I never thought this could happen in Mumbai, let alone in Kolkata, plus out of the blue and just the day before my departure from the city of Joy. One night, while chatting with a local friend at his shop, this guy called Rajah approaches me and asks whether i’d be interested to join a film crew the very next day and work as a extra for few hours. All i have to do, he says, is just dressing up like an old British soldier and ride an horse until the shooting is done. The next day, 7AM, i’m on taxi on the way to the location.
We drove an hour and an half out of Kolkata, until we reached a rural area where a lot of Adivasi (indigenous tribes) are still living a very traditional village life. The movie is set at the time of British India, and this place, with its lack of modern elements, it’s a perfect choice. The make up artists are already at work: they set up on a little open shed that locals use to sit and chat over a cup of chai. Some of the actors will have to play the role of Muslim farmers, so fake beards and traditional “lungis” are part of the costumes.
In the meanwhile, the technicians are already downloading the equipment, including a little rail, a crane and other heavy duty stuff.
I am given a white shirt, a red jacket, hat, gun and boots! I’m ready to rock !
The only problem are the boots, since they are probably a size 9, whereas i normally wear an 11!
Other actors will be in the shot with me, playing the role of Bengal Army officers. They will walk with me while i’m on the horse.
This other guy will follow me on another horse. he said he’s just an amateur but i think his face is perfect for the movie industry: who knows, maybe he could be the next Anil Kapoor?
I start feeling a bit nervous when the director tells me that it’s “horse training” time! I’ve never been acting in a movie and nor rode an horse: today it’s gonna be a day full of surprises! Bring it on!
The “goda wallah”, the guy who owns one of the horses, shows me the basic tips. I start my rehearsals and i feel how one needs to be in control of the situation when riding an horse. It’s not a car, it’s not just about pulling right, kicking left.
One really needs to establish a relationship with the animal, both of trust and respect, but also of dominance. The horse feels if the person who’s riding is not perfectly comfortable, and reacts with a sloppy and lazy behaviour.
While the troupe was framing the first scene of the day, the kids of the village were sticking around to see what was going on in the backstage!
As the sun started to be very hot, half of the village kids population found shelter under the big reflective silver screens.
For every minute of shot footage, it takes hours of work, including preparation, make up, pre framing, moving equipment and technicians, and all that while the actors keep their costumes on, regardless the season of time of the day. Mine was a woolen jacket…!
Between takes, the director would check the shots to see if framing and acting were good enough.
I’ve even been given a gun to play the bad ass part! At first i’ve been told i only had to sit on the horse , but it turned up that i was supposed to say few lines and at a point even try to shoot some of the farmers. We had to try my scene few times, as the horse kept moving putting me out of focus and my “angry look” was.t angry enough for Indian standards!
While they were shooting the farmer’s fight scene, my “Indian officer” was chilling out on a chair, resting from the many hours spent on the horse.
Light was changing fast during the late part of the afternoon, so camera adjustments were required.
The director was quite happy with the results of the day of shooting.
Eventually nearly the whole village came out to see what was going on on the set: i thought their dress code wouldn’t have been out of place if they had been accidentally caught in the framing. In this place i don’t think things have changed that much in the last centuries…!
Some fake blood was being prepared for the final scene, where a man gets killed in the middle of the fields.
While the sun is about to set, we get the perfect light to shoot the last scene. Everybody seems to be very happy with the work i’ve done, and i wonder if my parts will ever make it to the final editing.
A couple of takes of the last scene and everybody is ready to pack up! My feet hurt, i’m tired and hungry, but so happy i had the chance to live a day on the set of an Indian movie!
It’s time to dismantle the rusty crane, take off the make up and kick off the nasty tight boots which tortured my poor oversized feet all day…! The actors and technicians are getting paid with a check straight away, and we jump on a jeep back to the City Of Joy, this time with even more joy in my pockets !