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Shooting with SRK, Rani
Aseem Chhabra | August 03, 2006 17:54 IST
Last year, Bombay Jen stood at One Exchange Plaza in Jersey City, New Jersey, USA, holding an umbrella with a stranger. She had never seen this man before, but the two were extras in Karan Johar's Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna, pretending to be in love with each other.
Right in front of Jen were Shah Rukh Khan and Rani Mukerji -- also under the umbrella, trying to avoid getting drenched from the artificial rain machine.
"Here was this person I have never seen before and he didn't know any of the actors," says Jen, a poet, spiritual healer and a tarot card reader from New Castle, Pennsylvania. "For him, they could have been local actors from a college. And he kept complaining he was hungry and cold. And I said 'Be quiet; I drove 400 miles to be here.'"
Jen, 37, is in love with Bollywood films -- a love affair that started when she and her friend Paul Meidinger accidentally stopped into an Indian store in the American state of Virginia and bought a large stock of Hindi film soundtracks and DVDs.
Last autumn, when they learnt from various Bollywood film discussion groups that Johar was shooting KANK in and around New York City, they contacted casting agents through craigslist.com.
And they drove three times, 800 miles round-trip, from the western border of Pennsylvania to New York City, just so that they could see their favourite movie stars -- Shah Rukh, Rani, Preity Zinta, and the most special for Jen -- Abhishek Bachchan.
Jen and Meidinger are a part of growing group of Americans -- professionals, often with families, who discovered Bollywood films in the recent years and then jumped at the opportunity to act as extras in a couple of high profile Indian films that were shot in the New York area in 2005.
Princeton resident Joan Hsiao discovered Bollywood when a friend lent her a copy of Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam. She made her family -- husband Trace Korman, son Milo, 12 and daughter Sylvie, 10, watch the movie.
"We loved the music," Hsiao, 42 says. "I loved the style of the movie." And she became a huge fan of Salman Khan, she adds with a laugh.
Milo and Sylvie became fans of Shah Rukh after seeing Kal Ho Naa Ho and Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. "Yeah, it's fun," Milo, who studies in the seventh grade (equivalent to the Indian seventh standard), says about Bollywood films.
Korman, 42, has also watched a few Bollywood films. "Some are fantastic and some are in desperate need of editing, to make them shorter," he says. "Sometimes they tell a joke once, then they tell it twice and they tell it three times."
When Salman came to New York with Akshay Kumar and Zinta to shoot Shirish Kunder's Janeman, Hsiao could not miss the chance to see her favourite star at work.
She did two days of stint as an extra on the film -- in Trenton, New Jersey, and then at Newark Airport. She earned $75 (about Rs 3,375) in cash for each day's work. In her spare time, she drove with friends to see the film being shot in Times Square in Manhattan.
Later, on a Saturday, Hsiao brought her family to New York City's Grand Central Station to act as extras in KANK The Korman-Hsiao family each got paid $60 (about Rs 2,700) by cheque for the shoot.
"Milo and I were together watching my daughter and Joan," says Korman. "Joan had this magical ability to be right next to Shah Rukh, every time the camera was on him."
The kids did get tired and after lunch, Korman took his daughter to see a baseball game at Shea Stadium. Meanwhile, the ever enterprising Hsiao took her son to the Brooklyn Bridge to watch Salman shoot a song for Janeman.
Hsiao met Virginia Kelley, a Manhattan-based psychologist at the Grand Central Station shoot of KANK. Kelley has been interested in India from the time when she worked as an editor for a book publishing company, especially on Madhur Jaffrey's early cook books. She attended parties at Jaffrey's home where she met several Indian Americans and also guests visiting from India. Later, Kelley began watching Indian films.
Her first introduction was to the works of Raj Kapoor and Shashi Kapoor, but in recent years she has started admiring the current crop of Bollywood actors, especially Shah Rukh Khan.
"I have become a Shah Rukh freak," Kelley says. "I don't think there is anybody like him. He is a wonderful actor."
In KANK, Kelley played the role of a business traveler at Grand Central Station, walking the New York institution's long hall and looking at the train schedule board. There was plenty of food, but long gaps between takes and then the same shot repeated again and again. But she had fun time watching Shah Rukh with a little boy, and Rani with a girl.
"Oh I was totally excited," Kelley says. "I had no regrets. I couldn't do it every day. And I am sorry I wore high heels. Otherwise it was great."
"Shah Rukh moved around like a normal person," she says. "I have seen him a few times now. If there is something to be picked up at his end, he will pick it up. Rani mostly keeps to herself, not unfriendly, but different."
Later, Kelley also got a chance to be in a wedding scene shoot at Capitale in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. The long day's shoot started at 8 am, and went on until 2.30 am the next day. In the scene, Abhishek Bachchan was getting married to the model Saira Mohan -- who is part Indian and Kelley saw women dressed in elaborate saris and other colourful outfits.
Other stars in the wedding scene included Mukerji and Zinta. But the surprise was around midnight when Shah Rukh turned up to watch the shoot with his wife Gauri.
"He was very involved in it," Kelley recalls. "Maybe, kind of co-directing. He was not in the shoot, but he stayed for the rest of the shoot and he talked to the actors too."
Jen's first day of shoot at KANK was at the crossing of 63rd and Madison Avenue in Manhattan, followed by one day in Jersey City and then finally at a restaurant where Johar was shooting a Valentine's Day scene.
Meidinger, 52, a part-time electrical engineer, and a psychic and a medium also accompanied her for the three days' shoot. They were later paid $180 (about Rs 8,100) each.
"You are really not busy at all," Jen says. "As an extra, you spend a lot of time being patient, waiting for someone to come over and say 'We are going to do this scene.' It is a very difficult to hear what the actors are saying. And they don't have megaphones saying 'Action.' If you go the bathroom, you might miss being in a scene."
At the Valentine's Day shoot, the extras pool had more women than men, and so Jen sat back in the holding area, while Meidinger got to be in the scene on a table next to where Abhishek and Rani were seated. Abhishek wore a white tuxedo shirt, with black buttons, and what appeared to be a velvet jacket, while Rani was dressed in a colourful sari. Shah Rukh and Preity were also in the shoot.
At first, Jen was upset because she was not included in the shoot. But then, she got to say hello to Abhishek and that made her day.
"You shouldn't cross any celebrity boundaries," Jen says. "You do not want to impose on them. But I said to myself I have driven all this way, to see these people that I admire and they live in India. How often would this happen?"
"So I said here's my chance with destiny. I just approached and gave him a gift of CDs and DVDs of my guru Sri Ganapati Sachchidananda. He took them and was very humble."
Meidinger got to shake Shah Rukh's hand. "That was my high point," he says. "There was this very kindly energy in his handshake. He is very considerate. It made the trip worthwhile."
The two found Johar very considerate of the actors. "He is not high pressure," Meidinger says. "He seems to handle stress and he seems to be listening to the actors."
"They all get along very well," Jen adds. "I saw Karan give Shah Rukh and Rani a hug the first day. I saw Abhishek massaging Preity Zinta's shoulders at one time. It was a like a family. They really care about each other."
Kelley's nicest memory was at the end of the wedding day shoot. As she stepped out in the early hours of the morning, she saw Shah Rukh on a bench, eating a pizza.
"I am sure his bodyguards were nearby," she says. "But I am sure he did that just to give to the people who had been there the whole day. He let people take pictures and get his autographs."
"It was a very nice ending. It was a blessing."