9:15pm May 22nd Thursday
Location: Sai Palace Hotel Room
It’s getting tougher and tougher to blog and record videos of what we’re doing because WE’RE ALWAYS DOING THINGS. For the past two days we’ve been learning and practicing a choreographed Bollywood style dance by the extremely talented Sanjeev. His smile is worth a million dollars and he’s always wearing these stylish western cowboy boots. I feel like our American-ness amuses him to no end.
Did I even mention that today, we went to school on our own? We traveled in groups of 3 to fit in rickshaws and had to arrive at Whistling Woods by 9am for our morning yoga session.
7:16am May 23rd Friday
Location: Sai Palace Hotel Room
I should be sleeping and resting for today’s 12-hour video shoot, but I woke up, I can’t go back to sleep, and I dropped my paper WiFi password somewhere on the floor and I don’t know where it is. Anyway, continuing on what I was talking about yesterday—we are learning a choreographed dance to a song called the Lungi Dance. Whistling Woods is going all out and preparing us with tailored costumes and props. We did a location survey and they’re providing us with extra dancers. The lengths that they’re going to help us put this together is astonishing, and I’m deeply touched by their amount of enthusiasm to help us enjoy our time here. I’m trying to think of a time where this experience would be possible in the US, but the only example I can think of is some sort of dinky music video production company making a music video on request for a random person—like Rebecca Black. And that would cost thousands and thousands of dollars.
But no—we’re film students, and while I can safely say that most of us are more comfortable off-camera than on-camera, and that none of us are expert dancers, they’re giving us the full treatment as if we were Bollywood stars shooting just another music video.
If there’s anything I’ve learned so far about Hindi cinema, it’s that songs are extremely, extremely important to just about everything. Sanjeev explained that every piece of choreography, every careful movement has a meaning in relation to the music. Films here are made for the music. In the US, filmmakers hire music scorers to create music for the film. It’s a completely different approach.
The more we learn in class (and yesterday we learned from production designer Sabyashachi Bose) about Hindi cinema in general, the more I get a sense of the Indian culture and mindset. The lyrics to the Hindi songs are breathtakingly beautiful…every time we watch a clip in class, I can feel the emotions being poured out of the screen. And I don’t even understand Hindi, that’s just me reading the English subtitles. I’m sure it’s even more beautiful in Hindi.
I love staring out windows. Every time we travel somewhere, I stare out the window and just observe the buildings, the people, the other autos passing by. As blatant Americans who stick out like sore thumbs, people stare at us 24/7. And as I gaze out the window, I find it hard to look people in the eye—here we are, privileged American tourists, gallivanting around taking photos and writing blog posts about our opinions on their lifestyles and their world. Every time I do look someone in the eye, I am met with an intense gaze which is either curious or fascinated. This little difference of looking someone in the eyes is one of the things I feel most differs from here and America. Here, they are honest about their curiosity—what do they have to hide? In America we go through great lengths to avoid looking at each other. “Don’t stare at people; it’s rude,” we’re taught when we’re young. But why is that? As kids, staring is okay because “we’re kids” and we don’t know any better, but as we grow older, we learn to censor ourselves and keep a low profile. In America we have our technology and we complain about our lack of “real connections” to other people. I mean, we can make movies about people feeling so alone that they fall in love with their computers over falling in love with people and agree that it is partly true about our society.
The movie Her wouldn’t do well in India at all. For one thing, there’s no spontaneous breakout of song and dance and declaration of love and happiness. Yes, we do have our beloved Arcade Fire and Ezra Koenig and Karen O crooning on the soundtrack—but it’s nothing compared to the emotions in “Waqt ne Kiya Kya Haseen” (lyrics translation) from the movie Kaagaz Ke Phool. Second, from what India has shown me so far, the idea of disconnectedness here is foreign—everyone sort of helps each other out to the extent that they can.
As an American born and raised in the United States, it’s tough losing the mentality that the world revolves around us and that the world cares about everything we’re doing. In class, we asked if Bollywood actors would ever want to go to Hollywood—and our instructor told us, no. Why be a big star in the US when you can be a big star in India?
We ended yesterday by going to the modern Oberoi mall, eating Taco Bell and McDonalds, and purchasing items needed for our big shoot at Forever 21. I feel almost sheepish saying this but I felt a sort of glee purchasing items from Forever 21 and a slight feeling of familiarity as I crunched on my glorious French fries (#consumerism #fastfood #AMURRICA). I don’t think the American-ness can be taken out of us just yet, but I’m looking forward to more of what India has to teach us, and I hope our presence here brings them enjoyment as well.