If you are a fair skinned westerner passing through Bombay, beguiled by the “Hey, you wanna be in the movies?” line, and the promise of Rs 500 for a day’s work, you could find your 15 seconds of fame in the Hindi film industry. In a society that equates fairness with beauty, the westerner, especially the blue-eyed blonde haired variety, fulfils a crucial role in providing instant background glamour to many a film.
The budding film stars are recruited every morning from the traveller hangouts and hotels of Colaba. Many of them are newly arrived from the international airport, or confused and dazed from a sleepless night on the bus from Udaipur. As the pavement agent bundles the tourists into a taxi, the aspiring actors chatter excitedly about their big break.
Dreams shatteredAlas, their dreams of the movie style lifestyle are quickly shattered when they arrive at Churchgate station, and are promptly herded onto a Rs 8 rush hour suburban train bound for one of the film studios in the western suburbs.
I marvel at the foreigner’s abject lack of understanding of an industry that produces over 800 films a year. As a committed Bollywood fan, and seasoned western extra, I shudder at the perceptions and misconceptions that I hear bandied around the carriage, hearing the same two repeated ideas; “Singing and dancing in the Swiss mountains” and “No kissing”. “No, no, no. It is not all singing and dancing in the mountains of Switzerland,” I inform.
“Switzerland is so passe as an overseas location of choice. Think New York (Kal Ho Naa Ho). Think London (DDLJ). Think Melbourne (Salaam Namaste). “The movie-goer of today is as likely to be an NRI as from rural India”, I continue, attempting to explain the significant impact of the Indian diaspora on the industry. “And yes, sometimes they do kiss”, I tell them, producing a gasp of shock.
Once the prospective stars have managed to fight their way off the train, they are shepherded to the studio, where the first stop is wardrobe. It is here that the fame seekers learn an important lesson in the star caste system. At the top, the Khans, the Bachchans arrive on set, immaculately attired and looking every inch the super star.
The newcomers however, are led to a less salubrious, shared dressing room. No vanity vans here. Instead, we are handed frayed-at-the-collar suits and tentatively-held-together-with-a-safety-pin evening dresses. It is this chic attire that helps create the jet set image of the overseas bar/casino/ nightclub on the Bombay stage.
The standard traveller look of dreadlocks, piercings, and sandals does little to complete the desired effect. Instead travellers attempt to tame knotted dreadlocks, and match their bought-on-a-beach-near-Bangkok flip-flops with ill fitting evening wear. Finished in wardrobe, the actors are now ready to be thrust into stardom.
So, what is your perception of foreigners in Hindi film? Item girl Rakhi Sawant says, “Gori (foreign) dancers are like lollipops and only last two days?” Maybe she should recall her Buddha Mil Gaya Indo-pop video, shot with a troupe of Mumbai-based foreign dancers.