First Week in Mumbai.
As I write this post at 11:00pm on Sunday May 25th it has been roughly 193 hours since flight UA48 landed in Mumbai. In that timespan I’ve sampled Indian delicacies, danced in a Bollywood item number, laughed at local stand-up comics, plunged my feet in the Indian Ocean, grooved with newlyweds on the streets of Mumbai, and learned about Indian cinema from industry professionals. The phrase ‘time flies when you’re having fun’ has never been so accurate. All I can hope for now is that the next two and a half weeks don’t go by as quickly since I need all the time I can to find my Indian wife (my horoscope this month said I’m going to meet my life partner, what’s a better place to get married than India?[sorry Mom]).
I should probably elaborate on some of the vague experiences I mentioned in the first paragraph…
After a 15-hour flight with nothing but airline food to satisfy our hunger all we could think of was getting some Indian food. When we arrived at the Sai Palace at around 11:30pm they were just about to close their restaurant doors but thanks to the unbelievable kindness of the staff we were allowed to order some food. We scrambled to a long table in the back and searched for familiar foods from menus that shook in our clenched fists. Nothing really rang a bell to me so I left it in the very capable hands of Mark Bennington. We got roasted chicken, sav puri, naan and a desert I can’t for the life of me name. (I’m going to murder the spelling for a lot of these dishes, since I’m writing this post with the absence of wifi, hopefully no one takes offense.) After that night I’ve become more adventurous with my choices and sometimes choose a dish solely because of its exotic name. I’ve had Samosas, Paan, Biryani, Paneer, fresh Mango and Coconut, ‘Bombay Burgers’ and an entire traditional Thali, just to name a few.
Bollywood Dance Number:
My God what an experience. Every once in a while at social gatherings I’ve “loosened up” enough to move my body in a rhythmic fashion, but that’s as far as my familiarity with dance goes. Luckily for me (and most of my class) our choreographer planned a dance routine that a handicapped monkey could learn and after two days of practice we arrived at Whistling Woods around 4pm to do a quick run through. After that we were sent straight to hair and make-up. (At this point it should be noted that I was not at all confident in my ability to perform said dance rountine.) By 6:30pm we made our way to the set where a film crew of about 22 people who mostly didn’t speak English greeted us. (at this point I was shaking in my Lungi) Fortunately the next 10 hours went pretty smoothly. We went through the routine about 100 times and even got to do a fair amount of improvisation at the end. I really can’t wait to see how it turns out.
Comedy Store @ the Blue Frog:
To celebrate our first week in Mumbai on Saturday night we went to the Blue Frog to enjoy some Indian comedy. Mark had met and photographed the headliner for his book so we all knew we were in for a treat. We arrived at around 7:30pm ordered some food and waited in the hip venue for the show to begin. At 8:30 the show started. There were three acts and one hysterical host and surprisingly by the end of the night there were only a couple of American jokes. One even reminded me of my sister. The headliner brought up the fact that many American women fall in love with India because of it’s culture and try to make plans to visit India in hopes of “finding themselves” in which his response was “I’ll drop you off at Andheri and I promise you’ll never find yourself again!” (sorry Ellie)
At noon this morning we left our hotel to see the Indian Ocean. When we arrived we were first greeted by almost the entire beach. We were definitely the only foreigners there and it was probably the closest I’ll ever get to experiencing the life of a celebrity. We walked down to the water and a fairly large convoy of locals followed us. Some took pictures with us and others just tried to sell us things like henna stamps or kites. We grabbed some ice cream and made our escape quick, but still I had a chance to feel the Indian Ocean (only five more to go)
This just happened today. While we were walking through the streets of India stopping at another one of Marks amazing restaurant choices we heard a very loud BANG. Of course some students suspected gunfire but it was recognizably fireworks, not long after the first bang, drums and electric piano started playing. We turned around a corner and came face to face with a large wedding procession walking down a narrow street. Everyone was smiling and dancing and our group couldn’t help but be taken over by their positive energy. In response we did what any reasonable foreigners would do in this situation, we dropped our plans and joined them! It was one of the best experiences of the trip so far. Most of the places we have visited in Mumbai have low tourist traffic and a lot of the times people will stop and stare but at this particular instant we were welcomed with open arms into a beautiful moment of the community. After about 15 minutes our group and the wedding parted ways. We exchanged smiles and Namaste’s before getting back on schedule. It was amazing. It was beautiful. It was just another day in Bombay.
As for the lectures from Whistling Woods I’m almost afraid to admit how much I’ve learned in such a short period of time. To hear from filmmakers who aren’t restricted by a set of rules laid down by Hollywood executives is refreshing to say the least. When we heard from a Bollywood screenwriter, for example, he explained how the cookie cutter algorithm that most Hollywood scripts follow just constrains creativity. There’s no right or wrong way to tell a story. The common three act narrative structure is just the most common way and in most cases everything that is outside of that structure is considered wrong. I hate how true this is but I also know if I want to be apart of western cinema I have to be able to play the game (at least at the beginning of my career). And my favorite quote so far had to be “You can make a bad movie out of a good script, but you can’t make a good movie out of a bad script.”
I’ve learned so much in the past 193… well now 194 hours here in Mumbai and I don’t want it to end. I can’t wait to see what exciting opportunities the next two and a half weeks bring.
Until my next post, stay classy America.