There I was, sitting in the common room in my hostel, trying to recover from an uncomfortable bout of bronchitis. All of a sudden, in came a few fellow travelers, accompanied by an Indian man.
"I am from Bollywood, and am looking for extras to be in a movie," he told us.
I may have been sick, but there was no way I was going to turn down this opportunity. In fact, I had promised myself that I wouldn't leave Mumbai without being in a Bollywood film. The man led the small group of us to a minibus which already held about a dozen tourists.
"It's half an hour away, and you'll be working overnight," he said.
Factoring in the dense Mumbai traffic, the trip ended up taking an hour and a half. We were led to a small changing room, where each of us was given a suit or dress to wear. Then they provided some meager snacks, and took us to the set.
As somebody who wants very much to be a film director, I must say I was impressed by the set. It was a lavish outdoor bar/dance floor with brightly colored China lamps, sparkling beads, and neon-yellow dragon balloons. The scene was already on its seventh take when we arrived, so none of us knew what to expect.
I was among the first of us to be called up to be an extra. They had me sit by the bar and bob my head to music, while the main actors (at least I assumed they were) danced. It was all very tacky and cheesy...but then again, it was Bollywood. After one take, they rearranged the scenery, and then sent us back to the set's outskirts.
Like any film production, this was mostly a waiting game. We sat mostly in silence as slowly but surely, each of us was called up to do our bits. Finally, we were all called up for a dance scene.
The dancing was fun, but with two minor hitches. Right before we began, one of the actors had a seizure, and had to be carried out by doctors. The other problem was my bronchitis. After three or four takes of energetic dancing, I found myself wheezing up a storm. I decided to take it easy for the last few takes, which helped somewhat. We took a break, during which we were treated to free dinner.
The second half was a bit more stressful, because they had to keep doing certain takes over and over again. When the lead actress threatened to leave, the director decided we should take a break to let things cool down. After some cups of tea, we resumed being background scenery. The drawn-out process lasted until 6:15 in the morning, just before sunrise. Weary, but with a sense of pride, we were paid 500 rupees (about eight dollars) each, then were driven back to our respective hostels.
When Babbu Jawani finally comes out, I'll be anxiously scanning the film for an appearance by yours truly!
My name is Yonah Paley. I quit my job in the United States to travel. I also write movies and do photography. As I backpack across the world, I share stories, philosophy, and travel tips.