I Acted in a Bollywood Film High on Opium
White tourists in India. They really don’t do much good do they? Beside reading copious amounts of Shantaram, having dreadlocks and an talking about “finding themselves” via an “authentic experience”—even though both of those phrases are so arbitrary they may as well be ice-cream flavours—they do fuck all.
India is a lovely country though – don’t get me wrong; it’s just that all the white people that go there treat it like it’s going to be a gateway drug to inner enlightenment, yet still get pissed off when their hotel WiFi stops working.
You’d think all of these terrible clichés of Western disillusionment walking the streets of Mumbai would piss the local community off, but not so. Especially in the case of the thriving Bollywood industry, where the need for Caucasian extras is seemingly limitless, as I found out from local agent Karin, who told me one night when handing me his card that, “People like you are needed on set every day.”
So, with Bollywood desperately needing my help, I decided to sign up and become an extra.
Having been woken up at 6am by multiple calls from Karin, who was waiting outside our hotel in a bus, I stumbled down the stairs only to be confronted by an enthusiastic guy offering “hashish, weed, opium!” Now being the intrepid person I am, and it being 6am and not really knowing what the fuck was going on, I thought, Yeah why not? and gave him 500 rupees for this little lump of opium. The guy said to me ominously: “Careful. Very strong.”
I then ploughed into the back of a bus rammed with more white people than a Coldplay gig and we went on our way, to colourful Bollywood, to fame and stardom!
When I got there, I was hastily led toward a hallway and instructed via the means of this rather handy sign that I must be in the right place for “foreigners only” breakfast, which was obviously going to be nothing other than a weird amalgamation of all the bad things that western food has to offer. It was even more of a shame that all the Indian actors’ breakfasts looked way more tasty, but whatever, I was here for a fucking job, to act, I’m a goddamn professional for crying out loud.
Foreigners in the foreigners only section.
Not one to be put off by what seemed like giant rolls stuffed with small dollops of cheesy coleslaw and boiled eggs, I decided to spice things up a bit with a lump of opium in my tea. Chai tea, of course!
Whilst the melted chai opium tea had been kind of drunk, kind of semi-chewed on, I was being sized up by various rushed looking assistants. They pointed at me and said, “Immigration officer, but you need a shave.”
Gosh, I thought, I can’t wait to see what a colourful kind of immigration officer outfit they’ll put me in!
Me before outfit change.
Oh right, they literally meant a fucking immigration officer. “The film is in a Bulgarian airport, we need you to be Bulgarian immigration officer 3,” said the producer. Oh right, no colourful costumes, no singing or dancing. I’d come all the way round the world to play an Eastern European customs administrator. Bollocks.
Costume and changing department.
This guy got to be a fucking pilot. Look at the state of him.
So there I was, at my desk in an airport, acting the fuck out of being an immigration officer, stamping passports and not taking any shit from wise-cracking passengers.
Actually, what I was really doing was sweating my turquoise shirt a shade of dark blue in the non-air conditioned room and starting to feel a bit caned from the opium.
Luckily, one of the other extras, Dean, was on hand to provide some refreshments in the form of a few bottles of whisky and coke. It was only about 10.30am, but I was getting pretty fucking cooked, both mentally and physically.
This was one of the other extras, Sam, whose passport I had to process. She’d also had half of the opium lump so was struggling to hold together the fabric of reality.
This is me, checking the fuck out of a passport. As you can see, in actual fact, I could easily pass for a Bulgarian immigration officer, so fair play to the casting agent because they got things spot on in my case.
Then things kind of started getting a bit weird for me. Maybe it was because I’d been drinking heavily, or was spinning out on the opium, or maybe it was because I saw a few of people who looked and sounded like genuine Bulgarian people, but I had a moment of panic slash an epiphany where I thought that this may in actual fact not be a Bollywood set but a real airport, with real people in it.
Maybe they were just letting us use the tiny bit at the front to shoot the scene of the movie I still didn’t know the name, of but I was beginning to feel pretty certain the actual airport was real. It must be. It felt so… real.
This was the main actor guy telling Dean how to stamp a passport properly. I never found out his name, but his only face was one of pained existential bewilderment, as if he was living in the exact moment he’d been told McDonald’s was no longer serving breakfast, but he’d only missed it by a few minutes, and was now frantically scanning the regular menu and considering whether 11:05am is too early to eat a cheeseburger.
Here, you can see the camera focusing on a massively bearded extra. I have no idea why, but he seemed pretty casual about it. By this time, I think I was okay with the fact that the airport wasn’t actually real and was more worried about the scary looking Bulgarians who kept staring at me as I sweated profusely in the sweltering heat.
This was the main scene of the bit we were filming. From what I understood, the protagonist had lost his daughter somehow and was having a flashback about her at an airport or something.
Anyway the scene played out where they had like a little fight-type argument, and I swear to god she was only making mewling noises like a cat. I don’t know whether it was because she may have been Bulgarian and didn’t speak Hindi, but the whole scene—which seemed to go on forever—was just her throwing a tantrum at the guy by making half tired-baby half hungry-cat noises at him whilst hitting him with a doll. It was fucking intense; I mean, people applauded at the end of the scene. But seriously, she only made mewling cat noises.
The hash, opium and heat eventually got to Sam and she passed out. Dropping her passport and everything – serious security risk, that.
The last bit I saw them do before they told us to fuck off was two guys wrestling on the floor with each other. Again, I was pretty smashed by this point, but it really seemed to have no bearing on anything else the other scenes were doing. I think by then my internal fear with regards to Bulgarians and the reality of the airport had subsided. It was, in fact, not a real airport, and the Bulgarians were probably just other English people like me but just starting at how spun out I was.
That, then, was a wrap. We were told to pack up into the bus we’d travelled in to head back to the various hotels we got picked up from. We were paid a handsome 500 rupees by Karin for our troubles, which worked out perfectly for me as it exactly covered my opium bill. All in all, although there was fuck all singing, dancing, colour or anything really positive from the day except being totally off my face from about 10am, I’d had a great Bollywood time, even if I felt horribly typecast as an eastern European.
Photos by the author.