The way I picture it is my career starts as an extra, somebody realizes I am a potential star, I look Indian so an agent offers me a job, but I don’t know Hindi, so they pay for a teacher, I get hired, I grow as a Bollywood actress, and when I least expect it I am singing next to Pitbull in a music video.
It came through to almost being an extra, maybe the world of entertainment is not my thing.
How We Got Casted and Preliminary Events
Walking around the Gateway of India (a monument in South Bombay built years ago to welcome the queen of England), a group of friends and I were approached by a casting agent. She offered a chance to be an extra in a Bollywood movie. Curious as we are, we take a card and contact her two months later. We were a bit worried about safety and the agents’ validity. After some research we decide it was fine and that as a group it would be safe.
Saturday at six pm we were picked up in a mini van at a train station; a few foreigners were already on board. We were taken to film city in the north of the city. The studio was in the open air, built on a hill, taking up a superficial area of about two blocks (??). The high walls limiting the area looked like the dividers used to conceal slums or favelas.
We left our phones and cameras at the entrance of the studio and proceeded to the foreigners’ tent. While some of us ate sandwiches others were called to the dressing rooms.
So What Do You Do as an Extra on Set?
I was given three pieces of clothes: a sort of crop top, a mini short, and a piece of shapeless cloth; logic told me it was a skirt, but it was big on me, too long on one side and too short on the other; I couldn’t decipher whether the long part went in the front or the back, or the side. But that was not all. I was then given some plastic strappy shoes, while three people start adorning my neck, waste, and hair with cheap jewelry, as well as my arms with some ridiculous sleeves. The fabrics and materials were plastic and clingy, making me uncomfortable and sweaty. But my oh my was I looking fabulous!
Very excited we followed the girl with the walkie talkie to the stage, where the film director looked at us head to two and gave her feedback on the wardrobe. The lady is a genius, but she could also be considered a nagging pain in the *beep*. Regarding an outfit modeled by a German (some fuchsia trousers with weird designs in black) she mentioned it was “horrific, not even Brad Pitt could pull this off.” The designers were clearly stressed and frustrated. The director is very harsh and calls it as it is, and one must admit its pretty rocking to see a woman in her place and with that attitude in a society where it is not so easy for a female to rise in the hierarchy of success.
We were on stage two minutes before heading back to change into our second outfits, leggings with a loose shirt. Once again headed to the stage to be judged, and the director was not too happy: “This is *beep*, I cannot have *beep* on my stage, do something about it, it looks awful!” and more comments of the sort. My two friends and I were trying to rock the outfits, posing, standing straight, smiling and trying our best to enhance the concept. Despite the fact we were indirectly being told we looked bad, my friends and I could not repress the laughter. After all, the clothes were being criticized, not our beautiful selves.
The atmosphere was tense, but it is too funny when a lady is judging the wardrobe for its monstrosity when all of the costumes look, in my eyes, completely ridiculous.
Only Boring People Get Bored
After the adrenaline of dressing up and going on stage… end of story. Period. Instructions were to wait until told otherwise, and that is what we did until five am when we were taken back to the meeting point. We were given normal civil clothes to be the audience, but the audience scene was not filmed that night.
There is a saying “Only boring people get bored”. Hmm.. maybe I am a little boring. I admit I was a bit bored at times, but I managed to have some fun as well. Even though we were doing nothing we could entertain ourselves if we tried.
The film is about an international dancing contest. Our scene was located in Dubai and the set was a huge and very well produced stage. It could have easily been a used for concert. Big screens, a globe at the top of the stage that rotated on its axis, 8 meter high statues of dancers on the sides, synchronized lighting, and more.
I don’t know the dynamics of a typical film shoot, but this one seemed sooooo SLOW! I think less than a minute of a song was filmed during the eight hours we were there. But off course, the scene had many elements: 50 dancers, fire, confetti, smoke, main actors, harnesses, flying elements, lighting, elements on wheels and more. 10 seconds of shooting. Cut. 10 minutes of silence. Action. 10 seconds of shooting. Etc, etc. Everyone seemed so bored and unamused by the whole deal. Some of us were nervous with all the fire and cloth twirling everywhere, but as it is common in many Indian establishments, safety is not always a priority.
There was a lot of silence. Too many people doing nothing. I would replace one of those idle people by an entertainer to motivate the people, to make a little noise so that the air is not so static. It was not glamorous at all.
Positive side, I learned a bit about Bollywood celebrities! The main actors are very famous in India, Shahruh Khan and Deepika. I did not know him but she is a total goddess, one of those exotic beauties that makes anyone want to through away all mirrors. Movies are one of the biggest entertainments of society in India. Several new movies are realized every week, and a single movie is not in theaters for more than two weeks. Indians idolize their celebrities, almost as a way of living a more dramatic life by following the lives of their heroes. We were relatively close to these semi gods. She was wearing a divine dress (with a few changes it would be perfect for my salsa dancing) and he was dressed in an extravagant suit, a bit ridiculous with sunglasses during the night.
At some point we were fed! That was a glorious moment considering we were all starving.
In the End, It’s the People that Make It or Break It
Besides the food and the funny costumes we tried on, the most interesting part of the experience was not the film or the studio itself, but the great people we had the chance to interact with:
- An English guy who produces and directs films. He was delighted to be in a set of one of the biggest film industries in the world. He shared his knowledge, opinions and past experiences. I later came across him in another Indian town, what a surprise.
- A Norwegian guy. Those crazy Europeans that save up in Euros and travel the world. He graduated from school, joined programs with the embassy, exchanges, organizations of various types, with which he traveled and lived all over South America, Africa, Europe and now Asia. How cool is that?
- A guy from the US, young as well, traveling and living with what he could manage, always looking for ways to spend less and live more.
- Swiss couple that took a 10-month vacation to travel the world. They are not married but they say they are, it’s easier to travel around Asia that way.
- A guy from Moldova, blond with clear eyes. He wants to be a dancer/actor and is trying luck in India; he does appear to believe he is all that. He learned that I dance salsa and insisted on dancing together for a competition. No thank you.
- A group of people from the “xxxxx-istan” countries. I tried talking to some of them but they were too into themselves and cared little to socialize with others. Some of them even demanded things from the film staff.
- I spoke with a couple of the dancers. They were so bored. Sometimes they rehearse beforehand, and sometimes they learn the choreographies on the spot, like this night. They claimed the work to be easy, mostly bored playing Candy Crush on their phones.
- And the doctor on set! I kind of strained my right foot. The pain grew throughout the night until I could barely stand it. I asked for the doctor; his treatment was spray something on it (that had little or no effect), put some cotton, and hold it in place with the jean leg. Once home I improvised a more secure wrap.
We each got 500 rupees (less than 10 usd) for the incredible work we carried out. It was a fun experience and meeting such different people is always a plus. What you see in the big screen is definitely very different from what you see behind it. Bollywood movies are very upbeat, with lots of music, dance, people, dynamism and lots of theater; however, behind the scenes, I saw the complete opposite. It is worth going though, at least once! Maybe I will return some day, just with the hopes of having a hand or a foot appear in one of the three hour long movies!
Hope you enjoyed it!! Here is a link to the trailer of the movie.