|Our Really Big Adventure|
| The policemen advanced
menacingly through the crowd toward Shaheed. Without warning the 15-metre
tall effigy burst into flames. Had the gods intervened to save the freedom
fighter? In fear for their lives, the imperial lackeys fled back to their
van as the crowd scattered in every direction, all running from the toppling
inferno. Camels and elephants panicked as explosions filled the air and
sparks flew. Chaos reigned supreme.
The Indian film industry produces over a thousand films each year. Western extras are always in demand, sourced in Bombay hotels and restaurants, or bussed in from backpacker hangouts like Goa, 10 hours away. At first glance, payment seems unnecessary. Surely western tourists leap at the chance to be in a movie, just for the experience? While this is true to an extent, the scale of the Indian film industry and the lack of a real backpacker centre in Bombay mean that in fact it is hard to find enough western extras. For many of the long-staying, low budget travellers, the money is a real attraction and on our set we met people who had done 40 or more movies.
The other reason payment is essential, we soon realised, is that it is a long, hard, boring day. On an outside shoot, its also incredibly hot. Without payment to instil a modicum of work ethic, people would get bored and hot halfway through the day and simply refuse to work.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, we had a high proportion of prima donnas in our group, who didnt quite grasp their insignificance in the grand scheme of things. Costuming was a little haphazard. While the setting was 1930s, the costumes were Wallis c. 1989. Everyone wanted to look pretty, everyone wanted loose cotton clothes. But only some threw tantrums when they didnt get what they wanted.
By and large, the women were lucky. The clothes may not always have been flattering, or as lightweight as we might have liked, but one layer generally sufficed. The guys, on the other hand, were in full uniform or three piece suits.
With our costumes and makeup, we looked the part as we headed on set. Fifteen or so westerners mingled with hundreds of Indians at the fair, all marvelling at the tightrope walker, laughing at the dancing bear, browsing in the bazaar stalls or riding the carousels. The westerners were stationed strategically to ensure the cameras could pick them out as required, but of course every extra on set wanted their moment of fame. No sooner had the director arranged a group just as he wanted it, than everyone would scramble to get in front and I would be once again buried in the crowd. After three or four increasingly frustrated rearrangement sessions, he finally got the shot he needed, and everyone moved swiftly on to the next.
As the hours went by, the carefully applied make up streaked, hairdos undid and costumes became increasingly sweaty and grimy. The disintegration was complete when the policemens fake moustaches, carefully glued on at 10 am, were washed away by pumping sweat. The roving moustache-application men allowed the gents no relief, however, materialising from nowhere and insisting on gluing them back on straight away. Caelens (real) comedy moustache paid dividends, as he was the only policeman who didnt have to spend the day with a sticky coating on his upper lip.
In total 10 scenes were shot that day, yielding
maybe 2 minutes of screen footage. It seems like a snails pace,
yet its jet-powered compared to Hollywood norms. The film was due
for release nationwide within four weeks of our day on set, so look out
for Shaheed at a cinema near you soon.