Once Upon a Bollywood

Posted in India - Mumbai at 3:56 am by Jackson Lee

Early morning arrived well after the alarm.

The low frequency hum of an overhead fan, for once, could be heard above the background noise of the usually hyperactive streets. Ignoring a wave of thoughts demanding more sleep and less Bollywood, Locky and I shoot into action. Hair styles styled, faces improved and crazy good looking guys were created using tap water and dashing smiles. Three and half minutes after the alarm sounded, we were ready to hit the streets and deal with the flashing camera’s of this filthy industries paparazzi.

Descending into the street we passed into a begone era. We were staying in a aged hotel in Colaba, which was not unusual given most of the buildings in Colaba looked aged. Perhaps it was the effects of the heavy humidity that made everything look charmingly run-down – or more likely it was a by-product of the monstrous economic growth Mumbai had experienced over the last twenty years.

Quaint, mould covered colonial architecture filled spaces modernisation had yet to reach. Neck-think electrical wiring, a sign the city was struggling to keep up with change, tangled across walls in quantities that even first generation nuclear power plants couldn’t justify.

The early morning was motionless save piles of homeless sleeping on the streets – a common sight in all Indian cities. Bodies lay in almost every niche on whatever material was available, cardboard being the most common. Every inch of skin covered from head to toe in long sari’s to protect against the hordes of mosquitoes who worked the night shift. Mumbai, the star itself, seemed to enjoy this moment of the day. A deep breathe before the chaos of humanity. Unlike other ‘cosmopolitan cities, the night-life of Mumbai is forever hamstrung by India’s early bar closing laws (which come hand in hand with the Hindu-Muslim culture) – giving a quietness to Colaba’s early morning which daytime disagrees with entirely.

Our agent by proxy, Nicholas the Swede, didn’t know the name or details of the movie being filmed. This however was the least of our problems. Imran, the agent we were heading to meet, was expecting a blond Swedish guy for the days shooting – not two blokes from the south Pacific, neither of whom looked especially Swedish. Was this uncool in the cool world of movie making?

We arrived at Mcdonalds – the meeting point. Locky went in search of his favourite morning elixir. I lent against a wall assuming the look of a skilful extra. There was no one about to admire my lean. My feet shuffled impatiently beneath me. It occurred to me that nervousness makes even leaning difficult. Locky returned with his coffee. He was happier. I continued to lean. Time inched forward. Had Nicholas given us the wrong details?

The arrival of another foreigners snapped us out of the spell – we introduced ourselves. As a matter of intellectual pride, Locky and I have spent a lifetime fabricating different alter-egos to answer the same-same questions that come with most introductions. How often does someone tell you they come from a pacific island nation that has recently succumbed to global warming and sunk beneath the waves? Thick blond dread wearing Josephine, hands down, wins the prize for originality. After travelling through India in her youth pursuing the wisdom of various yogis, she stumbled across a Bollywood dancing school. Years later she now calls rural Sweden home (think snow-covered forests) and teaches Bollywood dancing to the descendants of Erik the Red and Harald Hardrada. Josephine explained that she was in Bombay to brush up on the latest dance moves and had heard a rumor that today’s filming involved gangsters and dancing

The group of foreigners swells. The screech of wheels heralded the arrival of a dark green Japanese sports car. A couple of almost well dressed lads sprang out and started bustling about with moves Derek Zoolander’s practices in the mirror. No one reacted.

Collar up. Smile out. Three o’clock shadow cut to the minute. Imran enters stage left… door. Dressed in-a-way hungry lions do when they see approaching wildebeest, Imran was everything you’d expect of a Bollywood agent tasked with hunting down camera worthy foreigners.

The group relaxed as Imran’s mojo went to work. Hands were shook. Smile’s and cheesy comments thrown about recklessly. Bollywood rocks so far.

He approached us.

“Hi, I’m Imran”, he says smooth as a cotton sari. A firm handshake coupled with that over-white smile – is he running for the presidency?

He frowned as we gave him our names.

“So, who organised for you to be here?”, he asks while looking us up and down. I self-consciously kick myself for not looking more Swedish.

Neither of us answer clearly. Imran seems to understand. He smiles smoothly and directs us to cross the road to another marshaling point. Feeling hesitantly triumphant we join the group of foreigners milling about on the increasingly busy Mumbai streets. Most of the best backpacker stories start with a epic faking-it moment.

Imran is soon back.

“Sorry lads, we don’t have anything for you today”, sincerity and regret give his facial repertoire considerable challenge, “we need more girls and we already have enough guys for today’s shoot” he delivers the industry ‘let-down’ line with the kind of emotional richness I’d very soon hoped to display on the big screen.

“But guys’, the smile was back, “Give me your contact details, we have more filming over the next few days”, he hands me a pad.

With fake names and a bogus contact number scribbled down we shake hands and head off in search of breakfast and a new, awesome, face-saving plan. Our aspirations of Bollywood fade like Kevin Costner’s acting career post Waterworld. Neither of us speak, our uncanny travellers luck laughs at us from nearby. After a few minutes walking, the decision to leave Mumbai is wordlessly passed.