Friday, June 6, 2008

Wednesday 4th of June

I'm conscious that some of this is going to get repetitive since already, two days in, things appear to have developed their own pattern: up at 8.30, breakfast, shower and off to meet Mr Bhatia in the foyer. So before I drone on about my day, let me tell you something about the hotel: it is, as I keep repeating to the countless smiling young people in uniform who insist on asking me, very nice...very nice indeed as a matter of fact, in spite of the musty smelling bedroom. It is also by anyone's standards colossally expensive and I would assume way beyond the means of most of the inhabitants of Mumbai. I don't know whether I should feel discomfited by that. Perhaps one of the reasons I don't is that it's way beyond my means too and I would never be staying here under my own steam. It is also very convenient for the Actor Prepares school, being only 2 miles away, and as I have discovered, this city suffers from extraordinarily heavy traffic and very little reliance on traffic signals which makes getting from one side of town to another something of an odyssey. But, as has become our wont, Mr Bhatia and I braved the honking chaos outside and headed off to AP for tea and a cold-eyed look at the marketing plan and acompanying press release for the AP/UK launch with Mr Kottary, Mr Jadhav (Dean of the Mumbai school) and Mr Kker. There were some eccentric references in the press release which caused some specific concerns, but it was the breathless use of vulgar hyperbole which most enraged Mr Kher and claims which were optimistic at best and fraudulent at worst. You've got to love the PR industry! Anyway a bit of a rant ensued, entirely justifiably in my view, changes were suggested, actions delegated and then we went off for lunch. At this rate the plane will charge me excess baggage just for getting on the damn thing. The four proles clambered into Mr Bhatia's hatchback while Mr Kher's chauffeur-driven sedan purred on ahead of us. We had a very congenial if not entirely relaxed time; the three AP chaps do seem a little tense in Mr Kher's presence. He is good company during those snatched moments when he is not on one of his three (or was it four) mobile phones. It turns out that he is shooting in London after the 11th and we agree to meet up when he's in town. He also suggests what an excellent idea it would be were I to teach a class at AP before I return to blighty. "Oooohh errr...indeed...splendid idea!" was my not entirely sincere response. It's been a while since I taught a dama class but on reflection the idea quite appealed. After lunch we returned to the school and I sat in on one of Mr Jadhav's classes. It was conducted in Hindi predominantly with the odd excursion into English at times, I thought, for my benefit, but mostly because that's the way things are done. It soon became apparent, as the students worked their way through readily recognisable exercises, that all my concerns about the level of training which AP was delivering were unfounded. These were drama students, the same as drama students from London to Lhasa, speaking the same language, asking the same questions and being given the same answers by their teachers and mentors: "There is no answer, this is an exploration, you are on a journey." Blimey, what a relief. I watched Mr Jadhav conduct his class with the same mixture of amused supportiveness and dictatorial authority which I have seen so many times before. I watched the students go through feezeframes of adverts which they had been asked to recreate and generally had a very agreeable time. By now it was the end of the day and Mr Bhatia offered to drive me back to the hotel. But I had decided to walk the 2 miles or so back just to...I don't know really...just to breathe the air, I suppose. It wasn't a particularly nice walk but it was relatively enjoyable, past Juhu Beach, past a rather grand statue erected in 1994 which celebrated a noted "navel soldier". That was just one of several touching but rather high-profile misspellings I picked up on. The other which springs to mind appeared on the trailer on Star Sports TV for the NBA PlayOff World Series (or whatever) between the LA Lakers and the Boston Celtics couched in the usual bombastic sporty way: "AT LAST...ITS NOW...THE SERIES THE WORLD'S BEEN WAITING FOR...THE AGE-OLD RIVARLY IS BACK!" Rivarly? Shome mishtake surely! Anyway I eventually tottered into the icy interior of the Marriott, drenched, with bizzarre wet patches round my knees and limped towards the shade of the pool. You know the pattern after, dinner, sleep. I am nothing if not a creature of habit.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Tuesday 3rd June

Still getting the hang of this blogging malarkey and just discovered that all I'd inputted last night hadn't saved. I feel a bit miffed frankly since I was (of course) quite pleased with last night's musings. They were completely inconsequential obviously but none the less deathless prose for all that. There was something about breakfast I seem to remember which you'd have been utterly fascinated by I'm sure. But since all this stuff is post facto, I'll just have to make some more twaddle up instead. Anyway, Tuesday...and tonight's there was breakfast during which inspite of the vast array of curries, cereals, buns, biscuits, hams, cheeses and so on available for the hungry traveller, I restricted myself to fruit and a cup of tea. A man of iron discipline, that's me. I'd arranged to meet the Dean of the Actor Prepares school, Mr Hemendra Bhatia, in the hotel foyer and after we'd walked past eachother a couple of times (I blame the sunglasses indoors thing), we eventually bumped into eachother, exchanged hearty handshakes and off we went into the morning traffic with Mr Bhatia at the wheel. The school is a couple of miles from the hotel and is housed on two floors of the Film Welfare Trust building. What happens on the other two floors is a mystery to me but it doesn't appear to involve the Film Welfare Trust in any way at all. The school is mercifully airconditioned but not glacially. Mr Bhatia showed me round both floors which consisted essentially of two studio spaces and the admin offices, staffrooms and so on. I was introduced to the teaching staff who all seemed perfectly charming and whose English, like virtually everyone I have met here, was both idiomatic and faultless. The A/C was blasting away in Mr Sailesh Kottary's office which was where I was finally escorted and where we sat and shared a congenial cup of tea, brought into the room by one of the school's multitude of ancillary staff. One of the things one notices about India is the number of people doing very focussed jobs - one chap to open the door, one chap to pick up the bag, another to put the bag down, yet another to open another door and so on. For the middle classes and upwards nothing appears to be done which is not done for them. It's a bit of an eye opener frankly. Mr Kottary is Anupam Kher's business manager for the school, a journalist by profession and an amiable chap. We went through details of the prospectus and went through the list of issues which we were to discuss with Mr Kher himself. When the time came I was ushered into the presence of the great man himself, seated as he was behind his desk. There is no doubt that for Mr Kher (always Mr Kher and never Anupam), Actor Prepares is a labour of love and something which he feels particularly passionate about and committed to. He is in many ways a very unactorish actor and comes across as quite stern and lacking in any of the flamboyance which many people would associate with your cliched thesp. There is no doubt when he is in the room who the boss is and those who work with him clearly share his opinion of himself. I quite liked him although I'm not entirely sure what he made of me. Anyway we talked through the various challenges in terms of staffing and agreed that the Hindi-speaking acting coach would be the main challenge. Mr Kher suggested a name who he thought might be appropriate and we all agreed (for how could we do otherwise) that this would be a splendid idea. I suggested my own ideas regarding the use of a 1st AD to hold the acting for film and tv classes and that seemed to go down well. Mr Kher gave me the contact details of someone he had worked with on Bend it like Beckham and then we all retired for lunch in the staffroom. Splendid food arrived, delivered by one of the flunkies, and we all tucked in. More discussions followed as we talked through more pressing issues and it was past 4pm when I was dropped off by the charming Mr Bhatia back at the hotel. Four different people escorted me and my bag for the 20 feet or so I had to travel from the car to the lobby and to the pool for me. Did I tell you about the pool? No...tut, how remiss of me...this is one of them...and this is the other. Nice aren't they...a tad understated for my tastes but them I'm a simple man. The water was warm..and I do mean warm, like slipping under a quilt, under a big, wet, warm quilt. Eeeeughh! That sounds horrid but you know what I mean. Anyway I splashed around like Moby Dick for a while, excited the passing Japanese whaling fleet until I disappeared and promptly fell asleep in the shade.

Monday 2nd June

Arrived in Mumbai after the JetAir flight from Heathrow...bleary-eyed and inevitably disorientated. Flight was what you would expect from 9 hours in the air with about 2 hours sleep. Watched two lousy movies. Rambo 4 - blimey that Sly Stallone has piled on the pounds - and (don't laugh) Alien vs Predator The Final Showdown (or whatever it was called). Haven't the faintest idea what it was about, but it did involve alot of white-toothed young Mid-Westerners getting ripped apart, which was fine by me. No problems at the airport apart from a little local difficulty at the final checkpoint where it transpired that a little strip of my clearance document had dropped off. One of the two heavily-tashed gents at the desk stopped me and after some toing and froing, declared that he had a problem and I had a problem, but that the said problem would disappear by the simple expedient of me slipping him twenty quid! I maintained that I didn't do that sort of thing and that another solution needed to be found. We stood there smiling cagily at eachother until his taciturn partner heaved a heavy sigh and waved me through. So out in the open I was. The heat was glorious and I chose a non-airconditioned cab to luxuriate, if that's the word, in the full furnace. An interesting journey ensued as we weaved in and out of buses and rickshaws, all driven by blokes with an apparently careless disregard for their own or indeed anybody else's safety. As if that wasn't thrilling enough, I discovered my driver hadn't the faintest idea where my hotel was. Given that it's the size of Buckingham Palace, you'd have thought that it was difficult to miss, but he asked around abit and we got there eventually. The looks on the faces of the security guards and the Marwahaesque sardar at the entrance to the JW Marriott as the elderly taxi wheezed its way through the gates was something to behold. This was quite clearly the most knackered old deathtrap which had ever deposited an honoured guest at their establishment. In the cathedral-like lobby, chilly after the broiling heat of Mumbai, I passed through the hands of no fewer than five smiling beautiful young people before I reached my room, all of whom asked after my general well-being, how my journey had been, whether this was my first time in Bombay and assured me that if there was anything I needed I only had to ask. So into my room, which surprised me by smelling of damp, but frankly I was too knackered (and too English) to make a fuss. And some shut eye...then unpacking and then exploring. But more of that later.