“Mumbai is a city of extremes” Danny Boyle, Director of Slumdog Millionaire.
Our great whirlwind of a trip to India started in the city of Mumbai. As Danny Boyle describes it perfectly, that’s exactly what Mumbai was. Extremes of all kinds, the city we couldn’t have possibly conquered in the mere six days we were there. It was an experience which blew by us and now four months later, we are still trying to get our wits about what happened there, something we can’t put a finger on but something that seems to have changed our lives forever.
It started of easy enough, as I came out of the airport into the sweltering heat that was Mumbai even in what should have been the throes of winter. The smell of the ocean and fish hit my senses and sound of traffic opened my flight ears and I knew I was far away from home. The first day at the hotel, we met the first famous Bollywood personalities, Vipin Sharma and Surendra Hiwarale. Being from India, I was fast to recognize Vipin Sharma from his award winning role in Taare Zameen Par. What I didn’t expect was that both these famous personalities had come to meet us but were not prepared at all. Having just gotten off the flight we didn’t have any questions to ask them and most students being from Australia, had no clue who they were. Being jet lagged, the rest of the day was spent observing the Indian wedding in the hotel from the safety of the magnificent bedrooms.
The next day started out with us being fresher as we headed to meet a Bollywood icon. Having grown up on films of his, I was expecting to be welcome with his trademark line. Prem naam hai mera, Prem Chopra! I was happily starstruck as we had a little chat with him. It was interesting as we learnt from him about cinema as it started years and years ago and how it had evolved to what we see today in Bollywood, and at the same time told him about the internet and the concept of web series and marketing online. He too was flabbergasted by the vastness of something he had never experienced before and happily joked with us about making an online blockbuster for his next film. We spent little time with him before heading out for our first bout of sight seeing.
That is when it really hit us. Shit got real! The disparity between the rich and poor. Being from India, I had always been around it but all of a sudden, being with people who were seeing it for the first time, I saw it all with new eyes. How had I for so many year passed by these streets, these children and never really looked at them? Were we so accustomed to it that we had learnt to build up a wall unconsciously? Were we really so vicious that we lived day in and day out around this horrid truth, but chose to ignore it or when spoken about, dismiss it as though it was a pain in our ass?
These questions were hard to answer for myself and I have since spent many sleepless nights thinking of who I am and what I really want to do. Can I make a difference? But these thoughts and these answers are for another day.
We explored Gateway of India and the market around it, getting a large Indian lunch to keep us sane in the heat. Another thing that is extreme in Mumbai is the colours. Everyone dresses like they were born to grace the sun with their bright colours, like flowers in the blue, blooming away. It was another thing I seemed to notice for the first time, funny. It got me so excited that I ended up buying a whole bunch of bindis that came in every colour and put peacocks to shame. The downside, we hit traffic hour on the way back to the hotel and I can promise that two hours or more like a thousand hours in a non-moving car is not a fun way to spend your evening.
Tired, our feet dragging, we climbed the nasty steps, cursing all the way up as we went to meet Vivek Agnihotri, a famous Indian filmmaker at his apartment studio. We were not disappointed, as a matter of fact it was quite the mind simulating evening as Olivia finally showed up and disappeared with his crew! He talked to us and was inspirational, really got me going. I was so happy to be there. The only weird thing or two from that evening, when he told us to keep multiple partners to be good filmmakers (more characters, duh!) and when Kaitlyn jumped on his bed and asked if this was for casting couch!!!! There was no way we were getting anymore done that evening, and bed time it was.
The next morning saw another long drive to Mudd island as low and behold! we arrived at the oldest TV series of India’s set – CID…dun dun dun. The island was beautiful, the beach made me want to forget everything, pop my sunglasses on and lie down on a colourful towel, soaking in some tan (like I need any). The set itself was pretty darn awesome and I am a fan of CID not because I find it funny (which I do) but because they are very progressive. Daya, darwaza todo! Did you know they are the only show in India that has one episode shot in one take. Also every episode is written, filmed and edited, ready to be aired in 24 hours!
Day four was spent with Ashok Purang, his crew of actors and Imanulhaq. We learnt more about Bollywood, watched their performances and got an insight into directing actors, which to me was very helpful as I would like to be a director someday and was awed by how Ashok was able to pull the emotions out of these young actors. Our very own, Kaitlyn also gave a performance to die for and I was amazed.
The next day was probably my favourite and worse day as we met the icon, Anupam Kher though I did not have enough time to ask him everything I was dying to know and then headed for a Bollywood dance class. Longinus Fernandes, the choreographer of Slumdog Millionaire, taught us different forms of Bollywood dance. I was amazed because I had never felt so sexy in my life! I could not believe it but me, Prachi, I had moves!! In the process of shaking that thang, I learnt a lot about how I would film a dance sequence and how I would direct my dancers according to my camera. It’s what came after that killed the beautiful day for me….Comedy Nights. OMG!!! They were not funny, the actors were drunk, it was a flop show and I was embarrassed to be treating my Australian friends to the best rated comedy in India! We decided never to speak of that night ever ever again….
But sadly enough, that brought an end to our time in Mumbai. It really had flown!! We packed our bags, bid goodbye to the heat and the sea and jumped on a plane bound to New Delhi, my home! Never could I have guessed the emotional roller coaster I had just gotten sucked into…