Thursday, December 13, 2007

Voices of Bollywood

I woke up early for the free Salvation Army breakfast served from 7:40 to 8:40 by our always smiling hosts. It consisted of two pieces of white bread, a small amount of butter and jam, one green banana and one hard boiled egg. I have not bothered waking up for it since because i require approximately four times more food for breakfast. It takes a lot to maintain these gigantic muscles.

I took a short walk to the Gateway of India (one of the two worthwhile tourist sights in the city, the other being the gloriously gothic Victoria Terminus, the busiest train station in Asia) and enjoyed the approximately 75% reduction in stares from being without my pretty blonde sidekick. Back at Salvation Army, I walked into the common room and my belgian roommate told me that a guy downstairs asked for americans for a bollywood thing. I ran downstairs to meet, Imram, one of my new friends in the city. It turns out he has met the guy from Shantaram twice, the most thrilling book I have read in a long time about a guy in Mumbai who loves people and gets into crazy wonderful happy adventures while also working for the mob and fighting with the mujadeen in Afghanistan. I know I have mentioned this book before but I promise I will also mention it again. It's all I can do to not talk about it constantly with people who are reading it so I don't spoil anything. Anyway, Imram told me about a voiceover role that only took 4 hours (that's generally 5 to 7 hours in indian talk) and paid 500 Rs (12 USD). They only needed a male but I could bring Tessa along for the fun of it. We picked up two great girls. Zoe has been traveling India for about a month in between her theater studies at a New Zealand University. She has great hair with some dreadlocks and some braids filled with bells, ribbons, feathers and buttons. It was a work of art. Stef, from England, spent the last few months working at an orphanage in a village in the poor state of Andra Pradesh. She said it became a very draining experience but I didn't want to press for details. It seemed a little too fresh. She's lived everywhere teaching english and does the kind of human interest journalism that I would love to try.

We caught the commuter train up to Andheri. Imram insisted on buying tickets which makes sense for him because he cannot feign ignorance like we can during the amazingly infrequent ticket checks. Tessa looked great standing in the open doorway with the wind whipping her hair around. I have to grit my teeth while most men on the train stare and the adolescent pukes devour her optically. I sit down and start talking to a nice young guy from Cairo getting his MBA here in Bombay. However, he's sick of India and got accepted to MIT. I gave him some Boston advice and my card. Then, I noticed Tessa talking to a distinguished looking Sikh fellow. Sounds good to me. I love Sikhs. After a lengthy conversation, he sits across from me and I talk to him about his trips around the world with the Indian merchant marines. He missed the glory days when loading a ship took at least four days, leaving him time to explore the city. It must not have been all he explored because after he left, Tessa told him that he made a clear sugar daddy offer. The girls laughed at this and I agreed we could hold out for better than a captain in the indian merchant marines. However, it's hard to imagine a better sugar daddy than a Sikh. I bet they take care of you.

We grabbed two put-puts to get to the studio. I believe our driver had the longest ear hair I have ever witnessed personally. Unfortunately, my pictures did not come out. After a few worrisome minutes when our put-puts got separated and I saw our rupees sadly floating out of reach, we all arrived at the sound studio.We met Peter, a theater actor from England who moved here a few years ago and now works at all kinds of projects around Bollywood. He also turned out to be a gifted (or at least practiced) voice actor. We all gathered in the dubbing room for something I never knew existed. In many of the scenes, an extra's voice might not come out clearly on the footage. Therefore, when the police officer in this movie introduces the couple but he spoke too softly. They have me say the same line and synch it up with his lips. We repeat this a number of times because the syncing can be tricky. Once it's right, they play it back to check it and you get to hear your voice coming out of someone else's mouth. Instructions come from the glassed in sound booth behind us with six sound engineers, mixers and related audio monkeys. After we took care of the individual voices that needed touched up, we broke for lunch.

Lunch came in aluminum foil bags packed with chicken briyani. Heaven. I would work for just the free food. The second half of the session got a little more tedious. We became the background noise for various scenes. Luckily, we could say whatever we wanted. Nobody seemed to care. We would cheer for the party scenes, talk about the killer drugs and babes on the drunken ride home, discuss the impossibility of finding good help at the five star hotel scene and peter discussed all the missing and tampered evidence at the police station. He kept up a ridiculously funny chatter that almos ruined some takes because of our giggling. During the horse racing, I would do the racing guide scene from the Marx Brother's "A Day at the Races". No one else got it but it made me happy. Please enjoy. I always do. After a few hours of this, they brought us some chai and thanked us for the help. While we waited to leave, Stef taught me blackjack. It's not the 21 version we play in american casinos. It's a game where you start with seven cards and you try to lay them all down first but there's a bunch of special cards to skip people or make them pick up more cards. I liked and won a few hands by the end. It became my default card game with Tessa because I am sick of losing at rummy. Imram paid us off (with little something extra for us because Tessa did some work even though she wasn't supposed to get paid) and we hopped a bus back to the train station.

We had an invite to some fancy CD release party at a club in Andheri (north mumbai, hot area, looking at apartments there today hopefully for $75 bucks a month) so Tessa wanted to go shopping for nice clothes. Imram took us to a street that had open air shops down it's entire quarter mile length. Every few steps we heard please sir, please ma'am, it's free to look, i have very nice things , very cheap, just for you. I really respected the guys trying to sell us baby clothes. That takes salesmanship to a whole other level. People also seem bewildered that neither of these girls were my wife and that I might prefer it that way. Actually, I gave up for awhile and told people yes, I am married to Stef. It made it easier to refuse sales requests because people seemed understanding when I said it was not worth it spending money on her. Tessa found a cute outfit and pair of shoes for 400 rupees (10 USD). We showered up and headed to Andheri for the second time that day.

Luckily, we finally found a young put-put driver who knew the club location we requested. We enter a hip dim bar with a mob of cameras in one corner around a pretty young actress. We headed to the back room to check out the music and met a cool Canadian guy living here for a few months to finish releasing his album of indian music. He gave us some tips on the city and a lead for a Bollywood gig for Tessa. Then we realized it was a full open bar. Tessa enchanted the bartenders who kept a drink at her elbow at all times. They even made her a flaming tower by putting a few different glasses on top of each other with a filled cocktail glass as a base and then lighting vodka on fire and pouring it over the whole structure. All of the glassses go up in a blue flame as the liquor pours into the drink and you have to finish it all before the flames goes out.

As we sat with our first drinks, I noticed a guy two seats down who looked familiar. It turned out to be Sven from Sweden, our botanist friend from the Golden Temple. He came with the guy who invited us, Kenneth Lobo. I knew Kenneth through couchsurfing but had never met him in person and forgot to look at his online picture before we left. I never would have found him if he didn't already have Sven staying with him. I love connections like that. Kenneth works for a local paper doing cool feature articles for them and seems to know everything happening in the city. I liked him right away. They went downstairs to get food while Tessa went to the dance floor.

I did what I do best at loud posh dance parties: I sat in the corner with a brooding look and a deck of cards, observing the room. I usually dislike these events and this was no exception. I didn't want to talk to any of the young beautiful people running around. I liked watching the photographers the most. I assume they came here from various papers, gossip rags and websites but you could clearly see a brotherhood. They stood out as dorky looking younger guys and older heavy men but they seemed to be the only people in the room who cared about each other. They hugged, held hands (I'm getting used to but it's still tough for me to walk a few blocks holding a guy 's hand) and talked nonstop between getting pictures of the attendees. They seemed to be the most genuine people in attendance although I am always unfairly negative to people in the entertainment business.

Once the bar closed, we went to the apartment of a DJ from Brooklyn who had been working here for a few years. I am positive I did not give him this blog address so I can be honest (sometimes my comments must be censored out of kindness, I do not like it all and it makes the whole post feel fake to me). After two years here in his giant marble apartment, he spoke no Hindi and seemed to know nothing about this country. He does shows in all the major cities but he flies to them and stays in fancy hotels. He travels in a Mercdeds with a driver and has never taken a long distance train or the local Mumbai commuter rail. In fact, he seemed appalled I would even take Tessa on the train at any time (we actually both love the train, you meet interesting people, get gawked at and can stand in the door for a nice breeze). He had a casual distrust of all indians in terms of money and safety. This blows my mind because you have a lot more to fear in Brooklyn then you do in this gentle Hindu country. Many people do try to hustle you for an extra buck but they do it openly with a smile on their face. I'm still getting used to the different attitude towards money here. In America, when you start arguing over money, things get heated pretty fast and the bad feelings last after the completion of the exchange. In India, you can sit and haggle for twenty minutes but everyone uses pained expressions when they can not accept your price. Once you reach a price, no hard feelings persist. People still want you to sit and gossip about anything. I am training myself to not be my normal efficient self and move away so quickly after a sale. Most people continue to sit and talk and I should do the same. Hell, I got nowhere to be. I'm free and loving it.

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