After 15 hours, 5 movies and 3 episodes of VEEP I arrived in Mumbai, India at around 10pm on Saturday the 17th. Having lived in Syracuse my entire life I was a little afraid of the Indian heat but luckily my first introduction to the city was in the frigid 84° night. The ride to the beautiful Sai Palace was quick and after a bite to eat in the hotel restaurant I was ready for some much needed rest.
The next morning I enjoyed the hotels complimentary breakfast buffet before setting off to the Whistling Woods Institute for their Celebrating Cinema event. The Institute is located inside the Sonjay Ghandi National Park and the view of the surrounding Jungle is unbelievable! After a quick introduction we were sent to an auditorium to watch a documentary celebrating the past 100 years of Indian cinema. I was surprised that I recognized a lot of the scenes showcased in the film. When it ended we were brought on a tour of the campus. It’s really impressive and reminded me a lot of the first time I had a tour of Newhouse. When our tour ended we were brought to a Bollywood dance workshop. A senior choreographer faculty member led the workshop and gave us a step-by-step break down of a popular Bollywood dance. If I don’t learn anything else this trip (which is highly doubtful) at least I can say I learned how to move my hips!
After the workshop we left Whistling Woods and headed back to the hotel to take some quick naps/showers. To relax we decided to go out on the town and do some more dancing which led to my first experience in the back seat of a rickshaw. It was equal parts terrifying and awesome. We went in 3 different rickshaws and the drivers were competing to see who got to our destination first. In short, our first day was unforgettable.
On Sunday, the day before our first day of classes, we went shopping/sightseeing. It was our first chance to wander the streets of Mumbai on our own. We needed a place to meet up so we chose a nearby McDonalds. It was funny to see the Beef-less Indian style menu with Paneer patties and popular spices like Tikka Masala. The shopping district that Mark, our group leader picked for us to visit was called Lokhandwala Market and it was the farthest thing from a tourist trap. Many locals stared at us as we shopped and a few young kids pinched us when we wouldn’t give them money. It was an interesting experience and easy to tell they weren’t used to tourists wandering around. After an hour or two of shopping Mark met up with Prya Kumar his friend and old Hindi teacher who brought us to a hidden local favorite, a vegetarian restaurant called High Point. Prya ordered us a smorgasbord of Indian delicacies including Samosas, Yellow and Black Daal, Sav Puri and of course lots and lots of Naan.
After lunch we met up with some of Marks friends in the film industry including Director Anurang Kashyap and Producer Harish Amin. Mr. Amin gave us great advice on how to be successful, he said if we want to make our dreams reality we need to be constantly thinking about them, and if filmmaking is our dream then all we need to do is pick up a camera and start shaping our art. After Mr. Amins inspiring words went to another hidden gem, a gift shop filled with unique handmade items called Tribal Routes. We spent almost an hour wandering through the store and picking our gifts for relatives. Afterwards we were all very tired and headed back to the hotel. Mark has given us a chance to experience a unique side of Mumbai and I am very grateful for that. The first 48 hours in India have been mind-blowing and I can hardly wait to see what the next 48 bring.