On Set with Rakta Charitra

I can neither pronounce or spell without Googling “Rakta Charitra” so from here on out I’m writing it as “RC”. Phew!

The second installment of this film was released this weekend so I’m making good on my promise, and spilling the dirt! (Plus I got the go ahead from some higher ups!) It is proving harder than anything to find a showing of RC2 in Manhattan so I’m planning a trip to New Jersey later this week to see it. In the mean time you can drool all over this.

Goodness, I don’t even know where to start…

When I was on set the film was being shot at Film City. The set sat literally right in the middle of the main road that you drive on through the “city”. Film City is more like a huge forest with little drive-offs that take you to either stages, empty lots, secluded woods, pre-fab sets (like a huge manor house), or post production houses like Reliance and Prime Focus. Film City is huge and it has tigers. Or panthers? Whatever it has, I was told multiple times that I would be eaten if I was there after dark.

Also, Auto Rickshaws are a pain in the ass to flag down once you’re inside Film City so just slip the driver who brings you in about 100 Rs. and tell them to go take a nap. I never did this, however; now sitting in my apartment 6 months* later it sounds like the most brilliant an logical solution in the world.

Put simply, Film City is anything BUT how you imagine a great hub of filmmaking to be. Forget the lavish complex in Om Shanti Om, because it is a lie. Well, such a beautiful place might exist, but I never saw it… plus seeing such a thing would have totally ruined everything for me. I don’t know why, it just would have.

The premise of my internship was largely observational, within the perimeters of my day-to-day assignments (i.e. what set I was on) I was mostly left alone. My boss was suffering from Malaria and would drop us off on set and spend his time in a trailer in a cold shower. Mainly I was given a chair behind the director and ignored. What am I saying? Ignored? I was a woman, and a white, American woman at that. I was anything but inconspicuious; my coworker was from the Philippines and was short, brown and Asian. She was the one who was ignored and as such she spent most of her time asleep on set.

But back to the main point: I wasn’t involved in the creative process in any way, I was just supposed to watch the creative process happen. Fine by me considering I was getting quite the eduction anyway, being a stage actor suddenly immersed into a world where they had do-overs!

Being an idiot I thought that movies were shot just like plays/operas are performed, in one continuous go. I knew there were takes, and editing and they were shot out of order. Imagine my surprise when on my first day I spent 12 hours watching the SAME 30 seconds shot over, and over, and over, and over, and over again. I tried to comprehend how an editor sifted through all of that and made sense of it. My awe for movies and their makers has rocketed to the moon and back since learning that. All of that information processed, you can imagine why being on a film set is kind of… tedious. I won’t say “boring” because it isn’t, but it is a touch pedantic. Again, being said, I have so much respect for anyone involved in film making.

BACK to RC though, which is what you’re here for…

The day I took my camera was the same day that they were blowing up a car. That was fascinating. They had two copies of the same old, white car. One was in shape and spruced up, sitting under lights and in front of a green screen. In front of the car was what I can only call a flame thrower. It belched flames on the car.

Please keep in mind that this was in Mumbai. At about 1 p.m.. In the May. Right before the monsoons. (Translation: it was too hot for words even without a flame thrower going off every 10 minutes).

The other car they had was directly in line, in front of the other. This car however was disassembled, the doors hanging off hinges and the hood and roof taken off. Set builders were meticulously wrapping the frame of the car with rags soaked in gasoline.

Just as a side note: The fact that there was a bucket of gasoline no less that 10 feet away from the flame machine totally gave me a nervous breakdown. I mean… just saying.

This car was obviously the “post bomb car”.

Our man, Vivek Oberoi, would walk from his 10×10 pop up tent where he was CONTINUALLY combing his hair and into the car. He would sit in the car while they called “Action” and a flame ball would fly at the window of the car. Then “Cut” and he would get out of the car and walk back to his tent. Then 20 minutes later the process would repeat itself.

Probably my favorite guy running around was the man holding pictures of Vivek’s makeup from previous days’ shootings making sure it matched. It was a small detail, but it made me smile. Continuity is so important you know, especially when there are blood spatters involved. And there were a lot of blood spatters.
The guy in blue is holding the pictures…
You can just make them out.
His fanny pack is filled with make-up miracles.

The whole time Ram Gopal Varma would be running about shouting commands into a megaphone and make sure everything ran according to his plan. I really liked him. He was so lively and surly and focused. And welcoming. I’ll always be so thankful that he let us watch his movie being made. It was such an incredible privilege.

Vivek, as I have said many times and will continue to affirm, was the sweetest guy. Of all the people I met his was the heart that was made of pure gold. He was so nice. And, FINE, here is the picture you’ve all been waiting for anyway:

This was the same afternoon I found out I had dysentery.
That’s not really a caption you wanted to read.
It was also my 6th or so day in Mumbai… 3 weeks to go of sickness! 
I was trying really hard not to get sick all over Vivek’s face. 
Also, this was right before he whispered in my ear.
In any case I cannot wait to see the rest of this movie on the screen. It is such a surreal experience to view something that you have background sight on. All the rough edges (like the green screen just being a green… screen) are smoothed away and you have a working film in front of you full of people you talked to about normal things enacting such brutal and debase personas.

Mind blowingly surreal.

*Has it really been 6 months since I’ve been back? Ow. Can someone please send me back? It’s a physical pain, being separated from India, and it can only be cured by my return. Help a sister out? ;)

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5 thoughts on “On Set with Rakta Charitra

  1. This is SO AWESOME to finally read (I can't wait to see the freaking movies and be all like OMG I KNOW SOMEONE WHO WAS THERE!) (well "know" from the internet but come on it counts)!MORE STORIES FROM INDIA! Also, I am so happy that Vivek is truly a sweetheart. YAY! And you don't even look sick in that picture. Damn, girl, even when you have DYSENTERY you're rocking it.

  2. Thanks for sharing the photos and stories. I cracked up about the blood splatter continuity. In US filmmaking that would be a perfect job for an intern, but I suspect that a lot of the intern-type tasks in Indian film are real jobs.And you look remarkably chipper for someone who had dysentery in that photo.

  3. @Ness Baby: You know me, I made you. ;) I'll write more stories, promise, I just need topics!! I think I look really sick, but thank you for the ego boost.@Liz A lot of intern-type jobs are real jobs in India, yes, but that is part of the beauty of it. @Kellie I'll always share for you, dag meat.

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