The use of foreign locations is an increasingly popular trend in the Hindi film industry. It seems that each new release boasts at least one scene, if not the whole movie, where the action takes place outside India. Working as a foreign actor in Bollywood, I discover that my job provides the ideal opportunity for travel; as I begin a journey that will take me around the world in eight days... without once leaving Bombay.
My first destination is the Middle East, shooting for Mahesh Bhatt's Killer. The Emraan Hashmi and Irrfan Khan starrer, takes place over one night in Dubai, with a shopping mall in the Bombay suburb Mulund substituting for Dubai International Airport. Signs proclaiming 'Welcome to Dubai' and 'Duty Free Shop' cover tell-tale Hindi script, and I have been supplied with a passport and flight tickets to add a further touch of authenticity. On closer inspection though, I doubt such travel documents would get me into the Gulf. The passport is a photocopy, and the tickets are a cut up script from a previously shot scene.
I extend my stop-over in the UK, travelling to my hometown of London, via Andheri. I ask three people the name of the release, and get three different responses. What I can ascertain is that in keeping with the tradition of HiFi, the film is a vehicle to launch not just an upcoming male actor; but the son of the producer. Stills from the movie show that this production is sticking with tradition. I browse through wonderful images of Bollywood dance sequences, with the newcomer hero cavorting in front of famed landmark Piccadilly Circus.
Early and bright the next day it is time to leave Europe. Crossing the North Atlantic to New York, is as simple as catching a taxi from Andheri to Goregoan. I am shooting on a song for Jaaneman at Filmistan Studios. My fellow passengers are Preity Zinta and Akshay Kumar, and our tour leader is choreographer Farah Khan. We spend a long day filming an elaborate dance sequence, shooting the same scene from different angles. In the middle of the dance floor; Akshay, on bended knee, proposes to a coy Preity. There is a moment of suspense before she consents, and we are directed to respond by dancing and looking happy. It is all cho chweet, but after many takes, late into the night, no matter how much Farah Khan asks for "full mood yaar", it is hard to inject masti into our movements.
Choreographer Khan is deliciously demonic in her direction, and with soundbites straight out of Indian Idol, we are beginning to feel like contestants in the competition. In her Idol judge avatar, she booms at a unitwala who is accidentally still on set whilst the cameras roll "Who is that man? I will give him two tight slaps", adding ominously "He'll die by my hands". Gulp. It's murder on the dance floor.
Salman Khan joins us in the Big Apple. The superstar is virtually unrecognisable in a blue turban, and if I had not seen him arrive at the studio in his cycling gear, I would refuse to believe it was him. The on-set gossip is none other than Salman's court case. A junior artist questions whether or not bad boy Salman would be allowed to leave India if we actually were shooting in New York, New York. The speculators do not agree on an answer, but it makes for interesting time-pass banter. Leaving the city that never sleeps, I venture to a Bombay office block for a shoot in the adjacent state of New Jersey. The production a US/Indian crossover film titled The Contest, is about a singing talent show. Although set in the States, the premise is that all the contestants in this idol competition have some link to India. It seems Farah is on the wrong shoot.
I hop over the 49th parallel to Canada. My next motion picture Humko Deewana Kar Gaye is set in Calgary, and Bombay’s plush Renaissance hotel is deployed as a suitable stand-in. Anil Kapoor, very much the ‘actor's actor’, is giving background information about the scene to the assembled cast, before we go for a take. The hotel is on fire, and we are filmed fleeing down the corridors to escape the flames. As we gather safely outside, we see the heroine of the film trapped high up inside the burning building. But wait, take a closer look at the figure in peach sari, glittering jewellery and mehndi painted hands. Beneath the make-up I spy a rough and tough looking stunt boy all set to jump out of the building into the swimming pool many stories below. The five o'clock shadow makes it difficult to ascertain which of the leading ladies the stunt boy is playing; Bipasha Basu or Katrina Kaif. All will be revealed at a multiplex near you.
Continuing my round-the-world trip, I arrive in Singapore, the location of Rakesh Roshan' s mega-budget blockbuster Krrish. From the comfort of the Yash Raj recording studio, my work as a dubbing artist provides a private tour of the city, with Hrithik Roshan and Priyanka Chopra as guides. In the company of these two stars, my funda is fun, as the film explores places of interest in Singapore; the zoo, a circus, and a water theme park. At the airport I bid a reluctant goodbye to the super hero and Miss World, and head back to India.
The next morning I step out into Bombay's bustling streets. My agent calls with details of another job at Yash Raj. I wonder where in the world next. The movie is Kajol's big banner comeback Fanaah. Viewing the film from the studio, I find Aamir Khan and Kajol in a distinctly desi looking dhabba, which can mean just one thing- we are in India. Over black koffee in the Yash Raj canteen, I see two of the country's finest directors Sanjay Leela Bhansali and Karan Johar; welcome confirmation that I am very much in Bombay. After a journey around the world in eight days... I’m happy to remain right here.
Steven Baker is a U.K. University Lecturer and Travel Writer. Writing about his experiences as a foreigner working in India, he contributed the Rent A Tourist section to the Lonely Planet Guide to Experimental Travel
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