It seems to be part of the Bombay tourist experience to spend a day as a Bollywood extra, so when a guy grabbed us on the street the other day and offered us 500 rupees to record some voiceovers for an upcoming film, we decided to give it a go. I’m glad we did, as it proved a rewarding experience, albeit a kinda bizarre one.
Turning up at the cafe where we’d arranged to meet, we were introduced to two other couples (like us, backpackers who’d said yes out for the sake of curiosity and a bit of extra cash), and herded into a train to the suburb of Andheri. Andheri is basically the middle of middle-class nowhere – a commuter-belt enclave of apartment blocks, malls, fast-food restaurants and gigantic movie studios. After being delayed by the need to find some food, along with some arsing about with one of the rickshaw drivers – the poor chap drove around in circles for half an hour until he was forced to admit that he had no idea where he was going, at which point he threw his keys onto ground and burst into tears, refusing to go any further – we eventually arrived at an the voiceover studio, to be greeted by the ghastly sub-Chapel Street harridan who ran the place.
Anyone who’s seen an episode of Ricky Gervais’s Extras will probably be able to enivsage the scene – the bottom rung of the film industry, populated by the jaded oldies and the desperately-scrambling youngsters. As the gatekeeper of this particular part of Bollywood, the studio woman was a Gervais-esque enough character – the worst type of petit-bourgeois authoritarian, spending most of the day alternating between bossing us about and mewling obsequiously to the director. Even better, though, were the other voice actors: a selection of Bollywood bottom-feeders, all c-grade “actors” from England and America, who greeted us with a quite astonishingly overblown display of name-dropping and haw-hawing, all done to make clear that they were professionals, not amateurs like us.
The desperate tawdriness of it all was fantastic. Still, it turned out that the film we were contributing to was quite big business – a Bollywood/English crossover production, set in London and starring Amitabh Bachchan (kinda the biggest of the big when it comes to Indian cinema) as a ludicrously-ponytailed and temperamental Indian chef who sets up a swanky Indian restaurant in Regent St. They seemed to be re-recording the entire vocal track, so we’d been called in to provide background noise (for crowd scenes, cafes, parks, trains etc), along with the occasional line for white actors who were presumably still in London.
This all took about 6 hours, including a lunch break in which one of the “serious” actors threw a marvellous diva-esque tantrum about not being provided with enough water. It was pretty easy work – Nurse Ratched couldn’t tell the difference between an English and Australian accent, so it’ll be funny to see an Indian waiter taking orders in a broad strine drawl. In any case, the director didn’t seem overly fussed what we did – the only time he corrected us was when another Australian guy and his girlfriend were providing a background conversation about cricket, and one of them mentioned something about an upcoming one-day match… in an instant, the director came over the PA: “Cut! Cut! No no no no no, it is a test match!”
All in all, it was an exerience, and I’m looking forward to seeing the film – from what I saw, it looked quite good, and even if it isn’t, I’ll be amused to hear my voice complaining to Amitabh that “I booked a table! Look, I booked a table in my name!” We’re back there tomorrow doing some more voiceovers, so who knows… perhaps a career as a C-grade actor might be the next step after bricklaying? I’m an act-or, daahling…