We had chosen to stay in Delhi’s colourful Chowpatti bizarre, not much more than a collection of interconnecting alleyways with an open market ‘square’ at its centre.
This was the place to say if you wanted to get a real taste of urban Indian life on the cheap. And the street food was amazing!
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It was a bustling hive of activity through the day and into the night. It smelled of freshly cooked food, rotting garbage and piss… Yes, you read that right, at the top of our alleyway was a public urinal… Basically, a place to piss against a wall with a gutter at the base to carry it all away. Charming right!
After catching the wrong train from Delhi, having to catch another train back and ending up back exactly where we started, my travel companion and I stayed in the same guest house for an extra night.
Returning to the guesthouse after grabbing a bite of street food we were approached by an Indian woman wearing the traditional kurta pyjama. She asked us if we would like to be in a Bollywood film the following day.
We were somewhat sceptical, given that India is full of hustlers and scammers, why would this be any different?
‘Do you have a card?’ we asked?
‘No’ she replied
‘You really should have a card’
‘Yes’ she replied
‘Why are you filming in Delhi and not Mumbai?’
‘The film is set partly in Delhi’ she replied
‘We’ll pay 1000 Rupees per day and pick you up here tomorrow morning at 7 am, lunch is included’
What have we got to lose? What’s the worst that could happen? We wake up in a bathtub full with ice missing a kidney? Maybe it’ll make a good story someday?
Dutifully, we gathered in the lobby of the guesthouse at 7 am with a group of around 10 other tourists, bleary-eyed and sceptical.
The lady from the previous day soon arrived with a few other people from the production team. We were given a short brief about how the day would proceed and then loaded onto transports. Our scepticism was beginning to turn to interest by this stage.
The first stop was the Red Fort, a historic red fort, as the name implies, which served as the main residence of the Mughal emperors of India from 1648-1857, briefly to the Sikh confederacy in 1783, and later the British empire 1857-1947, and since then to the Indian government (Thank you Wikipedia!).
Our group was ushered through some gates to the site of the filming. We were informed our characters were ‘tourists visiting Delhi’. Shouldn’t be too hard to pull that one off…
The actors arrived on set…
I wasn’t then, nor am I now, the biggest Bollywood fan, but even I’d heard the name Aamir Khan (one of the biggest stars in Hindi film!) but more impressive was his co-star Kajol! A multi-award-winning actress!
We did our best being tourists. We were told to walk up to a wall pointing at it as if we were tourists. It was difficult to get into character but I think we pulled it off.
Aamir Khan’s male co-star was a guy called Vrajesh Hirjee, his role seemed to be the film clown (apparently he’s famous for it) and generally hung off two female German tourists.
After a number of takes as tourists and plenty of waiting around it was time for lunch.
While Aamir Khan had his lunch on a special chair in the middle of the set, I found it funny that we were all eating the exact same food as him. I guess it’s less what you eat than how you eat it when you’re one of the biggest stars in India.
After lunch, we changed locations and I was again enlisted for my amazing ability to portray a tourist. This time I was instructed to change into a different t-shirt that I had brought along… None other than my brown Salmonella Dub t-shirt! I was about to make Sal Dub famous in India! I was quite literally beside myself with joy.
In this next shot I was paired with a cute Israeli girl and we walked towards the camera down a kind of corridor behind the main man Aamir Khan.
I was sure that it was a clear shot of New Zealand’s best export (until Fat Freddies Drop and Flight of the Conchords of course).
The filming was soon completed for the day. We were returned to the hotel and actually received the money we had been promised.
1000 Indian Rupees, which at the time was worth roughly 45 rup’s to the US Dollar, so about USD$22.20 for a day of barely working, a visit to the Red Fort and a free lunch… Not bad.
Some of the tourists were required for filming the following day. We weren’t asked back but surprisingly the German girls were… hmmm…
The organiser-lady told us that the film was going to come out in about 6 months and would be called ‘Fanaa’.
I kept my eyes peeled for the release of the film and finally saw that it was in cinemas when I was in South India, staying with an Indian friend in Chennai, Tamil Nadu.
We went to the cinema together to watch my Bollywood movie debut!
The film unfolded well enough, starting with a nice family from Kashmir. Their daughter and her friends would be visiting Delhi as tourists and put on a dance show. The daughter of the family was Kajol, playing a beautiful blind girl. She was wooed by and eventually fell in love with the smooth Delhi tour guide, played by Aamir Khan. They boarded a coach to visit a number of different Delhi sights, soon they were visiting the Red Fort, now was my moment…
There I was, a split second walking through the side of the shot.
‘Did you see me?’ I asked my friend in a hushed yet excited tone.
‘What? I was looking over there’ she pointed NOT at the screen.
Never mind, there was still one more shot of me for sure!
The rest of the first half unfolded like a typical Bollywood story of forbidden love, some dancing, some singing, a little more dancing… You know, the usual… Sadly this film did not have the coveted wet sari scene that is so popular with many Indian Men.
But as happens in many (most?) Bollywood movies, the second half was dramatically different to the first half (but not as weirdly different as Tamil Films!! I think I need to write a separate post about that!).
I don’t want to give spoilers for this 14-year-old movie, just in case you haven’t managed to catch it yet.
But at the midpoint, the tone changed sharply…
There is a terror attack in Delhi, and the terrorist is none other than our happy-go-lucky Tour guide! But now sporting a drastic short, terrorist, haircut! (I believe this is meant to show the passing of time)
I forget quite how the events transpired but he ends up in Kashmir (coincidence? I think not!) on the run in the snow and stumbles upon a house. In this house is… Kajol! With her sight miraculously restored by some pioneering medical breakthrough.
Ok, real spoilers now. Are you ready? Stop reading and watch the 2-hour and 48-minute film before proceeding…
She has a son! And the son has the same name as the father! Rehan. Yes, you guessed it, Aamir’s character!
But Kajol was blind so she doesn’t know what Aamir looks like! Although she knows his voice and she’s touched his face, but never mind about that.
Then it goes a bit like the Shining without the two ghost girls. Lots of running around in the snow. And the baddie dies at the end, of course.
The one thing that really bugged me watching the film wasn’t the actual premise that this seemingly nice guy was a secret terrorist, but that in the middle of Kashmir, in a snowstorm, there was a bunch of yellow bananas on the table in the house. I mean, really!
So although a bit schizophrenic it was an entertaining two-films-in-one.
IMDB gives it a solid 7.2 out of 10. Personally, I enjoyed Aamir Khan’s film, Bang De Basanti, also released in 2006, much more. IMDB gave it an 8.2 and that one point sure makes a big difference!
Band De Basanti means ‘A Generation Awakens’, which might be overselling it a bit, but I recommend the film as a good viewing option.
But what about that second scene, the one where India discovers the joys of Salmonella Dub?
Yes! Not long after the Red Fort scene, well before our Hero is about to undergo a transformation to Anti-hero, before he is contemplating life, death and plastic explosives. In fact, he’s still trying to lay the leading lady. Aamir’s character is walking towards the camera, down a kind of corridor… With two BLURRY people behind him! One can be seen wearing a BLURRY brown t-shirt!
I’m so sorry to the members of Salmonella Dub for failing you like this! You could have taken India by storm!
Incidentally, in journalistic integrity, I acquired a copy of the film Faana intent on capturing a screenshot of my Bollywood debut, and to my chagrin found that the entire Red Fort Scene had been cut in the DVD version, leaving two short and blurry shots of me in the Salmonella Dub t-shirt. Oh well, I still had the experience, and the money was useful too.
Part 6 of the Adventures of Kiwi in India – My Travel Companion in India – is coming soon!
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