So, we were walking down Causeway and were approached by some guy carrying a “Bollywood Extras” card, as they usually do. He said that he was looking for Western girls to help out with this Bollywood dance release party. What this is, is, when a new Bollywood film is released, or about to be released, there is an event a bit like the BAFTAs I guess – same kind of style with presenters and all the celebrities in the audience. And all the actors and singers and dancers in each film have to put on their own Bollywood dance show, which will be shown on TV. A bit like the ending of Slumdog Millionaire. So this event was being held in a large room of this hotel.
When people go to Mumbai, they often hope to get the chance to take part as an extra in a Bollywood film, and so did we. However, this offer was a little different. I asked what it entailed, to which ‘Ajmad’ answered that I would wear either a short dress or a sari, and hand out flowers to guests who arrived, and say hello, and that would be it. For my time I would be paid 1000Rs. I told him that I’d let him know in a couple of hours as I wasn’t too sure about it. I sat in Starbucks umming and ahhing about what to do and eventually decided that I’d probably regret not doing it, as I didn’t know too much about it apart from it was a party for actors and dancers.
So I rang him and agreed to meet him, with the 3 other girls he had found at 4PM at the Red Army Salvation Hostel. The girls were lovely – 2 Danish and 1 German. We waited for an extra half an hour in the car while Ajmad tried to find 5 more girls (he needed 9). He failed and eventually we were whisked off. We were pretty excited to arrive at the Grand Hyatt, though obviously felt pretty underdressed and out of place. It was a busy environment, and we were eventually taken to one of the bedrooms upstairs.
When we entered, that’s when things went a bit pear-shaped. There was an argument occurring between 2 of the event organisers. One of them was obviously more superior than the other and appeared stressed out of her brain, on the verge of tears, shouting at the other one. One of the arguments actually was about us, the Western girls. The superior one was screaming demanding to know why there weren’t 9 of us, and why we weren’t ready yet (despite being aware we’d just arrived). Also, it appeared she was expecting Russians, like the 3 bar girls who were having their makeup and hair done in the same room. Her snide remark, “I thought you were a professional” to the other lady seemed to touch a nerve. In response, the other lady (let’s call her lady 2), became a massive bitch to us.
We were all given name badges, and while the others had their hair done I had my makeup done. A man with a massive MAC makeup layout seemed to be putting his whole heart into my face and it felt really nice. When I looked in the mirror though at the finished result, I was mortified. Big black smokey eyes that were way too big, plus dark cheeks, and the deepest, brightest red lipstick covered in the same coloured lipgloss. I looked like something out of the Rocky Horror Show. (I casually went to the bathroom and did a lot of dabbing to remove most of it – I figured noone would notice). Because my make up had taken so long, when he was finished, the other girls were already changing into their red saris. When I stood up, Lady 2 shouted at me demanding to know why I wasn’t dressed (Stupid bitch, is she blind!?). Because I was already less than impressed with this tense, stressful, stressed out atmosphere, I had my back up and matter-of-factly explained what I had been told to do one minute and then the next, and then the fact that I had no idea about saris or anything else going on here, she just waved me off and sent my into the bathroom. When I went in there, the girls also looked a bit pissed off.
Lady 2 asked the German girl, Lisa, if she had some Russian friends in India and to ring them and get them to come to the hotel and help with this venue. Obviously, as a traveler, she didn’t, but she was still asked to “work on it”. She then also very sternly told her “do NOT tell the fat lady I asked you that”. (Fat lady being the one screaming at her earlier. Lady 2 had quite clearly fucked up on getting the correct number of hosts). The other lady kept coming into the room shouting that all her Indian girls were ready and that we should have been ready half an hour ago. The other girls all got their makeup done, half-heartedly as he was obviously rushing now, and all the girls ended up in the bathroom doing some dabbing. One girl didn’t even get her eyes done. I didn’t get my hair done, which was a little disappointing.
It seemed that everyone thought that being a hostess, like the Indian girls and the Russian bar girls, was our actual job. That we were living here in India, making a living doing this. We tried to explain a few times that we had in fact been asked off the street, were getting paid sweet FA to be treated like shit, and had no clue what we were supposed to be doing. Not worded like that, obviously.
Once we were ‘ready’ we were shooed out of the room and brought downstairs where everyone – waiters, dancers, chefs, hosts, photographers, seemed to be pretty stressed themselves. Me and Lisa were taken to the VIP area, and the other two girls, Madi and Lena, were made to stand in the main hall. I think I would have preferred to be in the main hall – despite the fact that everyone could see them so they couldn’t talk to each other, even to ask the time, they were moved around a lot and would have seen more going on, so time would have gone a little quicker.
It was 6.30pm by the time we were put into our places in the VIP area. There were 2 lounges, which we were told to stand outside the door of and as people go in, who will obviously be some hot shot but we wouldn’t have a clue, we would have to say hello, or namaste and show them into the lounge. Well, after a while, we realised that the number of people coming in was going to be very few. Luckily, where we were, we could see onto the stage and see some of the shows, when the back doors were open anyway. This was pretty exciting. When the doors were closed, some of the waiters allowed us into the VIP lounges to watch the shows on the TV screen – that is, when guests weren’t in the lounge. There was also a huge, grand buffet laid out all along our area, hidden in those large, round silver bowls. The desserts were laid openly behind us, and it wasn’t long before Lisa and I were digging into some of those little mouthfuls of heaven. My favourites? The Nutella mudpie and the Baklovas. I realise this was naughty, but we were standing around doing very little and felt this was owed to us. The waiters didn’t seem to mind.
We also realised that we were probably taking this job too seriously by standing outside the room, that very few people were coming into (though there was a group of fat men with big watches who were accompanied by a huge Russian bodyguard! Yikes!). So, after a while, and seeing as the Indian hostesses were too, we started wandering around the downstairs area of the hotel, looking through people who were full of their own importance, seeing the dancers practicing for their show, in all their glittery dresses, and high heels, and nice hair, and caked full of makeup. Some of the staff pointed out to us who were the bigger celebrities, so that, I guess, was exciting.
All in all we were paid the equivalent of $20 to stand around for a few hours in saris, watching a pretty spectacular televised event, people-watching, and eating some of their food. It wasn’t a bad evening at all, and we were pretty much forgotten about by the bitchy woman, as noone even came to check up on us. We could have been doing anything.
At 11pm Amjad came and got us and took us to the main area where there was an even bigger, incredible buffet laid out for everyone. We mingled through the celebrity crowd, and joined them in eating from the buffet. There were a fruit and veg buffet, a pasta buffet, a meat buffet, an Indian buffet, a vegetarian buffet, a dessert buffet… it was excellent! After stuffing our faces, popping out of our saris, we headed back to the room where we changed. As we went into the bathroom, someone we didn’t know entered the room, and the Bitch started screaming louder and more aggressively about how this guy had “fucked up the night” and not to speak to her ever again, etc. etc. she was of course talking about finding the Western girls to be hostesses – it was clearly her job which she had fobbed off onto someone else, i.e. ‘Extras’ touts.
We later met up with Ajmad downstairs, who paid us and paid for our taxi to drop us off outside each of our hotels. It was later than 12.30am by the time I met Brendan at the hotel, which was pretty annoying because we were promised that we’d have left by 11pm.
Was it worth it? I think if I was asked ever again to do it, I’d decline, and suggest that being an extra in a film would be much more enjoyable (I didn’t get to do this). The atmosphere of this event made it a bit of a negative, there was lots of standing around, which hurt my back and legs, and it was pretty dull at times. The food, the dancing, and the girls I was with, were what made it bearable.