The flight to India went far better than expected, and was much easier than many of my flights to and from school. With watching four on-flight movies, two airplane meals, and a nap, the time seemed to fly by, and next thing I knew we were in Mumbai! The airport was brand new and very beautiful, a nice welcome to India. Our chaperone, photographer Mark Bennington, told us that he calls Mumbai “the City of Rubble,” and I soon found out why.
Our first real Indian experience that I think finally made it sink in that we had actually made it was driving from the airport to the hotel. Back in the states you hear stories about the streets and crowds due to the high population of the city, but until you experience it, there is no way to fully grasp the reality of it. Driving in Mumbai is the epitome of organized chaos. With a combination of cars, rickshaws or “autos,” bikes, motorcycles, trucks, busses, and people, everyone is driving around each other, honking their horns non-stop to let them know they’re there, crossing traffic like they’re playing Frogger, and with no set lanes, people are cutting into whatever space they can find, especially the autos and bikes. Many of us were relieved we made it to the hotel, and after settling in and having a quick bite to eat, we retired to our rooms to rest-up before our first day in Mumbai.
In the room we decided to watch a movie, and noticed before each film that contains smoking/tobacco, there was a disclaimer stating that the actors or producers do not condone smoking and that it kills. Then every time smoking was portrayed, “smoking/tobacco kills” appeared on the screen, which I found very interesting and unexpected as I thought smoking was somewhat popular in India. On the same subject, they are equally against texting, talking, and drinking while driving which is very understandable given the chaos they must drive through.
After a delicious Indian breakfast at the hotel, we were ready to begin our journey and head to Whistling Woods International, where we will be studying for the next three weeks, for their “Celebrating Cinema” event. It was on the ride over when we could fully see Mumbai that I could see why Mark called it the City of Rubble; it truly is a city of rubble! With some tall buildings and many very short ones, there was rubble and trash throughout the streets as if from all this rubble, a city had been erected and the people grew with it. We have yet to see the downtown area, known as “the town,” but from what I can see already is the essence of India throughout, a mixture of the buildings and people, like within the food and cinema. I remember Professor Hallas saying that each Bollywood film must be like the food Masala as in it has “the right mix or spices” or “the right mix of emotion throughout the film,” as in the Navrasa (9 emotions in theater), and I see this translated into the actual city.
The first 48 hours in the City of Rubble was a lot to take in, and without warning we were thrown into the middle of it all. Within two days we experienced the culture, food, market shopping, and met some of the most powerful people in the industry. Beginning our day at Whistling Woods, we watched a documentary celebrating the last 100 years in Bollywood cinema, toured the facilities, and took our first Bollywood dance class, but it certainly won’t be our last! That night we took our first autos ride, which was an experience in itself, to a “sundowner dance party” at Villa 69 in Juhu. In our first night in Mumbai we had the chance to experience a little bit of the nightlife the locals partake in, and there we met Mark’s friend Shanoo Sharma who is the casting director for Yash Raj Films and the “biggest and most important casting director in Bollywood.” It was great to be able to sit and talk with such a powerful person in a huge industry while just eating some food. On our way back to the hotel, some of us brave souls tried paan, an after dinner digestive, and it has become a goal of mine to be able to properly eat it by the time we leave.
Monday has been our busiest and most exciting day yet, beginning when we walked out the door and felt the heat and humidity that takes over during this time of the year as the monsoon season approaches. We had the chance to shop at Lokhandwala Market where I bought a very nice gold and white kurat, which was one of the things I wanted to be sure to bring back with me. We met Priya Kumar, another friend of Mark, for lunch at High Point where we each got to try sav puri, pala paneer, yellow and black daal with naan and roti, samosa, and mango kulfi. We then met Anurag Kashyap, Hindi film director, and Harish Amin, line-producer, at Aram Nagar in Versova. Before heading back to the hotel, we wrapped up the day at Tribal Route, which had all sorts of unique trinkets, and other items where I managed to get a couple things.
It has been an exciting first couple of days, and I know it’s only going to get even more exciting! Let’s just hope it get just a little bit cooler. Thank you for reading and please come back to read more of what we are doing in Mumbai, India!