Sunday, May 31, 2009

King Khan

Today we got to see the king of Bollywood himself, Mr. Shah Rukh Khan. We went to the filming of an episode of Tere Mere Beech Mein (You, Me and Us) – Farah Khan’s new talk show. Farah Khan, incidentally, is one of the most influential female directors in India, and recently directed the blockbuster Om Shanti Om. She also gave birth to triplets last year – the woman is probably a superhero. Anyway… the show is still in preproduction and we were at the filming of one of the first episodes.

Now, on the one hand, it was way cool to be in the presence of both Farah Khan and Shah Rukh Khan (no relation – Khan is the Smith of the Muslim world, and almost everyone in Bollywood is Muslim) and be in the audience at the filming of a talk show (meaning that if and when it airs, we will be visible). On the other hand almost everything was in Hindi, the air conditioning broke and it was (no exaggeration) well over 100 degrees inside, the only water available was tap, so we couldn’t drink it and the (very poorly organized) shoot was over seven hours long.

Actually, it’s more than that, since Kate and I left the shoot early about 45 minutes ago, and no one else is back yet. Kate thought she was going to pass out, and I didn’t have a whole lot of interest in staying, so I took a rickshaw back to the apartments with her and took a very long, cold shower. That last bit is kind of redundant, as the only type of showers we can take are cold showers – there is no hot water in the bathroom. Not that we need it mind you, it’s just worth mentioning.

So yea, it was a fun experience, and it will certainly be cool to be able to say that yes, I saw SRK, but I will not regret leaving that sauna early.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Cardboard Box - Here I Come!

Just got back from my first day at my internship and OH MY GOD, I’m in love. I probably shouldn’t talk in detail about what I’m working on, rights and all that, but let’s just say that I am helping edit and creating character sketches for a screenplay that will soon be pitched to a film studio. And I love it!

The story is wonderful – reminds me strongly of Joyeux Noël which, as a favorite of mine, is a great comparison. It is set on the India-Pakistan border and documents both sides forming friendships during a cease-fire. The characters have a lot of potential to be very interesting and well rounded, and it looks like it will be my job to round them out. Exciting!

I feel like such a dork for being this excited about writing – my heart is literally pounding and I’m grinning like mad and all I did today was stare at a computer screen for 6 hours straight, but I guess that’s a good sign, as I want to be doing this for the next 80 years or so.

So tomorrow I get to go back and work on creating people out of names and ideas, and try to really figure out this story – did I mention that all the dialogue is in Hindi, which I don’t speak? Oh well, lol.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Bitchy Day

Didn’t do much today besides watching some of the music video filming

Fuck you, Apple Bottom Jeans, I hated you in America, and I hate you even more here.
and watch a Brazilian perform Indian classical dance to, get this, a bunch of Indians.

Definitely not Indian.
Maybe they need to be taught their own dance by foreigners because they are spending too much time dancing to T-PAIN! Sorry, really bitchy today. It’s far to hot for a native Syracusian to handle. Shower time.

Beer + Heat = Sleep

This entry will be even shorter than the last, since I’m fucking EXHAUSTED! First we had a long and boring tour of a TV film set, where we learned nothing that we didn’t already know about shooting – filming is a long and boring process. Next we had a long but interesting lecture from Sabyasachi Bose, a production designer who did, among other things, the sets of Omkara and Dil Chata Hai. Tres cool.

After that we went to Juhu beach, where we

1) were blatantly stared at by EVERYONE
2) had fake henna done that burned my arm

3) saw an evil monkey bite a baby

Evil Monkey
4) saw another baby buried in the sand to his waist by his parents and then
5) had dinner.
I had a Carlsburg with dinner, which turned out to be a mistake cause we then saw a play.

The play itself was actually really awesome – called Mahadevbhai, by Ranu Ramanathan, it’s about a friend of Ghandi’s. Very well written. Mental note – get a copy of the play. And the guy acting in it (it’s a one man play) was AMAZING. But it was late, and we were all tired, and had had beer, so we all fell asleep. Oh well. Now I need to go to bed for real.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Like a Violin... But Not

This morning we had a performance by Naviin Gandharv, who plays an instrument called a belabahaarr – invented by his father, it is a cross between a violin and a sitar, and it is the only one of it’s kind. Because of its similarities with a violin, it is much easier to play than an actual sitar. It is the same relative size and shape as a violin, with the top of the body made of goatskin and with much smaller resonating holes – this makes the sound much softer. There are five main strings that can all be played, and 22 much smaller ones that stretch across the body under the bridge and are not played, but resonate with the rest of the instrument. He and a man playing the tabla – Indian drums – performed for almost two hours. Afterwards, I was allowed to try out the belabahaarr. Very awesome.

Playing the belabahaarr.
The lecture that we had after that was from Anjum Rajabali, a professor of screenwriting. His insight into the screenwriting field in general was fascinating, and he was definitely the most animated and articulate person we have yet heard speak. He talked for quite a while on screenwriting, as well as ranting about Syd Field, which made me laugh, cause I’m not the biggest Syd Field fan either. I’d write more about it, but I’m tired, and I have notes already. So sleep now.

Apple Bottom Jeans is the WORST SONG EVER.

Oh. My. God. If I EVER hear the song Apple Bottom Jeans again, I will shoot myself. No joke. This morning we did an acting video workshop – which really means that we danced hip-hop for four hours. Well, the class danced for four hours – not too many of us lasted the whole time. There was a very Twilight Zone-ish moment when I first walked into the room to find a guy in a bandana break dancing to T-Pain. That comes in second only to that Indian RSA last summer dancing to Footloose. I think the workshop might have been easier to deal with had we been prepared for it, and, say, brought other clothes to change into. As it was, I at least was dancing in jeans and a nice shirt, which quickly became a not-so-nice sweat soaked clingy tent thing. It’s really difficult to remain attractive for more than 23 seconds at a time when the average temperature is 98 with 546% humidity (that humidity part I made up, but it’s what it feels like).

After a looong dance class, we listened to Ravi Gupta, the CEO of Mukta Arts and Executive Director of WWI speak about the business of Indian Cinema. It was really interesting to learn that although Hollywood movies have been present in India for over 75 years, revenue for those movies only makes up 4% of the box office. India has the only industry besides the US that has such a strong cinema home-base. It was also fascinating to realize that what started an interest in TV in India was live coverage of the First Gulf War.

Next we heard a lecture from Somnath Sen, a director and writer for HOD direction. He spoke about making a film on the Indian Diaspora. He talked about people making films about the Diaspora, for the Diaspora and Diaspora filmmakers making films about themselves. I found the most interesting thing he had to say was who made Indians mainstream in the US – Apu from The Simpsons. He has a crazy family, a hard job, he’s funny, so he’s relatable. He just happens to be Indian as well.

After all those lectures, we had a screening of Karz – a Rishi Kapoor film. Considering how exhausted and jet lagged we all were, most of us fell asleep through at least part of the movie, but what I saw was OK. It is the movie that Om Shanti Om is based on, and from which the first scene is taken. The main issue I had with it was how dated it was – the style screamed 70s and it was terribly melodramatic. I know I should not hope for subtlety in Bollywood movies, but something that over the top irritates me. It’s like the filmmaker has no faith in the intelligence of the audience. Whatever, need to pass out now.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Whistling Woods Institute

Regardless of my last entry, I am so far enjoying my stay in India. Today was our first at Whistling Woods Institute, and goodness, was it a long day. I was awake at 7am, still not quite un-jetlagged, and we did not leave WWI until about 8pm. First we took a tour of the school – the facilities here are amazing, and if I had interest in production, I would be very into the idea of going here for graduate school. Ironically, the only thing they do not seem to stress here is screenwriting, which, from what I can tell, is a rather neglected aspect of Indian cinema. A story or concept will be formulated, and the script written along with filming. The idea of writing a full script and making the movie from there seems like a relatively uncommon practice. Anyway, I digress.

We were given talks by the Dean of Whistling Woods, John Lee, an American who somehow ended up here, Anil Zankar, a professor for Film Appreciation, and Rahul Puri, the Executive Director of Mukta Arts Limited. They all had interesting things to say, and made some points that I had not thought of before. For instance, Mr. Zankar compared Hindi cinema to Indian food – a full Indian meal is served all at once, with all courses on the same plate. That is what film is like too – the sweet, the sour and the spicy all together.

In the evening, by a pure chance of fate, we got to meet with Loveleen Tanden, the co-director of Slumdog Millionaire. She is one of the nicest, most down to earth people I have ever met, and being able to talk with her was a great privilege. In a sense she created her position as co-director as she began simply as the casting director, and then became so involved in the making of the film that she was given her own crew. I’m really glad we got to meet her – made for a very good start to the trip.

Monday, May 18, 2009

I Wanna Go Hooome!

My bedroom smells like pigeon, the bathroom ceiling is caving in, and there is a gecko on the wall! Welcome to India. Also, we have not gotten the internet to work yet, and even when we do my three roommates and I will be sharing one internet connection, so skyping is pretty much out. This location is not really conducive to keeping in touch with the outside world. Also, apparently dirty clothes attract cockroaches, so now I have to worry about that too. Agh! I’ve been here two days and I am already aching for American civilization.

I’m also aching for Dave – I really don’t do well without physical human contact, and he is essentially my only outlet, so the lack of him is very noticeable and quite painful. I can’t sleep without another body next to mine to hold and keep me warm, and I miss his touch on a very basic level – I miss his arms and soft kisses on the back of my neck and waking in the morning and making passionate love. It was very startling at first to hear that while all of the other girls on the trip have boyfriends, they seem unperturbed by the distance. I have to remind myself that I am in love with my best friend, and we spend more time together than many married couples, so the attachment is naturally stronger. Which is not a bad thing at all, but it makes this even harder.

First Day in India

Just a quick recap of the day: did not sleep well last night, the room was very cold, the mattress very hard, and I am used to sleeping with another body next to mine, and not having that feels very wrong. After a breakfast of cereal and chicken tikka pizza (gotta love India) we drove in Mumbai proper and shopped. First stop was a street market where we bought clothes for ridiculously low prices (150 rupees for a shirt is about $3). It almost seemed wrong to haggle with the vendors – what’s a few dollars to me when they probably need it a lot more, but they seemed to look down on people who didn’t try to get a bargain. Got four tops (one doesn’t fit, must go to Rachel, the pixie), a pair of Indian leggings and a skirt for the equivalent of about $20.

After that we drove to a large shopping mall where we got lunch and bought groceries. There was something very surreal about standing in a grocery store in Mumbai and listening to what appeared to be the disco karaoke station – ABBA, the Beegees and the Village People seem a whole lot weirder when everyone around you is speaking not English. Speaking of surreal, one thing that boggles my mind is the fact that all signage and billboard ads are in English. All of them! Some have Hindi translations, but most don’t. This makes sense for ads – as someone pointed out, who but the educated and English speaking would be rich enough to afford perfume? – but even the command “Honk Ok Please” on the back of all trucks? This, incidentally, is to tell people driving behind the truck to honk and let the truck driver know of their presence, since side mirrors seem nonexistent.

Must sleep now – we are waking up early tomorrow and will be meeting Loveleen Tanden!


Tula requested a blog post about finger bowls – I shall give her a haiku:

Warm water with lime.
Dip your fingers in the bowl;
Now, digest your meal.

Sunday, May 17, 2009


Mumbai is a place of juxtapositions. It is a third world country, make no mistake, but it is also a highly developed one, and this contrast is startling. To exit a large shopping mall and encounter an emaciated family begging for change; to drive through city streets amongst Audis and BMWs and see women sorting through trash and children hauling bricks by wheelbarrow; it makes one wonder how this is possible.

There is no middle ground – there is rich and there is poor, and the poor is far more so than I have ever seen. I have seen women and children begging for money before, but that was in Europe, where the poor are relatively few and far between, and therefore better fed. Here, there are simply too many. There is not enough charity to go around, and the result is abject poverty for a fairly large percentage of the population. The thing that kills is that there really isn’t anything I can do. I gave a young girl some money today, and then took her picture, and I think that is what I will continue to do – in the hopes that someone might get some food they otherwise would not have, and so maybe by seeing a photo more people will begin to care that there is something seriously wrong with the way we live.

Happy Birthday?

I am now in my (freezing cold, how does one turn down the AC?) apartment in Mumbai. I am sharing a room with Liz, with Aamir and Jill in the other bedroom. Our rooms are basic, with two beds and a closet, one drawer each, and a bathroom. It’s kind of like being in the dorms again, only on the other side of the world.

It took a while for the idea of being in India to set it. All airports look alike, so other than the fact that everyone besides us was Indian, there was nothing to distinguish the Mumbai airport from Newark. It was not until we walked outside that the difference literally hit me in the face. 10 pm, and it was 92 degrees. Hot and humid enough that you could almost take a shower just by standing outside – not that you’d want to, since you can practically smell the pollution. Small, mangy dogs prowl the streets, and entire families walk hand-in-hand along the side of the road – where they could be going at this hour, I don’t know.

Shopping tomorrow – I wonder what else I shall see. Also, I turned 22 an hour ago. I am very lonely.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

On the Plane to Mumbai!

Have been on this plane for eleven hours now, and was actually able to sleep for about seven of those.

There’s not much to say really: the food was the best I’ve ever had on a flight (granted, that’s not saying much), there is an appalling Spanish woman in the row in front of me who yelled at everyone for the first few hours, and a couple of amazingly well behaved children behind me. Seriously – they are about two and three, and have been wonderfully quite the whole time. Maybe it’s just American children who are evil.

We are flying over the Middle East now – I’m not sure where exactly, all I can see are mountains and desert.

I’m watching The Notebook, which is probably a mistake since I already miss Dave incredibly. I know I’m going to have a blast this next month, but I can’t help already looking forward to being held again.

Thursday, May 14, 2009


Considering that I am still in my apartment in Syracuse, where it is blustery and cold, and not in Mumbai, where, in my mind, it is hot and sunny, the air smelling of coconut and spices, there is not really much for me to say. I am still packing, so this is allowing me to finally contemplate the trip. The past two weeks have been filled with stress and heartbreak, and I have had no time to think about India, let alone look forward to it. I know that I will fall in love with the country once I get there, but at the moment, I still need to find high SPF sunscreen and comfortable shoes.

Two of my friends in high school helped me fall in love with the idea of India – the colorful clothing, the elaborate religions, the beautiful language, the delicious food. Without them, I would never have taken Hindi my freshman year at SU, and may not have had the interest needed to apply to this program. For that, Aparna and Kamini, I thank you.

I don’t quite know what else to say. In the next two days I must finish packing, say goodbye to my family and Dave, drive to Newark and fly to Mumbai. It’s quite a lot to take in.
Do you think Aamir Khan will meet me at the airport?