From Film Student to Filmed Student

The twelve of us seem to attract a lot of attention from the locals. Everybody stares. Because this happens so often it is best to embrace it. When it happens to me I either stare right back at them until they feel awkward and look away, or I smile and wave. The attention is something to get used to. That is part of what made the music video shoot tough. They took a dozen film kids who are used to being behind the scenes and stuck them on stage. It’s kind of unnerving having to perform in front of a crew.

Once that shoot was over and we moved onto our documentary project I figured we could go back to the roles we were most comfortable with. That is not the case. I was in line for the veg lunch today at Whistling Woods today when the student behind me decided to introduce himself. This is not unusual. Indians are very polite and will start us a conversation with you without being provoked to do so. I was expecting the ol’ “how do you like India?” again. Instead after he introduced himself he calls over a couple of his friends and asks if they can make a documentary on out Bombay experience on the 12 of us. I heard later on that this is a class assignment they got. The only problem with this is that we have been in India for what seems like forever. We are used to the heat and the poverty and the rickshaws. They missed the culture shock shots they could have gotten a while ago. I am just as bad an actor as I am a dancer, so I won’t be doing any dramatizations of our first few days here.

I’m not complaining about this at all. I just do not like being on camera. Worst case situation we’ll have a behind-the-scenes feature of our documentaries and a couple of people on hand to help us translate.

Onto our documentary. Ours is on the street dogs of Bombay. Today marked our second day of shooting. So far we have gotten some pretty interesting shots. For example today we saw a couple of monkeys, a handful of goats, five cows, over twenty chickens/chicks, some roosters, and around 100 dogs. We have done so much, but there is always more to do.

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Just Like a Bollywood Film

I saw a fair number of Bollywood films before coming to Bombay. Something that is central throughout almost all of them is the sheer amount of dancing in all of them.

So far this trip has had a lot of dancing. It really began during our Lungi Dance shoot Friday afternoon. We arrived at Whistling Woods at around 4:00pm to practice and didn’t stop shaking our lunghis until 4:00am the following morning.

For the first hour or so we reviewed all the steps with the professional to make sure we had it all down. This was not encouraging. We were set to begin filming in less than two hours and I still didn’t know all my steps. What made it worse was that the time remaining wasn’t all devoted to practice. A good deal of time had to be spent getting all dolled up for the shoot.

First we got into costume. The boys started off in a skin tight white muscle shirt and a lungi. After I was dressed I went to get all made up.

Getting my hair and makeup done was an odd sensation. I don’t often put much effort into the way I look, so I didn’t feel the need to have my makeup done at all. Spending a good deal of time in front of a mirror with a stranger who took more care in my appearance then I do was something I won’t forget. I will admit that I did like what he did with my hair (although I have no photos to upload).

My favorite part was when my moustache was applied. Once it was on my face I didn’t want to take it off. This was mostly because the glue they used to apply the hair really burned my upper lip each time it was applied. That caterpillar of hair below my nose just looked right and gave me the push I needed to start the night.

The beginning of the shoot was rough. Cameras were rolling and I didn’t know my steps. Here we were, in front of a good sized crew that put a lot of effort into setting everything up only for me not to know my part. I struggled through the first part of the shoot, giving the parts I knew all the energy I could. After the boys finished their part and the girls came on set I went up to one of the professional dancers we were performing with and had him take me through the steps. We practiced up until we were needed on set again.

We took our places on the second location and I felt much better prepared. I gave the moves all the energy I had, plus I felt like I was much more in sync with everybody else. I know there were still parts I missed, but that review session really gave me what I needed to continue.

The shoot lasted until 4 AM. Somehow we wrapped early after having a late start. After sleeping all day it was time to celebrate the successful shoot. That night we went out to blow off some steam at a comedy club called Blue Frog Comedy Club, located in downtown Mumbai.

Having been in the country for only a week, I found it pretty amazing that we were all able to relate to the comedian’s takes on life in the city. Most of the stand up that night was pretty funny, even if it wasn’t in English. A good comedian can make you laugh even if he’s speaking Hindi.

After the comedy concluded the music started up and the dancing began again. I wasn’t in the mood to dance, so instead I sat in the lobby and waited until everybody was ready to go home. I sat there pretending to watch soccer for a while. Every so often a complete stranger would approach and ask if I would rather be dancing. I’d use the bags I was watching or stomach problems as an excuse to just sit there. After trying for a bit to coax me inside, they’d find their way to the dance floor.

While I was sitting there I met a really cool guy named Akshay. After trying a couple of times to get me inside the club I followed him outside to meet his friends. Out there was where the real fun was. I met several amazing people that I hope to stay in contact with after all of my new friends return home.

The next day we went exploring. I have no idea where we were, but it was completely different than the Mumbai I know. The streets were quiet and the air was clean; not a rickshaw in sight. As we were all walking down this almost suburban area music can be heard in the background. At first it looks like a street festival. They are playing live music and people are dancing in the road. I had no idea what was going on. At first we all just stood there observing. After a moment somebody entered the crowd. I don’t remember who it was, but what I do know was once I got in there I started dancing. I brushed aside my fears of getting pick pocketed or looking like a fool. The locals seemed to get a kick out of the fact that I was with them dancing. After a while the rest of my group joined me in this dance.

After the fact Mark informed us that what had just happened was a wedding proceeding. As dancers or wedding crashers, it was just another day in Mumbai.

Behind on Blog Posts

Every day here is so action-packed that by the time I get back to the hotel I barely have the energy to crawl into bed to do it all again in the morning. That being said I am two blog posts behind. The following are thoughts I typed up while preparing for our music video shoot.

I am not a dancer. When I first learned of the India trip I heard that we would be producing a Bollywood music video rather than performing in one. I figured we would do yogi and learning to dance, but I never figured we would be performing.

But none of that matters tonight because all 12 of us will be dressed, made-up, and placed on set to perform the song and dance that has been drilled into our heads these past two days.

Our first day at Whistling Woods happened to land on a workshop day. There were lesions on everything from costume design to sound and dance. I wanted to attend the visual effects workshop, but the time overlapped with the Bollywood Dance class we were scheduled to attend. Not wanting to go off on my own, I followed the group to the dance workshop. The dance studio was packed with people (much like the rest of the city) as we all looked to the front of the class in an attempt to mimic the coordinated movements of our instructor. I am not much of a dancer, so my accuracy was low, but I thought nothing of it. At the time I thought it was only for fun. After it was all over I was exhausted and exhilarated.

When the music stopped we were introduced to our instructor, Sanjeev. We were told he would be the one teaching us our steps for the music video.

We all showed up to Whistling Woods the next day for our first day of school. The morning began with a bit of yoga. By the time this is all over we are going to be very flexible. After yoga came lecture, and after that we went to dance. We met up with the Sanjeev. He told us we’d be dancing to Lunghi Dance.

 

 

What followed were two intensive days of dance lessons. I am not much of a dancer. I say this having taken dance lesions before. A semester of ballroom dance sophomore year went to show me that I am not great at remembering steps. What worried me more than not being able to remember my steps is the extra energy required to make them look good. Every step requires ‘energy’ and ‘attitude’, which I am short on because most of my focus is on trying to get the steps right in the first place.

Because I am not a dancer I do not know all of my steps. We begin shooting at 6 tonight and continue until 6 in the morning. It is going to be a long night. It looks like everybody knows their steps but me, and I am worried that I am going to be the one ruining takes. I am having real doubts about participating in this music video. When this is all over I need to get myself a mango and some sleep.

Two Days In

It has been a little over two days and I am starting to feel comfortable in Bombay. One of my main concerns about coming to one of the hottest countries on earth during the summer was that I would not be able to handle the weather. I figured that because I am a Syracuse native that I would be the trip’s first casualty (I don’t deal well with the heat). To my surprise the heat isn’t that big of a deal.

On the hottest day we have faced so far, we all went out shopping on the street markets of Mumbai. The day spent at the Lokhandwala Market was what I consider my first real look at the city. The shops were full of cheap silks and tourist trinkets, so I did not buy anything. I would like to see if I can buy some good silk at a better price later on.

The market offered more than stuff to buy. I think this outing gave us a lesson on how be handle ourselves for the rest of our trip. The heat and the crowds and the traffic were enough to make sure we stayed mindful of our surroundings. As with any major city there are beggars and pick pockets looking to get the best of you. None of us have had anything stolen yet; the worst thing to happen thus far was a couple of pinches we received from a group of children beggars.

After shopping was when the real fun began.

Mark tool us to one of his favorite places to eat in the city. We all make our way into the air-conditioned restaurant called High Point. It was here we forged ourselves on local favorites and got to meet Mark’s friend Priya Kumar (who is amazing). The food in Mumbai is incredible. Everything is a delicious blend of veggies and spices to be eaten with steamed rice and fresh naan. What makes the situation even better is that the majority of Mumbaikers are vegetarian, so finding food I can eat is easier than it is back home.

Our first meal outside of the hotel was a fantastic spread featuring several classics. We began with a sav puri and then moved onto saag. Yellow and black daal, naan, roti, and samosas made up the rest of our lunch. The meal was closed with mango kulfi (frozen mango). I was still hungry after lunch so I grabbed my first street food of the trip. The vada pav I had was fantastic and cheap.

It was this meal that assured me that my decision to remain in Mumbai until July 17 – well past when everybody else has gone home – was a good decision. Up until that lunch all the food I had eaten was prepared in an upscale hotel. I was worried that once the class is over and I am no longer living at the Sai Palace Hotel that I would not have anything to eat without getting sick.

After lunch we got to meet some of the most important people we’ve never heard of. In Aram Nagar, Versova Mark introduced us to director Anurag Kashyap and line producer Harish Amin. Both men were incredibly kind and humble for the in depth discussions they had with us.

Every day is so packed that it is hard to recall everything we’ve done, so that’s all for now.

 

 

Sick and Ready to Go

It’s 3am and I have almost finished packing. This comes four hours before I am scheduled to make my way from Syracuse to Philly for the first leg of my journey. Even though this trip is so close, it still does not seem real to me. Sure, I know that I booked my flights, my visa application was approved, and that my Indian internship is coming up fast. Instead of thinking about it like a flight around the world and a life changing experience it feels no more serious than a trip down to the Sun Shine State. This could be a coping mechanism or I might just need sleep.

My larger point of this poorly organized first blog is that my departure for this trip happens to overlap with a summer cold. This past week has been a combination of trying to get this cough under control and making sure I leave prepared enough. If I can rid myself of this cold before takeoff tonight I will be very pleased. Maybe the Indian weather will make me feel better.

 

I’ll leave you with my favorite Bollywood song. It has been done three different times and I enjoy the third one the most.

 

This is the original

 

And this is the second one.