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As part of our internship my co-intern, Aiess, and I had to observe how television was made, and contrast scripted versus live programs.
Enter: Indian Idol.
The day I was on set for Indian Idol was quite possibly the longest day in my short existence. I was in my second week of Civil War Dysentery* and was forced awake at the unholy hour of 9 a.m. after a night of…well, disgusting things, in order that I might go to Fimistan and see a live recording.
If you’ve ever had dysentery–and I don’t mean Delhi Belly or Montezuma’s Curse or any of that punk-ass silliness–you can commiserate with me. Being woken up from the only hour of sleep I had managed to get was rude. Being woken up and deposited on a film lot sans air conditioning and accessible bathrooms was a torture more keen than any other I can devise in my little head.
We did get to take a car, oddly. A beautiful, air-conditioned Tata something-or-other. The down side? Filmistan was exactly two blocks from our house. Rip off!
(Ok, so I was super amped about the car…)
We got to Filmistan, checked in, looked at a scene being constructed for Ra.One, and were taken to the Indian Idol set. We waited, and waited, and waited in the sun. We were told to come back for phase two of shooting. We hopped in the Tata Something and rolled home.
Insert two bazillion hours of waiting.
Before we were “cleared” to head back to the set and commence “phase two” it was past 6 p.m. Or 5 p.m. The point is, the sun was setting. We were shuffled into a TINY sound stage with TINY bleachers set-up for a TINY audience. There was a rather large stage, with fancy lights and smoke whirling around and sound people running around doing sound things and light people doing light things.
I have a feeling Aiess, Mukesh and I weren’t supposed to be IN the audience, that we were supposed to be on the side-lines observing and seeing different facets of the shooting process BUT the audience organizer got one look at my pale skin and vapid expression and said “gori!” with more excitement than I’ve ever heard injected into a word. Next thing I know I’m smack in the middle of the bleachers, the audience filling in around our trio and constantly being moved by the audience orgainzer to the best “strategic location”.
Mukesh just laughed. And laughed. This was actually all his fault. He caught me watching Indian Idol in the house one day and singing along to it**. He devised this plan based on my “interests”. I think.
I was dysentarious, remember.
ANYWAY after about 2 hours of being shuffled around it was time to start filming.
I think Indian Idol is hocked as a “live” show. Let me tell you something, my sweetums, there ain’t nothing live about this ish.
Each singer sang their song at least 3-4 times, and they got do-overs if they missed their intro!
“This isn’t fair!” my opera-trained brain kept shouting at internally.
I ceased to care about my ethics when the guest judges were introduced.
Hello, Shahid Kapoor, my great, great, great, and most guilty weakness.
He swaggerd onto the stage and I turned into the most dithery of idiot girls. I blushed, for goodness’ sake! He shook my hand when he “greeted” the auidence! HE LOOKED AT ME!
Anushka Sharma was there too. Whatever. She’s actually quite tall.
Shahid and Anushka were there to promote Badmaash Company. And to “judge”. All they really did was tell people how cute they thought their performance was.
Oh, and Shahid doodled. A LOT. If you’ve ever seen the guy’s tweets you’ll understand this but he’s totally like his tweets. Kind of… lost. Really, really, really nice; not terribly engaged upstairs. He was just there to look pretty and to act kind of awkward when the host asked him to dance on stage. Apparently, our boy Kapoor is a little shy.
I WANTED TO SEE HIM DANCE! AND HE DIDN’T! I stopped blushing.
At some point or another they went back to singing and judging.
I do remember being impressed with the judges commentary. Now, I know my Hindi is SO FINE (it is not) but I felt compared to the American Idol judges they actually knew what they were talking about. Comments were about technique, technique and more technique. More importantly, they told how to FIX problems. Each contestant got a great coaching session for about 10-15 minutes from the judges. Obviously only 2-3 minutes of that ever aired but it really did impress me.
Anushka and Shahid gave comments too, usually to the effect of “You’re so sweet!” or “Your determination really inspires me!” or better yet, “Follow your dreams.”
Meanwhile, in the audience, things were starting to got a little Second French Revolution. We had been sequestered for over 6 hours at this point and under NO circumstances were we able to leave. We needed water, kids needed to pee, parents needed food or they were going to go batshit…etc. “No.” “No.” “No.” was the constant response to all of our pleadings.
If you’ve ever watched Indian Idol and thought he audience sounded a little…well, miserable, now you know why. There are about 100 people sitting there and they’re all extremely pissed off.
8 hours into the experience and the judges were released to go “debate”. Naturally, if you had been watching all the production people closely enough you could see that the decision was already made and that there would be no debate. Only dinner.
THE JUDGES GOT DINNER.
During this 2 hour hiatus you might think that we were able to roam about, get our own dinner, streach our legs, feed some kids… NOPE.
We were stuck. Forever. Time was halted and I was going to die on the Indian Idol soundstage. Filmistan. Mumbai. India.
While there was singing and judging going on I was at least distracted enough to not care about what time it was, but for those two hours of inaction I was ready to stab. Anyone.
To add insult to injury there was a bhangra group that would occasionally start drumming and shouting. They were also seated directly behind Aiess, Mukesh and myself.
Not only were we stuck, upset, thirsty and tired, but we were deaf now too.
When the action on stage restarted the audience was pacified enough to get involved again. There was only the “you’re in”/”you’re out” part left. How long could that take? Twenty, thrity minutes tops? Let’s do this.
It took 4 hours.
Four. Chaar. Cuatro.
Oh it was awful!
Finally it finished. We all breathed a sigh or relief! We danced, cheered, frolicked! It was time to leave! To go home! To use the bathroom! To eat!
Except it wasn’t.
First all the “high profile” guests had to leave. The singers, the hosts, the judges, Anushi and Shahid. Then they had to clean the stage. Then turn off the lights. Then pack things up. Then feed the crew. Then let the crew leave.
2 hours later, things got ugly. Mob mentallity totally took over. I started screaming at people in Hindi! I got FANTASTIC looks from people! I pulled my hair, I went absolutely insane.
I don’t loose my cool, I am patient, calm, collected.
Not then. I wanted to get home, go to bed, and eat a chapati. (Yes, in that order).
Realize that since we had ENTERED THE SOUND STAGE it had been 16 hours and counting.
Like, let us leave already?
I think, a year later and looking back, that we were all getting punked so hard. They were monitoring us for some psychological and sociological study. Right now in some freshman college lecture I’m being viewed on screen and the students are like “what is her deal?”
We walked home. It was glorious. I’ve never felt more happy to be standing in my entire life. I was moving, breathing the “fresh” air of Mumbai! I was free!
A week or so later our episode aired. I tried to watch it but it was too horrific. I wasn’t ready to relive it. The pain! The pain was unendurable!
I got texts and facebook messages from friends who did watch it. They all said this: “Wah! You are on Indian Idol!”
Of course I was. Like you can keep a camera of MY beautiful face! HAHA!
Did I mention the best part? It was totally Aiess’ 21st Birthday.
What a ROCKING birthday!
Today, a year later, she’s 22 and I think we’ve both healed enough to talk about our trauma… at least, I am.
*If you follow my film blog, my Twitter or have ever spoken to me in real life, you know my dysentery is the first thing I try to tell you about myself. I’m superbly proud of it and now know why the South quit the war.
**I know more lyrics to the songs on Indian Idol than on American Idol. My doctor is having me tested for something.
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.
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:
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? ;)