Tuesday, April 20, 2010

After quickly changing into my new black top and high heels, I was ready for my first night out in Mumbai. Joey and I headed to Firangi Panna where he introduced me to his friends Pinky, Sita, Gautam, Sushant and Summer, who turns out to be an American from San Francisco. She and Sushant are recently married, both work for an internet ad company and she spends half her time in India. We immediately get to chatting and Sushant whines, "Oh no, are you going to be talking American stuff all night?" Turns out we are both HUGE Bollywood fans and when I ask her what her favorite movie is, she says, "Overall? I'd have to say 'Om Shanti Om'" to which I SQUEAL, we grab hands and run away from the group so our mutual 'squee-ing' over Shahrukh Khan is minimally embarrassing. We've only stepped away for a minute or two and two emissaries from the group (Joey and Sushant) come over to us separately to find out if everything is okay.

The club's lights come up at 1:30 and the group decides to go to China House, a pretty fancy club not too far away. But before we head out, Sushant and Summer invite me to come stay with them while I sort out my living situation. Their roommate is off in Kerala and so they have an extra bedroom until the following Sunday. I'm very excited about this but I am not sure what's going on with Joey's friend who is off in Delhi.

We pile into our separate cars and head to China House, which is located in the basement of the Hyatt. There is a cover charge to get in but Pinky knows the DJ, although he is currently in Goa. However, once we get there, she's having a hard time getting a hold of him so we give up and head off to our various homes. Sushant reiterates the invitation to stay with him and Summer and I am definitely hoping to do so.

On the way home, Joey and I stop at a roadside eatery for some delicious fried rice, which is quite spicy. We get back to his friends' apartment and are out like a light.

Next morning, I am awoken to a pretty strong sewage smell which eventually clears. Joey takes me to breakfast at a Nepalese cafe where we dine on delicious dumplings called, awesomely, "mo-mos."

I mention Sushant's invitation to Joey and this clears a lot of hurdles. Now his friend in Delhi doesn't have to come home early and I'm taken care of. Joey has a film shoot in the afternoon and he arranges with Sushant to come pick me up at an internet cafe.

Sushant and Summer's company flat is located in Juhu, one of the more fancy parts of Mumbai, and only a few blocks from Amitabh Bachan's house. I am VERY excited about this. As we drive by, Sushant tells me that on Sundays at 6pm, crowds line up outside because Amitabh will often come out and wave to them. He is India's most famous actor -- at least by longevity standards. Shahrukh Khan gives him a run for the money in popularity but he's only been around since the 90s. If you've seen "Slumdog Millionaire" you might recall the first flashback where the little boy gets locked in the outhouse by his older brother when an actor's helicopter lands on the nearby airstrip. The boy jumps through the potty's hole and into the puddle of sewage with a photo of the actor held aloft and then races to get his autograph. That actor is Amitabh.... or at least someone portraying the 1980s version of him.

S & S's place is really nice and I'm very happy to be there. We hang out and get to know each other for a bit before they run off to Sushant's mother's for dinner. WHile they're gone, Summer sends me a text, suggesting I check out the beach as it's pretty hopping that evening. I decide to head up there... and indeed it is quite crowded. Dilapidated carousel rides and food stands dot the beach. Families sit and roam and seem to be having a grand Sunday night. I stop by a stand of puris, which are little pastry balls that are filled with onions and chickpeas and potato mix and dipped in a liquid. You have to eat them fast before they get soggy, which I didn't do. They're like spicy little Indian shots!

As usual, I was quite an attraction. A lot of staring as I stood there and ate. Honestly, I don't know half the time if I'm doing something wrong, or I'm just entertainment.

I wandered around the beach a little bit and then headed back to the flat where I sat and edited photos and finally figured out my hard drive.

Monday - April 12th
Today is the day I have to establish contact with the people I've met. First off, I called Abhay the set photographer. Unfortunately, he is off in Rajasthan (in Northern India) until April 26th but is happy to meet me on his return. Despite his lack of reply to my last email, I decide to shoot off another email to Ravi, the cinematographer I met in New York, letting him know I've arrived. I was only hesitant because Ravi is a big player in Bollywood and very well known and I didn't want to be too pushy. But almost immediately after hitting "send," I received a text to my phone from Ravi saying he was in Bombay filming and we could "catch up" in the evening. I was ecstatic!! On Day One to be meeting a top person in Bollywood... DAY ONE!! After that, I emailed one casting director I had been put in touch with through a friend on Facebook and another that I had met on the street in Colaba (but his cell phone said he was out of area). I figured that doing some extra work would be a great way to get on set and meet production people.

I went for a walk to find lunch - there was a special on a 6 inch chicken breast sub at the Subway down the street for about 1.50. Boy oh boy was it hot out. I also picked up a soda and made my way back to the condo. Crossing the road can be complicated as there are no lights anywhere nearby. Basically you have to dodge across the first half, then stand up on the median and then play frogger across the other side. Traffic was coming at fast clip and evenly spaced so I stood in the median for some time. All of a sudden, this small blurry object hurtles between the cars and appears next to me, grabbing my soda. I'm startled and yank it back to find a small, incredibly dirty boy who is probably around 4 years old. He gestures to his mouth and at my soda and I'm at a loss of what to do in this situation. Give him the nutrionally valueless soda? This is easy to do but it promotes this kind of behavior -- dodging traffic to grab foreigners' food. Or deny him the drink and feel like a big Western jerk. I opted for "big Western jerk." I would rather this kid not get run over in the future than give him a sugar buzz.

Summer and Sushant return from work and we sip wine while Summer whips up a raw pad thai salad to go with the pizza Sushant orders from Pizza Hut, around the corner. I had walked by there earlier and it was hopping -- with a HUGE line outside. I'm looking at my phone every few minutes to see if I've missed Ravi's call.

We sit and watch TV, eating the pizza and drinking wine. No call from Ravi. I'm a little bummed but still happy that at least he wanted to meet up at some point (at least as far as I can tell by his texts. I read them to S & S and they agree that the texts are a little vague but "catch up" usually means in person and not via phone.) Summer is on the late shift the next day so she and I stay up very very late, talking about Bollywood, Shahrukh Khan and watching videos on Youtube... eventually realizing it was 4 a.m. and going to bed.

Next morning, I am in hell. At first I think I'm just horribly hungover (though I didn't think we'd consumed that much wine and Summer seemed to be fine while I'm throwing up). It's not until the strange all-over-body ache followed by a fever in the early evening that I realize it's truly not a hangover. Sushant brings me "exploding arse powder" and mango lassis (which were perfect). I'm finally feeling better in the late evening and was really lucky to have such good nurses.

Wednesday - Taking it easy. Tummy still rocky but mostly better. I send Ravi a text message and find that he's rushed off to Malaysia to shoot a commercial but he writes back that he'll find out what productions are shooting and give me their information. I take a walk on Juhu Beach but have to head back when tummy takes a turn.

Thursday - Finally feeling 90% better. I take several walks to check out my neighborhood. Near a grocery store, a man passes me in a Bryn Mawr shirt. Pretty sure he didn't go there.

Friday - Feeling great! Sushant has set me up to meet his friend Sonia, who is renting a room in her new apartment. In the early evening, I head over to check it out. My rickshaw driver has zero idea where he's going (despite the fact that when I got into the rickshaw and told him the address, he turned around and just started to drive) so it takes some time to get there... and several phone calls with Sushant speaking to him. I initially called Sushant when we stopped at a traffic light and my driver got out of the rickshaw and walked out of sight to, I presume, ask someone else where he was going.

Eventually I arrived at the street Sonia lives on, and she met me on the corner to direct us the rest of the way. The rickshaw driver then proceeded to argue with her over the fare, saying he'd turned off the meter at one point, so we actually owed him 30 rupees over the fare listed. This is complete BS but since Sonia didn't argue, I didn't really feel I could. Sushant would have blown a gasket...

We walked into her building's grounds and it was like the driveway to a Las Vegas casino. Immense overhang and circular drive-in. The building is still under construction so there are very few tenants. Sonia lives on the 32nd floor and the view is insane. She just moved in so she doesn't have much furniture yet. A couch is being made. Then I saw the pool and gym (with sauna and massage room) and was pretty sure I had to take the room.

Headed back to meet up with Summer and Sushant before going out for the evening. I had called Sushant and told him about the first rickshaw driver ripping me off this evening and he was irate. Got into my second rickshaw who turned around when I told him "Juhu Beach" and said, "100 rupees." "Um, no," I said and patted the meter (knowing full well that it would cost about half that). He shook his head, "100 rupees." I shrugged and started to get out of the rickshaw to which he grunted and started the meter. When we got back to Summer and Sushant's place, I had to run upstairs and get some extra cash, leaving the driver outside. Just as I did that, Sushant called to see if I made it home and I told him what the driver did. "Is he still there?" "Yes, I had to get some money upstairs. Why, do you want to kick some ass?" But I realized I was talking to dead air. Apparently, the moment I said, "yes" Sushant, who was on his motorbike only blocks away, decided he DID want to kick some ass. I went down and paid the driver who has no idea how close he came to getting torn a new one and went back upstairs and moments later Sushant and Summer came in. Sushant said next time he was going to follow Summer and I to see who tries to rip us off.

We decide to go to the Hawaiian Shack, where apparently S & S met four years ago. It's in trendy Bandra and upon arrival and looking around at the clientele, Summer exclaimed, "Oh no! I've become one of those people who brings their foreigner here!" The club had four levels. First floor was apparently mostly 80s rock and Abba. Floors two and three played hip hop and Bollywood hits. The fourth floor was the roof but it was closed for a private party.

Summer and I wanted to hear Bollywood songs, naturally, and we went upstairs. There was a group of middle-aged men dancing together near us and they clearly needed some women in there as they were dancing with each other rather sexily. When a hit Bollywood song came on, the arms all went up, the shoulders bouncing. I was in my element! Finally I could bounce my shoulders with impunity!

Back downstairs, they were playing "That Thing You Do" from the movie of the same title. Interesting choice.

It was getting late so we decided to head out before the rest of the club emptied. Back at home, I got out my lighting kit and set up a quick photoshoot, where we posed with the electric mosquito bat OF DOOM and Sushant's motorcycle helmet. Good fun! Really pleased I fell in with some wonderful folks!



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