Indian Summer (Pt. 1) November 12, 2010Posted by markswill in About me, Media, Uncategorized.
Never really wanted to go there before on sketchy moral grounds, i.e. the poverty, the beggars, the stomach-bugs and the squalor but when Rupert Murdoch calls who am I to turn down a free lunch? Of course (of course?) I’m talking about India, which is where I found myself a fortnight ago, courtesy of my dear friend D, who was being flown out to Rajasthan by 20th Century Fox where one of her novels is being filmed and who “for a lark” generously invited me along to ride shotgun. Well shallow and impressionable as I am, one woman’s lark easily eclipses any of my long held ethical dilemmas and thus it was that we waited in the subdued luxury of a Heathrow executive lounge for Kingfisher flight IT2 to Delhi. And waited. And waited.
We should’ve known better than fly on an airline owned by a brewery, but their engineers somehow couldn’t get the electronics in Business Class to function so the entire overnight flight was bereft of movies, music, reading lights and, most crucially, the ability of the fancy leather seats to recline and/or turn into beds. So sleepless and irritable, we arrived in India with barely 20 minutes to catch our connection to Udaipur, our base for the next week. However what I quickly learnt about India was that very little happens on time and although we were met by two very nice chaps who dutifully sped us the 5kms to the domestic terminal – and you thought Heathrow was a logistical nightmare – our Udaipur flight was delayed by an hour. Well 90 minutes actually.
Having eventually arrived, another film co. driver in another air-conned SUV drove us through suicidal traffic to the fancy hotel where the crew were also staying, one of whom turned out to be a long-lost friend, Linda G., the prod. co’s p.r. manager and one of the world’s sharpest wits. Her ministrations (and bar tab) helped us overcome our industrial strength weariness and struggle towards a ‘normal’ bedtime in advance of being collected for the drive to the set the next morning.
Put rather more crudely than D might thank me for, her hugely funny, deftly observed and, if this government gets hold of the idea, ultimately prescient 2004 book is about out-sourcing retirement care for the elderly to the Indian sub-continent where low cost and the last vestiges of colonialism appeal to cash-strapped gentility. Although originally set in Bangalore, the search to find a suitably run-down, post-Raj hotel in which to set the film led director John Madden to a guest house 70 minutes drive from Udaipur, outside which a crack crew of production designers and set-dressers had created an incredibly bona fide city street – or so I later discovered when we ventured into Udaipur itself. To accommodate all the characters in the story they had also added a couple of extra rooms by the not-so-simple expedient of constructing them out of wood and plasterboard on the roof and applying a seamless patina of age and decrepitude.
Okay, even the least dedicated cinephile knows that this sort of visual slight-of-hand is commonplace in the make-believe world of movie-making but when you actually witness it firsthand, it has a considerable impact.
So I guess this first of (possibly) two episodic blogs is really all about this arcane but impressive process, and the fact of it being in such a far off land. Several hundred people were encamped temporarily in the dusty Rajasthan scrubland and thanks to the proximity of Bollywood they included a lot of Indian crew as well as British cameramen, assistant directors, wardrobe persons, gaffers, grips (yes, I now know what they are) and a small army of cooks, drivers, runners, fixers and extras. Oh yeah, and of course the principal actors, a stellar cast which includes Dames J. Dench and M. Smith, Bill Nighy, Celia Imrie (who rather alarmingly took what is known as “a shine” to me), the great Tom Wilkinson (who happily didn’t) and Slumdog Millionaire star, Dev Patel.
Controlling all of this like some benign dictator was Mr Madden, my admiration for whom grew by the minute as I watched him not only attend to every detail of every shot, but graciously if sometimes firmly relate to everyone on the set, no matter how humble their role, and by name. D, no stranger to film sets herself, noted that even in her experience Madden was something of a prince amongst directors, and when a minor motorcycle accident meant he couldn’t complete a complicated scene (course I could’ve warned him, but I didn’t have a union card), he calmly shooed the principles into rehearsing another scene whilst camera and sound men re-grouped.
I also hadn’t realised from how many different angles it’s necessary to shoot a few seconds of film in order to give director and editor the choice to make the most of it in the cutting room. One simple scene where three of the characters walk up to the hotel was shot four different ways with two cameras, the actors endlessly repeating their lines and hitting their painstakingly set ‘marks’ with a patience you certainly wouldn’t find in, say, this year’s Presteigne Panto rehearsals.
We were given free rein to wander throughout the sets and as author of the book (and the original script) which had made all this possible, D was subjected to endless waves of lovey-ness, a little of which I’m embarrassed to say washed all-too-easily over on me. Indeed, although D responded to all this, including being video-interviewed for next year’s pre-release publicity (which I dutifully photographed for, gulp, the Mail On Sunday), with well-honed dignity and enthusiasm, nothing in my adult experience had prepared me for it. Or indeed for the real world of Rajasthan outside our glitzy celluloid bubble.
And that, if you can bear it, will comprise my next little dispatch.
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