Film Shoot

So our Mumbai tour guide from San Francisco told me last Saturday there is a film shoot for some commercial at one of the better known film studios and they are looking for a bunch of white people to participate. A couple of weeks ago I had met a Scottish teacher-in-training here, who goes to these film shoots all the time, because she actually needs the money. I had also heard that the producers are actually loading those white tourists into a bus and drop them off at the studios.

So I thought, ok, what the hell, why not. Let’s not mention how much I was supposed to get paid, because apparently there’s a good amount of politics around that. Tourists get paid close to nothing, presumably because they do it for fun, or maybe they think they’ll get famous, and I didn’t care about the money either. But some people actually do need the money and rumor has it that there’s a few westerners living in Mumbai who live just off those film shoots.

So I get there at 2:30pm on Saturday. Supposedly, this was to be done by 8pm or so. I didn’t even know exactly what the commercial would be for, and I figured it can’t possibly be for Viagra, so I should be safe. There was a whole bunch of westerners, maybe half of them tourists, the Scottish expat also showed up, and there were a few other regulars like her. So we started waiting. This is a film shoot, after all, and film shoots mean 95% sitting around doing nothing.

On the way to the studio, I had passed a couple of trucks fully loaded with human tower competitors – well, it was also Krishna’s birthday, so from what I gathered, numerous communities sponsor their young strong men (and women, although I didn’t see any) to drive around town, or maybe just in their community on these huge trucks. They are all dressed in uniform t-shirts, usually orange or yellow, and then they have a competition about which group can make the tallest human tower or pyramid. So there were a few 3-4 men tall human towers, of course in the middle of traffic, masses of spectators, drums and music everywhere.

But I passed those guys, after all, I had to do my film shoot, and I had not realized that this the big deal that it apparently was. So we were waiting. And waiting. And waiting. Usually, at some point at these shoots, there is food. But all we got was tea and Coca-Cola. So I was getting a little hungry. And we were waiting and waiting. Outside – it wasn’t exactly hot, but it wasn’t very pleasant either.

Now, apparently, the commercial was supposed to be for ready-made dosi. Ok, so this is going to be a fast-food commercial – now wonder they need a few white people! There’s a whole lot more people in my office here who bring homemade food to work than in NYC (even though our cafeteria here is heavily subsidized), and there is a whole lot more people in my office in NYC who eat fast food on a regular basis – so, really, a fast-food commercial for Indian dosi would be pretty much unthinkable without some white people. In a crap fast-food commercial, white people are of course an absolute must-have and probably the only straw of hope for any credibility whatsoever.

Anyways, so at 6pm or so I head enough. I was done with getting famous in a fast-food commercial, so I left and had some real food. I really should have gone to check out those human pyramids, because I later heard that this was quite the spectacle indeed, and it sure looks like it

On an entirely different note, if there could be a picture today, it would have to be one of that Muslim couple that I saw today, right next to the mall. She was fully dressed in a burkha, standing in front of this guy who was sitting very cool on his motorbike. And they were holding hands, very tenderly, totally in love and obviously sweet talking. I guess the fact that I even noticed it, and think it is worth mentioning, and that I found this scene just very remarkable, just shows how dumbed down and stupid daily western images of Muslims, let alone traditional women in burkhas, have made me already. Either that, or Ksenia has been out of town for too long already, or probably both.

Random Mumbai Facts

From the latest issue of TimeOut Mumbai:

  • Mumbai’s 7.2 million slumdwellers constitute 60% of the population
  • In a four month period starting last November, government bulldozers demolished 90,000 dwellings, making 300,000 people homeless
  • Only 40% of households are connected to sewers
  • There are 800 functioning public toilet blocks; this is 20,000 less than needed; the public toilets are so deep in shit that city workers refuse to clean them, even for extra pay
  • Suburban trains have a capacity of 1,750 passengers; at rush hour, 4,000 passengers are crammed into each train
  • 110 new vehicles are added to Mumbai every day; average traffic speed: 6-8 km/h

Mumbai Mirror‘s Daily Sexpert Question earlier this week:

“I am a 25 year old married woman. I need some advice regarding our sex life. We got married in May this year. My husband faces the following problems during intercourse: 1) he breathes heavily and gets exhausted very soon, 2) he sweats a lot 3) our sex does not last for long and we don’t enjoy the act. Kindly suggest a solution to these problems”

Downtown Mumbai

Friday night, my boss took out a few expats for a bit of bar hopping downtown. Our first stop was the Dome, a nice lounge bar on the roof of the Intercontinental Hotel right on Marine Drive, a.k.a. Queens Necklace. Nice view, a pool, and expensive cocktails. After that we went to the Gymkhana. I had been told that this is probably the most exclusive private club in Mumbai, so I was quite afraid that this will be some sort of Connecticut Country Club place, with men in white shoes and white hats or something like that. It turned out to be a very laid back and relaxed place where everybody seemed to know everybody. Some people looked like a bit of show-offs, but generally it was pretty apparent that money alone doesn’t get one into this club, what matters most are relationships, so presumably a lot of the members have been downtown Mumbaikars for generations.

I thought the atmosphere was quite different from a few places that I had been to in Bandra. I guess like many big European cities, there is always an invisible divide between the newly rich and the old money spots. Where the nightlife of the Mumbai suburbs of Bandra and Juhu seems to be dominated by Bollywood people (or those wanting to become Bollywood people) and the growing call center brigade (a term I saw the TimeOut Mumbai use twice), this place seemed quite different.

Afterwards, we went to Indigo, a very happening bar and Italian restaurant, which the wife of a British diplomat whom I had met on the way from St. Petersburg to Delhi was raving about. I remember thinking then that I don’t really want to go to some posh downtown exile for Western diplomats, but the place was actually quite nice and laid back as well – and now that I live here, I realize that this town would be simply unlivable for me without these sorts of places. Sadly but true enough, now that I have a car, I don’t even take the riksha anywhere – it is just too exhausting to be sitting in these things right next to the big stinking busses and passing by open sewage systems and mountains of garbage. So I drive in my air conditioned car with the windows rolled up and Madonna or Eminem in the CD player – kind of like a submarine floating in stop-and-go speed through a zoo approaching hell.

British DJ

So for a week now I was looking forward to this British DJ coming to Mocha in Juhu. Mocha is of course the hipper version of the Barista coffee shops, and there’s one in Juhu. Actually, some people refer to Juhu as Juhu Beach, because, well, it does have a beach. Anyone going swimming there, and there are a few crazy ones, must be seriously suicidal, because the water is a dark brown soup of sewage and plastic bags, and the beach itself, although fairly large, is pretty firmly in the hand of hawkers, drug addicts, and a wild assortment of food stands. Nevertheless, the beach is crowded with people going for a leisurely stroll.

Across from the beach is Mocha. They usually have apple pie shakes and tiramisu and things like that, so I was curious to see how they turn this into a dance club for the occasion. Well, they didn’t really. The DJ wasn’t bad, and they even had beer (well, Foster’s), but apparently the crowd wasn’t very interested. Still, for some reason there was a waiting list for the airconditioned room, and even though there didn’t seem to be anybody in there, it took half an hour to get from the boiling hot outside space inside.

Apart from our Mumbai tour guide from San Francisco, there was another expat from work, plus a Canadian and a French/Austrian couple, so the expats were well represented and at times made up the majority of the dancing population. The decidedly best part, however, was the Indian lady, around 50, who sat down by herself at our table, pulled a little bottle of Jack Daniel’s out of her bag and proceeded to pour herself some into a plastic cup under the table. She very proudly announced that she was invited by the British Council to come to this event. And indeed, apparently the British Council thinks that India might need some development aid in the form of a DJ, because they were noted as the main sponsors of the event. Certainly, Mocha didn’t pay the DJ’s bills.

So it was all pretty relaxed and somewhat sad. But at least, there was no Bryan Adams or Led Zeppelin being played, so it was great. On the way home, I almost ran into a car with a mobile phone equipped driver who very lazily crossed the street without looking left or right, and I missed a riksha or two by a few inches, so all things considered, the evening included a bit of excitement as well.


Originally, I had wanted to drive out of town yesterday, but then it was raining cats and dogs, so I just ended up going for a coffee at the Juhu Mocha with a Scottish expat whom I had met a week ago at the other Mocha in Bandra. I find myself going to Mocha quite a bit. Anyways, this Scottish expat is a teacher in training at the Mumbai Rudolf Steiner School, which is kind of interesting. On Wednesday she, her friends and I went to a club called Seven, which happens to be located in the sixth floor of a shopping mall. This club actually would have a nice view, except it was of course dark. The music was as usual total crap – why on earth people love Bryan Adams so much that they have to play three songs of it, is beyond me. But the crowd was ecstatic and sang along with full gusto.

Then yesterday I went to Club IX with our American Mumbai tour guide, her boyfriend and another expat from work. Club IX has equally atrocious music, but at least no-one is singing along and the place feels a bit like a Jugendzentrum – i.e. one of those youth clubs they have in Germany, Russia, and elsewhere, where 15 year olds (like me) grew up on beer, ping-pong and foosball (which we called kicker). It had plush brown couches and incredibly tacky paintings, but the Kingfisher was cold, and so what else can one ask for. And despite being called Club IX, there was no dancing.

So this morning I set out to drive out of town. It takes a good hour to actually get out of town, but then heaven starts. Well, at least there’s a real highway with three lanes in each direction, actual lane markings, and a surprising lack of potholes. This is the Mumbai-Pune express highway, and my little silver machine did a solid 120km per hour, no problem. I was tempted to go a little faster, but who knows what happens if you push your luck with a new Ambassador. I wanted to go to the first destination listed in the 52 Mumbai Weekend Getaways book, but of course the important directions are in Hindi, or maybe I am blind, but in any event I missed the exit to the road towards Goa.

So I drove to Lonavala instead. Lonavala is pretty high up in the mountains, and as I drove up, the rain and the fog thickened with every kilometer. When I was still in the plains, the views and the green were really quite fantastic, but here I was, crawling up the mountains to Lonavala. I guess if it weren’t for the fog and rain, the views from up there must be quite spectacular, but as it was, the view was gray. Nevertheless, the place was packed with weekenders. There’s lots of waterfalls there, and everybody just goes take a shower in full clothes. Truckloads of young men (hardly any women), singing and dancing next to their parked cars, drenched from the rain and from their adventures in the waterfalls and rivers.

The air was very nice and fresh, but the weather was too crap for any pictures. I had some chicken masala, which I think ended up being mutton, but what the hell. I was hoping to be able to sit down and continue reading Maximum City, but unfortunately it was a bit too wet and crowded. Maximum City currently is quite the bestseller – it’s written by a guy who left Bombay when he was 14, lived in London, Paris, and New York, and then returned 21 years later. So far, it’s great, because it really helps me be able to actually read the newspaper, as it gives a lot of context to the daily reports on the incredible extent of corruption, the Shiv Sena party (which is basically made up of thugs and religious extremists, and which rules parts of Mumbai), the slum lords (which apparently control the majority of the Mumbai population). Not to mention the currently almost daily riots by commuters who are fed up with the non-functioning railway service, so they frequently start attacking railway workers, block trains for hours and wreck all kinds of additional havoc on a weekly basis.