A little over a week ago I got a text message saying "Hi this is Imran from Bollywood." Assuming it was just another one of the many spam texts I receive on an average day here, I ignored it. After recounting the story to my roommates that evening, they reminded me that we had all recently signed up for a Bollywood extras website service that recruits those interested (mostly foreign expats and tourists) in spending a day on set as extras in a Bollywood film. So, we decided to call back this Imran fellow to see what the deal was...first of all, was his offer legit and second, was it something worth committing to?
After further investigation, we learned that the movie we were to be in was, in the words of Imran, India's "next biggest Bollywood hit" (a line I assumed had been used countless times to recruit extras). Should we accept the offer, we would be featured "dancing with Bollywood actors in a musical number." After getting some more dirt on our expected roles and determining that the offer was in fact legitimate (don't worry, we did our research), we agreed. We were told this was a full day commitment- aka we needed to be across the city on set by 7am sharp and would be finished by 8pm if all went according to plan. In addition to the sheer excitement of being in a Bollywood film, we also learned that we would make $50 each for our hard work.
On the day of, we took a taxi to the studio which was located in a huge gated complex. Once we arrived, we wandered around aimlessly for a little while, trying to spot other lost-looking foreigners, all of whom we soon realized were clustered together in the hair and makeup rooms. As soon as we joined the group inside, we were immediately shuffled over to the costume racks and given our respective Bollywood attire. The dress I received was a bubble gum pink, floor length spandex halter dress with all sorts of gems, rhinestones, and glitter bedazzling the neckline. Oh, and did I mention the slit on the side that ran all the way up my leg to my hip? Scandalous. At least I didn't get stuck in what some of the other extras had to wear- there were gold booty shorts, others sported leopard print tops, and I even spotted several glittery spandex pants. All in all, the costumes exhibited the full glory and sheer "over-the-top-ness" that is Bollywood fashion. I don't think I've ever seen so much spandex, flashiness, and tackiness contained in one room (ok, maybe some middle school dance parties came close, but still...).
As for my hair, the stylists started by brushing it out while it was dry, which, by the way you DONT do if you know anything about curly hair like mine because it will inevitably transform into an unruly afro. Next, they gave me an obtrusively large "poof" in the front.
Surprisingly, the makeup was the most tame of aspect of the preparation experience (other than the hot pink lipstick).
After hair and makeup, it was at last time to hit the set. The set itself was quite impressive. Not knowing what to expect, I thought we might spend the entire day in some small, nondescript room only to have an elaborate background added in after the fact with a green screen. Thankfully, that was not the case. The scene we were in was supposed to be set in a high end London nightclub. The set had impressive crystal chandeliers hanging from the rafters, fake Michaelangelo masterpieces muraled on the walls, a grand staircase covered in a red velvet carpet, and balconies galore. Probably the most ridiculous set design elements were the 12-foot tall spinning champagne glasses decorating the corners of the room and the runway platform lined by goblets of fire and with a waterfall in the background. Oh, and how could I forget the golden cherubs hanging from above? Then there were the two elevated pole dancing platforms which we soon learned were integral to the plot line....
Apparently the film we were starring in was about two men who are battling against one another to be the top pole dancer in this London nightclub (...no joke). Of course the story line wouldn't be complete without some sort of love triangle, so that was another piece of the puzzle. As extras, we were told we had been cast as bridesmaids (I still don't entirely understand how the wedding bit fits into the whole plot, but alas...). The scene was supposed to depict a roaring party at this night club in which the central focus was on the feuding Bollywood hunks and their pole dancing routines, the choreography of which captured Bollywood dance moves at their finest. (Random fact: Did you know pole dancing is emerging in the US as a popular form of exercise that has gathered a group of loyal followers, some of whom have gone so far as to install poles in their living spaces for practice? Learned that while living in DC this past spring...haha).
The best part of the routine was when two extras tore off the actors shirts (don't worry, it was planned...yes, the shirts were designed for the specific purpose of being torn off-- they were sleeveless purple silk dress shirts that had been strategically velcro-ed together along the sides. Once ripped off, only the collar of the shirt remained around their necks...which to me looked totally absurd, but hey, its Bollywood). As extras, we were told to dance around, throw our arms up in the air, and make it look as convincing as possible that we were having the time of our lives at this outrageous party. As props, we were given glasses of champagne, glitter and fake British pounds to shower over the pole dancing duo.
To be honest, all in all, much of the day was spent sitting around. We spent 12 hours shooting what will probably, if we're lucky, amount to about 30 seconds of footage in the actual film. But hey, I guess that's how it goes in this industry! By the end of the day, I realized that I don't think I'm cut out for a full-time career as a Bollywood extra (and believe me, there was a whole group of Eastern European girls there who were making a career in Bollywood), but I think I'll definitely take on a few more roles while I'm here, so expect some more wild stories from this end ;)
Here are some more details about the movie: It's called "Desi Boyz" and I believe the expected release date is November 26. If possible, I'll try and buy some copies for you all to see when I get home!
And YES, I know the anticipation might drive you to insanity, but hang in there, pictures of me on set posing with the actors in my ridiculous costume are on the way, I promise!