Film Education

Behind the Scenes: Part 2
By Sorab Irani – Chairman/Managing Director, SBI Impresario Pvt. Ltd.
Part 1:

While every one was waiting for the selection proceeding to begin there was a lot of noise mainly from the junior artists, talking among themselves, smoking, many chewing pan and speaking in a rather comic manner trying to hold on to, not spitting, yet not wanting to swallow the potent tobacco mix. A sense of expectancy was in the air while on the raised stage the ADs(assistant directors) were in conversation with the president of the association about their requirements.Very suddenly, like a judge calling the court to session the president from his high seat barked loudly for silence. There was silence for awhile which then remained as an underlying murmur. All eyes were on the president.

The events that then occurred was the womb from which the idea for the film was born.

The president announced in his booming voice ” film-city – 15 decent look – 9 am reporting – dress kurta pajama – shave bana kar ke ana please” – then the whole scene exploded, there was pandemonium – every one of the assembled extras were on there feet, raising their hand and voice to catch the attention of the AD in the jetting out balcony- the din was deafening, they were pushing and shoving and screaming at the top of their voice while surging inchingly forward . – “Sir muje lo” – “Muje ek mahine se kam nahi mila” – “Sir muje….. Muje kam ki shakt jarurat hai…….”

The AD then pointed out to the men in the crowd and made his selection. I was left wondering how the people could be identified in this ruckus – but the president seemed to able to note down the names of the people that were selected after calling them out loud but it was impossible to hear over the prevailing din. After he finished writing out the call sheet, he leaned back in his chair gathering his strength, it seemed and roared “SILENCE” a momentary hush fell over the assembled people as all were eager to know if they got work – many hoped against hope – I scanned their faces and saw desperate anticipation.

The president started reading out the names “Masood , Pujari, Harilal……” and so on and so forth. Then the listed paper was thrown down to an extra’s coordinator below who did an excellent well practiced job of getting hold of the paper as it floated down to him. Immediately the extras started surrounding him to firm up things. Many voices were heard complaining “me to roj khali rheta hu” some even cursed their bad luck and the whole proceeding.

The coordinator an official of sorts of the association would be responsible for the extras to turn up and be present at the set and to see that they do as directed and of course most importantly collect their daily meager wages and distribute it to them at the end of the day.

This whole selection process took about an hour and a half, I had mixed feeling and I stepped out of the shed to reflect and to get my head around what I had just witnessed.

My first thought was that this was like a kind of cattle auction. I being a horse lover had seen horses being auctioned at the RWITC but the conditions were fabulous compared to this, even in Pushkar and other places in India where animals were paraded and sold was much better then what I witnessed. For God sake I told myself these are human beings not animals – what a ridiculous predicament these extras are caught up in – no dignity – no respect – working in a glamour industry that sells dreams, surely this was the underbelly of Bollywood.

So right outside the infamous tin shed the idea for the film was born – with the background sounds of the next selection round of the extras- that this was great material for a documentary, not an exposure kind of documentary on the underbelly of Bollywood but a human emotional one examining the whole phenomena of the men and women extras of the Bombay Film industry – their lives, how they came to be extras, what were their aspirations, working conditions, their hopes and woes – to look at this whole subject from their side as well as the way the Film Industry perceived them. I was sure that no where else in the world such a phenomenon existed and so it must be captured on film for posterity.

The story carries on in my next post


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