There was something familiar about the scene at Phoenix Mills when I walked in the other day.
A generator van with its sonorous drone. Thick black wires crisscrossing the path. Huge metal plates mounted on stands. An untidy perimeter of people with craned necks and identical zombie-like gaze. It HAD to be a film shoot in progress.
As I walked past the outdoor café set that had been erected, there was a sudden trickle of old memories. Not of the shoots I’d worked on in my ad agency days. But of my first tryst with filmdom.
* Flashback *
Scene 1: The Olde College
I’d just walked into College when my friends, F and G, ran up with the news…
F: ‘There’s an ad film shoot'…
G: '...and they want college students'…
F: ‘650 bucks for the day.’
650 bucks meant a lot of books at the Second Hand Bookstore. But even better, it meant seeing oneself on TV! Of being recognized on the road! Of perhaps even signing autographs… I made a U-turn and with my friends in tow, headed for Film City.
Scene 2: Film City
We tried not to look too awed as we told the guard ‘Studio 2’. It was like stepping into another world. We passed by the cast of a mythological serial who looked decidedly unreal with soft drink bottles and cigarettes, we spotted models and bit actors, costumed dancers and technicians and even the actress Tabu, as she whizzed by in her car.
At some point, the starry aura pervaded our feather heads. We became hopeful that after seeing our ‘acting talent’ in the ad film, we would be besieged with roles. Unknowingly, our walk developed a certain sway. And with a coy toss of the head, we sashayed all the way to Studio 2. (We were impressionable 17-year olds, after all!)
Scene 3: Studio 2
There was no fawning crew to receive us. In fact, except for a group of labourers and a production assistant barking at them, there was no one around. Perhaps, the production assistant would be the person to ask about the ‘script’, we decided. But he took one look at us and said tersely, ‘Extras, wait on the lawn outside!’
From celebrities-in-waiting to extras! We mustered the tattered remnants of our pride and joined the dozen or so forlorn looking ‘extras’ on the lawn.
We waited for 5 unbelievably long hours for the set to be erected; the lights to be set up; the director to decide camera angles; for the ‘real’ model to emerge from the make up van… And in the course of that wait, a good deal of stardust flew out of our eyes.
We’d almost dozed off when an excited buzz began. The ‘model’ (better known today as Mahima Chowdhary) had emerged. We couldn’t help noticing how pretty she looked even with her hair in curlers. What followed was three hours of relentless takes where we had to fake cheesy expressions when the director called ‘Action!’
At one point the director called out, ‘Move out the background’. And the production assistant waved us away! From ‘extras’ to ‘background’, could they rub it in any further? I couldn’t wait to leave.
As we queued up for payment, the producer called the three of us aside and said, ‘Look, we have more shots tomorrow and we need a few girls. It’s just a half day shoot. Can you make it?
We looked at each other, the travails of the day mirrored on our faces. But suddenly there was a leap of hope from an almost dry wellspring. Perhaps tomorrow would be the day when we would be ‘discovered’.
We nodded unanimously and walked back with a sway in our step.
P.S. I caught the ad ONCE on TV and spotted the pink blur that was me!
P.P.S. As for the product itself, I found out that it failed in the test markets!