According to statistics, residents of India buy almost 2.7 billion movie tickets a year, but the Indian film industry itself is far from western in terms of turnover and size, to put it mildly. Nevertheless, the word “Bollywood” seems to be known to everyone, but not everyone is aware that there are still Bollywood, Mollywood and Collywood. Local directors love and appreciate the European appearance, and therefore foreigners have good chances to get into one of the many films produced by the Bollywood machine.
Samizdat reader Ira Danilyants, having lived in India for a year and a half, got into the very heart of the Indian film industry, playing in countless extras and episodic scenes: either she became a member of the Australian Olympic team, then she stood in a display case on the red light district. In this text, Irina tells why it’s not normal to include a single shot from the hours and large-scale shooting at the stadium, and for this professional actors of mass scenes do not like Goan.
The third hour of the film was in progress, when it turned out that the main character - the circus villain with expressive eyebrows - has a kind twin brother, who was hidden for thirty years in the back of the circus. The room perked up. A group of girls appeared in bright swimsuits and skirts made of flying fabric. Twin brother - well, who would have thought! Now they will dance about it. We sit in the fifth row and look at their faces. Not a single acquaintance. Dance takes about five to six minutes. The girls disappear, leaving the two brothers alone. The hall is alarmed, the good brother is embarrassed, the evil plays with eyebrows. The light turns on. Intermission!
We go to the movies once every couple of weeks. Goa's largest cinema is located in Panaji, the state capital. It is an hour from home if you ride a motorcycle not too fast. There are almost no films in English, subtitles are rarely included, but everything is clear there.
In my childhood, an old Indian movie was shown on television every Sunday. Grandmother loved Disco Dancer, and I loved Zita and Gita. The standard three-hour film contained about eight dances, several long songs, a love triangle, murder, the disclosure of the secrets of the twins, and expressive eyebrows of the sex symbol. Now everything is the same, only the dancers have much less clothes and everywhere European faces flash. And we have such a game: to catch them in the frame, to pay attention to random passers-by, to notice “their own” among the guests at the cinema wedding and to recognize someone’s backs on the general plans.
Indian studios make more than a thousand films a year. "European" extras are in almost everyone. And if you have fair skin and you live somewhere here, then one day they will call you for joking. And so it will begin.
I sat on a round marble balcony with green columns and smeared a roll for three rupees with bright red jam for ten. Not that we lived in a palace. To build such houses, and then to rent the upper floor to visitors is a common thing. Artyom called from an unfamiliar number and said that tomorrow at 7:30 in the morning we should be at the Siolim intersection in something not very bright. Somewhere on the beach they will shoot an action movie about the mafia, twenty people need extras. And the swimsuit, they say, grab. For a swimsuit they will pay a thousand.
Who lived in the palace is Artyom. He rented a wing in an old Portuguese house with a tiled roof, huge and intimidating, like a set for a horror movie. He walked the streets barefoot, painted psychedelic paintings with school wax crayons, carried a flute with which he never learned to play, always called from other people's numbers and was aware of all the jokes in the area.
Every week a studio shot something on the Goan beaches. Studio managers hired local agents, local looked for Russian subagents, subagents connected friends, friends phoned acquaintances. So a group of those who were ready for a symbolic thousand rupees half a day to spend on the beach was recruited. Usually agreed on this holiday-vacationers, for whom filming in the cinema was an adventure, and those who are completely without money.
The next day we woke up at 6:30, put my swimsuit in a backpack and drove to the intersection. Out of curiosity.
If you see a lot of people, cars and cows on the street, there are two options: either filming, or an accident. Accident is rare. Shooting - more often and longer. The crowd gathers in a minute, growing rapidly. At first, he stands modestly, looks, then goes home for a stool, water and relatives. At lunch, he meets the crew and asks for food. By evening, the whole village teaches the director to make a movie. Episodes go fotitsya and add on Facebook girls from the crowd. The main actor requires massage and coffee.
A filming day begins with breakfast. On plastic tables under a white tent, extras are waiting for rolls, jam and butter, boiled eggs, ice, dosa and some very hot sauces. Somewhere on the side there is always a metal thermos with traditional Indian milk tea and a stack of miniature cardboard cups. Experienced people in mass media come to jail with their mug. I love dosa - thin crunchy pancakes, and go - rice steaks made from rice flour - resemble soaked bread.
Breakfast is the most interesting part of the day. Further we will only wait. First lunch, then a break, then the end of the shift. And all day - until finally they will call me to walk in front of the camera or lie on the beach as a background. Shootings are ordinary, dance, night and dance-night. Night is more expensive than day. Dancing in a swimsuit is more expensive than dancing in clothes. The shift is twelve hours. Of these twelve minimum eight hours, we will do nothing. Blessed nothing. I tried reading, writing, listening to audio books, working and sleeping on jokes. As effective as nothing, during these endless days, you can only play Papers on Your Forehead.
Before heading to India without a return ticket, we wintered to Goa a couple of times, got a motorbike and drove 15 thousand kilometers across the country. “Well,” said acquaintances, “India will not let you go now.” She really did not let go: once in the fall, we transferred all work to a remote mode and left indefinitely.
Shooting "out of curiosity" quickly turned into a main activity. I don’t know how this happens, but one day it turns out that there are only agents around you, agent agents and assistant casting directors. You are added to all the necessary groups in the messengers - they post job ads around the clock in Russian and English. Some people are constantly calling you. Your phone has ten contacts with the word "agent." You make a photo shoot for yourself on that very marble balcony overlooking the palm trees, quickly learn to bargain, and one day you find yourself on the top shelf of a sleeping bus in the company of ten such “actors”. You are driving a week-long costume-fencing to a faraway village in Gujarat.
Indian cinema is not only Bollywood. There are hundreds of film studios in the country. Most make regional films: Tollywood - films in Telugu, Collywood - in Tamil, Mollywood - in the language of malya. You never know for sure in which movie you are making. Nobody tells you about budgets and directors. You see the name of the film for the first time already during the filming, it is written with a felt-tip pen on a clapperboard. It’s always a surprise where they will put you: in the five-star Taj or in the school gym, how many days you will actually work and who this person is with you. All bow to him, take autographs and whisper, how lucky you are.
For a successful film career in India, it is better to be a classic blonde or a long-haired curly brunette - like an Indian, but with fair skin. A familiar agent said that moles on a female face here are considered almost ugliness, curly hair - a sad misunderstanding, growth above average and excessive elongation are undesirable. Make-up artists and dressers get out of my strength - they decorate as they can. They give out silicone breasts of the fifth size, they recommend a straightening coconut shampoo and ask if I thought about removing the moles from my cheek. Mostly I play girls in a bar, casino clients, casual passers-by, prostitutes and wordless girlfriends of a minor hero.
Meanwhile, it turns out that in Indian cinema there is a shortage of “ordinary European men”: of medium height, with bright eyes, without tattoos and dreadlocks, ready to shave their beard and cut their hair for the sake of art. Husband rides around filming, sticks out for weeks at the largest Bollywood film studio Film City and sends photos: here he is all in fake blood lying in a trench, here he is participating in a shootout, but he is getting used to the role of a fashion designer. He is wearing a bright yellow cherry jacket, shorts and a wide-brimmed hat. In response, I send mine: here I am standing at the door with the inscription “LOVE” in the scenery with red lights, here I am playing poker in a golden dress with a rose on my shoulder, and here I am walking with a girlfriend at a jewelry store. By the way, all these roles are paid better than distance work as an editor.
Sometimes we find ourselves on truly large projects. When Aamir Khan made a film about the Indian wrestling champion, the crowd was gathered all over India. We spent three days in the stands of the stadium, then changed into athletes, then in strict men's suits sat at the referee's table. The movie was released in the world last year. We watched it already in Russia and did not find a single familiar face, only a couple of random backs. A week to shoot an extras stadium, and then not to insert a single frame into the film is a common thing.
On large-scale shootings it is easy to get acquainted with the "real" actors of mass scenes. Usually these guys live in Mumbai on a decent work visa, work on a contract basis and slightly despise the “Goan”. Because Goans can work 15 hours for a penny, go for a walk in the capital of the Muslim state barefoot and half-naked, smoke in the trash during the shoot, or arrange a half-day strike in the name of justice. Of all the people present on the site, the more unpredictable and weird are only those who came to the ashram for shooting.
Five shifts of 12 hours in an enclosed space - a test for the strong in spirit. When they practice yoga in the left corner, preach in the right corner, someone puts needles under someone's table, they fight in a dresser room, and they go on strike at the entrance, you don’t know what to say to your mom who calls to find out how you are doing. My business is fine, mom. What am I doing? Well, I'm sitting in the form of a 1980 sample from the Australian Olympic team. Or I stand, arms raised, while a lush dress of the color of a raw egg yolk is sewn on me - we have here the 20s of the last century, we remove it in the castle. Or I hang around in a window display on the red light district (judging by the signs, this is Bulgaria), and the blue glitter is showered on my silver lurex T-shirt.
We lived in India for a year and a half. Once a week went to the shooting. Once a couple of weeks went to the cinema. I love Indian films because they are like in childhood. Heroes dance in any strange situation, cry with all their heart and are still in a special relationship with physics. The audience listens to the national anthem before the show, watches a movie with handkerchiefs in their hands, is outraged at the whole hall if someone was killed on the screen, and during the break they go out into the corridor: catch some popcorn and catch their breath.
In Indian cinema, good always triumphs over evil. The evil twin brother will soon realize his guilt, the good will forgive him. They will long stand on the bridge and watch the sunset. At this time, we will notice a couple of brown heads in the background and be happy. And the brothers will join hands and jump from the bridge in the name of saving the world. Sad music will play until the very credits, and they will fly so long that the audience has time to choke in tears. Curtain!