The new hip thing

The hip thing to do if you are white and visiting India is to be a Bollywood extra. So much so that there's a well-known spot that guidebooks tell interested tourists to visit:
If you'd rather be in a Bollywood movie than simply see the set of one, that's possible too. Foreigners are always in demand to be extras in Bollywood movies. The easiest way to make it happen is to hang around Colaba Causeway in Mumbai, particularly in the area around Leopold's Cafe, and you're sure to be approached to be an extra. Expect long hours, lots of waiting, and pay of around 500 rupees ($12) per day.

An Australian who actually followed the advice insists:
If you are a westerner and reasonably young you WILL get asked to be in a film so don't worry about potentially wasting your travel time to allow for being in a film. If I can be a Bollywood extra, anyone can.

But it was not really that simple -- Bollywood could choose among the interested foreigners; so you also had to be reasonably attractive. One of the more entertaining stories reported one fellow's struggle to get a speaking part in an Bollywood film, along with a bunch of social commentary:
Whites might score speaking parts here and there, Gary explained, but the roles often made you feel dirty, because you were promoting a negative stereotype—white men as brutes and buffoons. The role landed by the New York comedian Brandon Hill, for instance, was that of an American billionaire who is duped into "buying" the Taj Mahal. And in one film whose premiere I attended, the character portrayed by Corin Nemec—an American actor known for such immortal works as RoboDoc, Operation Dumbo Drop, and Mansquito—travels to Gujarat to learn more about Gandhi but (like E. M. Forster's Adela Quested) suffers a breakdown when confronted with the "real" India. He ends up smashing furniture and getting bombed on country liquor. Bollywood's racism toward whites, Gary said, was most pronounced when it came to a white man dating an Indian woman. The grievance was personal for him, since Gary's wife is Indian; he leaned on the point repeatedly.

Later, Gary told me a director had just offered him a part in a film. "An actress comes into my hotel room," he said, describing the role. "I see her, throw a fit, call her a prostitute." This character, Gary said disgustedly, pressures the girl for sex; she rejects him in horror. I asked him if he took the part. Of course not, he declared. "I said, 'I'm not interested.'"

My pulse quickened.

"I'm interested," I breathed. Gary lifted his eyebrows.

"You don't mind being seen as a rapist? Because every time they need a white rapist, they'll call on you." I didn't mind, I told him. I jotted down the number of the director whose part Gary had refused.

To make a long story short, he didn't get even the part of a rapist.

But apparently, it's gotten a whole lot easier, thanks to last month's terrorist attacks on Mumbai and the subsequent reduction in the number of tourists:
Until recently, Imran had an easy job. He and his underlings could meet and enlist as many as 50 extras with a day's notice, no problem. But that was before Nov. 26, when a group of heavily armed men went on a sadistic, three-day rampage that ended with 163 dead. Since then, the tourism business all across India has essentially flat-lined. During a recent three-week trip through the country, I saw way more armed guards than Europeans and scarcely any Americans. Every large and pricey hotel now has a private security detail, and you can't get near the front door until the undercarriage of your car has been checked for bombs and all your luggage has been wanded. The creepy part is that once you're waved through, it's often just you and the staff in a huge and empty lobby.

So, if you've always wanted to be a movie star, go to Bombay before tourism revives!

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