I didn’t know that Mumbai/Bombay is the second largest city in the world. If I had I wouldn’t have been so surprised that it took over three hours to get from the outskirts into its center and a further hour to get to my accommodation. Mumbai is insanely big.
I stayed with the Salvation Army. No, things hadn’t got so bad that I had needed the support of a charity. Rather it represented pretty much the only cheap accommodation in Mumbai. It also turned out to be a superb place to meet lots of old and new friends. It wasn’t the Taj hotel, but it was next door!
If India is to project itself as a future world power then it needs to pin all of its hopes on Mumbai. Quite simply, stick it in continental Europe and it wouldn’t look out of place. Rickshaws are banned in the south of the city, instead they are replaced by funky and even metered taxis!!! Garbage trucks exist as do wheelie bins and there is a distinct lack of cows and the mess they bring. I even saw a man walking a dog with a lead and a harness. Mumbai doesn’t just feel continental it looks it too. Tall skyscrapers shape the skyline and people wander the streets in much more western attire. Speaking to people who’s first stop in India was Mumbai it felt to them as manic and chaotic as any other arrival to India. Compared to the North however, for me, it felt like a home from home.
It was a city you just wandered around. There are so many beautifully crafted buildings that you just keep tripping over. The Gateway to India, the Taj Hotel, the University, the Victorian train station and the High Court were all incredibly impressive. Inside the High Court was also fascinating however we predictably found ourselves in the most boring courtroom in the world where the prosecutor openly admitted that he was quoting selectively from sentences. There was paper and bureaucracy everywhere. That part was typically Indian. From the different green areas you could admire all of these buildings whilst watching tons of overlapping cricket games. How they knew who was playing which game was mind boggling!
My enduring memory of Mumbai however will be courtesy of its central asset…Bollywood. It happened by chance. Jamie, who I had met in the dorm rooms had heard of an opportunity and knew they were on the search for others. I picked up the phone and rang. From the moment the man on the other end introduced himself as “my name is Sanjay and I…I am from Bollywood!” I knew it would be a memorable experience. After a chat, Mr Bollywod said he would send a car at 8am sharp to take us to the film set.
8am came and went. As it turns out the bus had arrived at 7:30. But Mr Bollywod needed his stars and sent a car with tinted windows and leather seats to pick us up. Inside was already seated Henry, an Aussie, who had also missed the bus. From here we were whisked away to a shopping center. Unsurprisingly it took ages having to navigate gridlocked traffic.
The set was TGI Friday’s. I got dressed into a low cut top with more glitter on it than any man should ever be allowed to wear. I then had make up applied and gel was poured into my hair and stylised into an eccentric style. I was apparently trendy. We hung around for an hour laughing and speculating as to our role. Actors built like brickhouses and pristine actresses shared the same room as us. They all lived out of a mirror. Finally it was our time. We were guided into the diner and people were dispatched to tables. Food that was on the tables had been there for days. They showed golf rather than cricket on the TV’s. Except for the Indian actor and actress, everything was Western. Despite the build-up it was not to be my time. In a crushing blow the director removed everyone sporting white shirts. Gutted five of us sat depressed in the communal area as the shoot took place. Resigned to missing out we got changed. We were pleased to be getting 500 rupees but disappointed not to have got a shot at the big time.
As it turned out we were only on that set because some of the other extras had walked out after a long shift and little food. Life as an extra can be cruel. In a change of fortunes we were to be paid not only for doing nothing on that set but we would also be heading further North where we would get a new opportunity with what we hoped would be a less cruel film set.
This film set was situated near the airport so it yet again required an agonising journey. The only high point was that it continued in the flash car. Eventually we arrived at a small building, hidden away in the suburbs. The resident dogs body explained that the general outline of the film was that we were filming the part of where the two lead characters were under arrest. The taller extras would play Spanish policemen. They got full uniforms, guns and had to have a full shave. Rather pleasingly myself and the German Jonus were also identified as having a good look for the shoot. It later turned out that it was a good look for a Spanish criminal. Yet again hair and make-up was done but this time in the producers coach and by a team of stylists. Like any Bollywood star, I had taken a knock, but there I was, rising from the ashes, ready to prove my white shirt haters wrong!
What actually emerged was a long time sat outside, chatting and playing cards. The set itself was a hive of activity. People sat looking through Bollywood hopefuls portfolios, security guards patrolled the perimeter and all numbers of people did all numbers of jobs. There were so many people that it was hard to comprehend what 90% of them were actually doing. The only consistent thing was a call for silence every 3 or so minutes as they did another take inside the building. By far the biggest highpoint of the set was having a personal chef and three buffets over the course of the day. I can’t put into words just how good the food was. Unlike Hollywood extras, we were treated very well and were always first to and last from the buffet table.
It was some four hours after arriving on set that my big chance came. I was grabbed by one of the dogs bodies and pulled into a so called Spanish police station. But as soon as I was in I suffered yet more heartbreak. They didn’t need me. I went and sat back outside with the others. Two minutes later I was back inside again. However again I was rejected. This time terribly confused at the lack of any sort of plan from the director I was bundled into a side office. Finally I was then dragged back onto set, this time to stay. I was given a detailed run down of my role. I had to stand and look at a piece of paper being held by a polieman in the back office as a camera pans in on the lead characters. To be honest, I played my role perfectly. It did take two attempts but that was because the lead actor forgot his lines. At the end everyone applauded, I took the applause with grace. They announced it was lunch. All the extras on set applauded.
Bursting from lunch we all slumped in chairs, underneath the relentless sun. At 4pm we were told our job was done and we could go home six hours early. We collected another 500 rupees from the set and took part in another grueling trip back. It would have been quicker to get to Cornwall from Bristol I recon. The highlight however was the entertaining traffic jam sellers who would attempt to thrust everything and anything through the windows of cars convinced you wanted it. But I just didn’t feel like a half broken plastic Santa.
In celebration of our upcoming fame we settled down to a number of beers around Mumbai. Leopalds was a terrible disappointment and after another bar we made use of a local off license and sat down on the steps over looking the Gateway to India. It was a great day and a great city.