Friday, November 11, 2011

A foreigner's experience of playing an "extra" on a Hindi film set

What does it mean to be a foreign "extra" in a Bollywood movie?

Writing in Open, a 20-year-old German student says that, for the first time in India, "we as whites are not at the centre of attention but mere background decoration".

In the piece, published under the "True Life" rubric in the magazine, Marian Brehmer gives us intimate details of the whole experience of being a "prop" in a Karan Johar film he does not reveal the name of the movie, but tells us that Kareena Kapoor and Imran Khan are the stars, so it must be the upcoming Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu.

Here is Brehmer's desciption of the moment when Kareena arrives on the set:

Suddenly, she is there, among us. Like a fata morgana, the diva has emerged out of nothing. As soon as she sits down, Kareena Kapoor transforms the place. She is constantly cared for by a personal stylist who buzzes around her like a multi-armed Hindu deity: waving a comb, hairslides and a mirror at the same time. Kareena is in her own world and totally absorbed in the role. She constantly reads and rehearses the lines. “She didn’t practise her role?” a fellow extra asks me. None of us has great appreciation for actors we have hardly ever heard of — Kareena Kapoor, and then Imran Khan, who joins her later. Kareena seems utterly unreal and unapproachable to me. She is treated not as a star, but like a living goddess. Even the staring men are spellbound by Kareena’s invisible halo and keep their heads down.

The shoot, which was supposed to last only a few hours, goes on through the night, taking its toll on Brehmer and his fellow extras:

It is past 3 am and many of us don’t feel like moving at all. Nevertheless, I want to be productive and create my own show as a random shopper. In this scene I unfold and test the softness of a brown towel, smell soaps of different quality and compare the prices of milk chocolate. This continues for at least two hours. I take it in good humour, but I can sense the tension rising around me. The blonde lady starts swearing in Polish. It sounds ugly.

Finally, the two British girls burst out in anger: “We were to be dropped back in Colaba at 7 am! We need to catch a plane at noon!” Nobody takes notice of them.

It is 7.15 a.m. when the crew declares the shoot over. At the end of it, each foreigner is paid Rs.500. But this was not about the money, writes Brehmer, it's the experience.

Now each extra has a story to tell for a long time.

Read the article in its entirety here: One night in Bollywood.

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