I have brushed shoulders with one of Bollywood's brightest stars, Akshake Kumar. While looking to register for a slum tour, the blatant economic disparity of Bombay hit us as Jen and I were approached by an extras recruit. We signed up for a day of work on the set of Dezi Boyz, the next big Bollywood production, seduced by the promise of an AC set, free food, costumes, hair, make up, and 500rs pay. Nearly simultaneously we followed through with signing up for a tour of Dharavi, Bombay's largest slum.
Bombay has many densely inhabited slums that house an astounding 60% of its residents in the shadows of skyscrapers. These crowded communities are occasionally legal, entirely self-sufficient and highly productive. Between the houses which are piled on and beside each other at the same time, there are schools, temples, hospitals, and most importantly hard workers plowing away at cottage industry craftsmanship, factory level production, or work of another variety.
The film industry appeals to me as much as life in a slum, but I couldn't resist making my debut in Bollywood. Along with 20 other recruited travelers and ex pats, we gave atmosphere to Conexion Latino, a fictional underground salsa club in London, where contracted dancers and the lead actors performed for the camera. Despite the monotony of our role, holding fake booze and chatting, at times it was thrilling.
The handsome male lead, Akshake, played the diva role between cuts, abusing his support staff and alternately insulting and seducing the female lead. When the shout to start filming, "Background, Dancers, Action!" was cried from an unseen face behind a camera, a blaze of energy would sweep through as we all hoped to be captured on film, even if for a second. The camera, lights, and screens zoomed around for actions scenes, dodging the thespians and sound guys. Crew with small water bottles and chai (of course) danced around the pushy choreographers who constantly rearranged us between shootings.
By the end of the long day, our dreams of stardom were replaced with desires for real drinks in a real bar with chairs to sit on. And that is exactly where we found ourselves spending our day's pay away until curfew. At midnight we had to race back to our grungy dorms at the Salvation Army, kitty corner to the Taj Hotel, the fanciest imperial joint in town.