern adventures, it was my turn to be hit with the travelers' stomach plague. It seems to happen to everyone eventually, but I thought I was off the hook since I was leaving in a few days. Wrong! So after a couple days of awful diarrhea, nausea, and almost NO food, then an afternoon of wandering around the city with all my belongings on my back, I was ready to pass out when we checked in to our guest house.

The instant I collapsed on the bed, I heard Noah and Kyle talking to an Indian man in the hallway. I stumbled out and saw that it was already happening. The guy was a Bollywood recruiter! A smile came over my green face. I heard him asking if we were interested in being extras. Noah, stifling excitement, tried to play it cool and pretend we were skeptical, asking some sort of practical question. Kyle interrupted him and burst out, "We'll do it!" As the man filled them in on the details, I made my way over to them. I reached for his little book to sign my information, but I was a step behind. "I already signed you up!" Noah said. The man looked at his little book. "Noah Chutz, boy. Haley Chutz, girl. Kyle Buetzow, man." Taking his pencil, he crossed out "man" and wrote "boy". Perfect. We were good to go.

The next afternoon, we stored our bags with the front desk. We told him we had "a very important appointment" at 5:00. "Bollywood?" he asked lazily, like he had seen it 500 times. We nodded sheepishly and headed over to the neighborhood movie theater. There we were loaded onto a bus full of white people (which is a spectacle anywhere in India) and started the 2 hour drive out to "Film City". Kyle and Noah, worried that the food at the studio wouldn't be good, brought their own sambar rice (rice with a vegetable sauce mixed into it). It didn't really work as take out though. They each got a plastic baggie of rice and a baggie of sambar. They poked a hole in the baggie of sambar and tried to empty it into the rice, both ending up with messy faces and hands and a pile of rice under their seats. Ha! They just couldn't wait til we got there. :P As we went around a sharp curve, the guy in the next seat fell onto me. I looked up and realized he was drooling, his bag was spilling over, and he was completely drunk. I asked where he was from and he could hardly spit out that he was Swiss. This is not the last ridiculous moment with my new wasted friend.

When we arrived at the studio around 7pm, we were all put in a small room and handed long white robes with 3/4 length sleeves and a Chinese-looking button collar. We put them on and wandered to the outdoor set to watch the filming. They were making a movie called "Tanman.com", and we spent about 8 hours filming about a 5 minute scene. After a delicious-looking buffet (which I didn't eat), we watched the progress of the filming. I was confused to see two pot-bellied, moustached, wavy-haired old men doing a seductive dance together on a stage surrounded by torches. It turned out they were the choreographers, and they spent hours first subbing in one dancer, then the other, then both. Probably 50 takes of this. Then they added a fake "rock band" pretending to play instruments. Another 50 takes.

In the mean time, I talked to some of the other extras - quite an interesting bunch. There were a lot of semi-"normal" people, but they are not as fun to talk about. There was one really weird Russian guy who told me his name was "Elton John" and started a quite antagonistic and somewhat non-sensical conversation with me, which I walked away from when I realized what a jerk he was. Then, I met an American guy from Philadelphia! He seemed pretty nice, said he had been in India for a couple months. I asked him what he did and he stated flamboyantly, "Oh this is my full time job. There are a few of us. The Russian is another one - AREN'T YOU VASILY?" he addressed the creepy Russian, as if to say "Yeah I know him. This is what we do." They had a weird little "extra" culture, which he spoke of with authority. When he realized that we were not fond of "Vasily", however, he plunged joyfully into gossip without hesitation. I asked where Vasily lived and the American said, "Oh he lives in the woods. After a shoot he just wanders into the woods and wanders out for the next one," - the second time I was taken aback by one of his responses. More whispering and explanations ensued, and all of a sudden a hush fell. The main actress had arrived and you could tell by her and everyone else's demeanor that she was a big star. Though she was a little older, vacuum-packed into jeans and a red turtleneck with fabulous red patten leather boots, and a soccer mom shag, she was still gorgeous. She immediately decided she hated the dance the choreographers had been working on for hours and that she would do it her own way, replacing the carefully-chosen moves with sexily shifting her weight from foot to foot and caressing herself. 50 more takes. Yada, yada, yada . . .

MIRACLE! It's our turn to work! Now keep in mind that we all looked like we just escaped from an insane asylum with these white robes on. The set was moved to a nearby tree with a bench and torches around it. Set men put down their chai and arranged bowls full of water and floating candles along an uneven stone pathway to the tree. A man dressed like some sort of guru with a long beard sat peacefully on the bench and sang the next part of the song. The choreographer arranged all us white crazies around the guru and showed us our move - we sway back and forth with our arms up in the air, moving our hands like lobster claws, singing over and over "Rade Krishna, Rade Krishna". Oh jealousy! Kyle was placed right next to the guru and was given an instrument to pretend to play! After many takes, I ran to catch a glimpse of the screen. Noah and I, placed in the front row but on the edge, had been cut out of the shot! I guess we won't be famous Bollywood stars afterall. Oh well. We'll get to laugh at Kyle when the movie comes out. He got a nice close up, as did my trashed Swiss friend (who shuffled bewilderedly in front of everyone and made up his own dance moves).

For the next shot, we played dumb and placed ourselves squarely in everyone's way. It worked! They chose 5 or so couples from the 70-odd extras to dance a bizarre little waltz. Noah and I were put front and center right in front of the guru! Unfortunately this meant we were on that uneven stone pathway (barefoot) and that there were candles on the ground right by our floor-length robes. It was a bit treacherous, and Noah had to remind me to look at him and not down at the stones and flames, but by the 10th take we were rockin' it! We were for sure in that shot, so we'll have to look for it when "Tanman.com" comes out! We're Bollywood stars! haha. I was also happy because there was a weird ditzy American actress in the film and she said my hair was cute! Go Noah!

Anyway, we finished up around 3am and were bussed back to Mumbai with 500 rupees in our pockets. Since we couldn't find a guest house at that hour without paying an arm and a leg, we knocked on the door of the Salvation Army. They let us sleep in their dining room until morning when space would free up in their dormitory. The next day, I caught my flight out of India! It was definitely an amazing last night of the trip.

p.s. We snuck a few photos of this amazing phenomenon on Kyle's camera. Hopefully we'll be able to share those soon. I also found a newsclip on Tanman.com! http://www.starswelove.com/scriptsphp/news.php?newsid=542

Tags: stardom





  Maggie Apr 3, 2008 1:07 AM

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