I shook my Lungi hard, I shook my Lungi hard AAAALLL NIIIIGHT!

Literally. Oh, what a night! We arrived at Whistling Woods for our shoot at about 4 PM on Friday, and we did not leave until 4 AM on Saturday. Right when we got there, we jumped into action, and Tyler and I got to work on the production design with Sabyasachi Bose, who had been assisting us the previous day. We went over locations and the props we hade picked out the day before. Then we drew up some designs for the layouts, and we began to see our fantasy start to become a reality.

Throughout the design process we could see the designs in our heads as they began to transform from a school courtyard to a fantastical new world. We finalized the plans and the information was sent off to the crew to prepare the sets while we rehearsed the dance for the shoot quickly approaching.

I tried not to sweat too much during rehearsal, as makeup and costuming was next, but that’s like telling a fish not to swim; it’s inevitable. After a quick dry-off and a “Bombay Burger,” we sat down to get our hair did, faces paints, and mustaches glued (oh yeah…that happened!). We put on our costumes, whipped out our stunning Newhouse shades (shameless plugin), and we were ready to shake our Lungis!

As we left the building and walked outside onto the sets, we saw our designs brought to life. It was exactly how we imagined it and it all sunk in that this was happening. The lights were set, the cameras were rolling, the music was playing, and we forgot the steps. I’m not sure it was nerves, the break, the fumes from the spirit glue or all of the above, but what I do know is that all of our minds went blank. We stopped the music, reviewed some things, shook it all off, and tried again. The lights were set, the cameras were rolling, the music was playing, and we danced… oh… we DANCED!

***Click on following links for music references. Warning: explicit lyrics***

We shook our Lungis to the left, to the left, as if everything we owned was shaken in a Lungi to the left. Our Lungis hung low, they wobbled to the flo‘, as we shook them from the windows to the wall as the sweat dropped down our… Bollywood… We called upon all the Rajini fans, who did not want to miss their chance. And we did, the LUNGI DANCE! All without dropping that thun thun thun, AY! *Mic Drop*

The whole experience was like nothing I have ever experienced and probably like nothing I will ever experience again. In 3 days we learned a full song with a type of dance we had never been exposed to before, came up with a design, and shot a whole Bollywood item number. It was amazing how invested in us and this project the staff and crew of Whistling Woods was They went above and beyond and pulled every trick, aside from the rain machine which posed a health risk but it was very, very tempting…

The night of the shoot was exciting, exhausting, nerve-wracking, stressful, and incredible. I cannot wait to see the final product, and hoping it goes viral. Who knows, maybe Tosh.O will pick it up for redemption and we can go to LA to do it all again! We left our Lungis on the dance floor that night, but it was only just the beginning of the weekend.

After getting back to the hotel at about 4:30 AM, I washed off the work, and passed out until just before noon. Saturday was our relaxation/recovery day. A few of us went to a market with Mark, where we drank fresh coconut water right out of the coconut and ate the meat carved out in front of us. We then returned to the hotel for more relaxation, but that night was anything but relaxing.

We journeyed to “Town” where we ate and saw a comedy show at Blue Frog Comedy Club. The comedy show let us experience more of the culture of Mumbai in a comedic manner. While some jokes were lost due to contexts we had never been exposed to, the show was very fun and I had a great time. However, after the show the tables were cleared, music started playing, and for the second night in a row we danced the night away, but we left our Lungis at the hotel. It was another successful night and again I passed out exhausted, but quite a bit earlier than 5 AM.

After finally almost getting caught up on my sleep, we set out to Juhu Beach where I tried some refreshing pistachio falooda while successfully avoiding getting sunburned. We then went to Bandra to Mark’s favorite store, Fabindia, to get some authentic Indian swag where we met is friend Aditi. After dropping some rupees, we headed over to Candies for some dinner where I had ended the meal with some awesome passion fruit cheesecake.

We took a little star house tour and passed by Anil Kapoor’s (Slumdog Millionaire and 24), Shahrukh Khan’s, and Salman Khan’s houses. Then we walked around some, coming across a Marati wedding procession, and ending the night with a little more shopping at Hill Road.It was by far the busiest time we have had in India yet and an awesome experience. I look forward to what the next couple of weeks have in store for us!

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Sweating Through Life

One of the greatest elements of Bollywood cinema is the songs within the films, and this we were to be able to be a part of this great tradition by filming one of our own, starring us! We were given three days to put everything together, with the help of the Whistling Woods International faculty, and it has been an intense couple of days leading up to the shoot that takes place tonight, 6 PM – 6 AM. Before this, the only experience most of us had with Bollywood dance was the quick workshop last Sunday so we didn’t really know what we were doing. On Wednesday, we had a 4-5 hour rehearsal of just intense Bollywood dancing and learned the entire song. Needless to say, we were exhausted, and I was drenched in sweat. The next day we met the production designer, saw the locations, and began picking out props, set pieces, and costumes. Then after lunch, it was back to the dancing with another long rehearsal, even more intense than the first. During this we polished what we already knew, changed some things, added some parts, and rehearsed with the four professional dancers who would be dancing with us. I don’t think I had ever sweat so much in my life! Who knew dancing to fast Bollywood song for 5 straight hours would be so exhausting? Now tonight is the shoot so today we rest up before going in for a final rehearsal, costuming, and makeup. While we aren’t professionals, it’s been a lot of fun, and I’m really looking forward to the shoot and final product.

Entry 04: Before The Chaos

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.

(continued)

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.