The first thing I noticed about Bombay, on that first day, was the smell of the different air. It’s the blue skin-smell of the sea, no matter where you are in the Island City, and the blood-metal smell of machines. It smells of the stir and sleep and waste of sixty million animals, more than half of them humans and rats. It smells of heartbreak, and the struggle to live, and of the crucial failures and loves that produce our courage. It smells of ten thousand restaurants, five thousand temples, shrines, churches, and mosques, and of a hundred bazaars devoted exclusively to perfumes, spices, incense, and freshly cut flowers.’
I’ve been back in Australia for one week now and already, India feels like a dream. I’ve fallen back into mundane routines. It’s week two of the uni semester and I’m back to work. The busy cycle of adrenaline and fatigue has already taken away that freeing feeling of confidence and possibility I brought back with me to Australia. For some reason unbeknownst to me, I find myself thinking about the pink soap box of Sard I left back in India in the guest-house. I tried once to wash my clothes by hand, only to be left with damp clothes smelling of dirty air, curry and vomit. As unpleasant as this reflection is, it reminds me of the reality of India. I must remember that study tour wasn’t all smooth sailing and exploring. There were times in India that were very challenging for me. Despite this, India was great. It’s fueled me with knowledge. It’s changed my ambitions, my perceptions. It’s changed my life.
I think back to when we visited the set in Vasai. The area seemed very industrial in contrast to the green landscapes surrounding it. People across the road from our bus were chipping away at white stone in the sun. As we walked closer to the set, we passed a group of ladies working with clothes. They sat in an area that looked like the back of a petrol station or a dirty, concrete toilet block. And yet, in their hands they held beautiful, intricate, colourful garments. ‘Embroidery for film costume overlaps considerably with embroidery for private clients and the fashion market, and its specialists share the same social attributes. Several independent workshops are located in known slum areas of the city, where artisanal industry flourishes owing to the concentration of urban craftspeople and the availability of affordable space’ (Wilkinson-Weber, 2014).
The culture of India and the Bollywood industry runs so differently, so uniquely. Everyone and everything has purpose or potential. The slums aren’t seen as places of poverty, but, rather places of productivity. I went to India expecting to see an industry like Hollywood where people pursue film from an early age for the creativity and the popularity. In India, you work for money and for survival. Even those with a lot of money produce films ‘to sell popcorn’ and pocket the rupees. Professionals in Bollywood acquire skills through practice and seem willing to take on anyone with a drive to learn.
On the set in Vasai, we talked to well-renowned actor, Sachin Tyagi. He seemed more than willing to speak to us and was very charming. He admitted that sometimes acting is good but, most of the time it is torture. What I loved most about the study aspect of study tour was learning from the honesty of people in the industry. Here in Australia, I feel that guest speakers always strive to be inspirational. They are all about fulfilling dreams. In India, Vivek Vaswani taught me that ‘you have to set goals, not dreams. Because, you wake up from dreams and they are gone. Always deal with facts when you make decisions. You must make mistakes.’ These are truths I needed to hear. These are facts that work in the entertainment industry, an industry that is quite frankly, less about dreams coming true and more about profit.
In the meeting with Hansal Mehta, we were told that in India, everyone’s values, the things they say even, come from what they’ve seen in films. I feel that even at twenty years of age I am still confused about my own identity and my own values. This study tour has made me surer than ever that the way I’m going to form values and learn in my life is to do what I’m passionate about, travel. Meetings in India taught me that if I pursue producing I should take advantage to co-produce on international projects, get to know international filming laws and treaties. Working internationally in film would be an invaluable experience. However, I’m not sure if I’d focus on producing. Learning so much about producing and directing made me realise that maybe it’s not for me. I think I’m more passionate about writing, specifically travel writing or scriptwriting.
I found myself very drawn to and inspired by the meeting we had with the scriptwriter. It was interesting to observe that the scriptwriter had the ability to balance writing for films with other roles in the industry. He still had time on top of this to engage with his hobby, creating mash-ups and film trailers. At Everymedia, I learned that in public relations you take a small part of an interview and turn it into a big story. In the same way, I suppose I’ve taken a small aspect of the study tour and brought it to the forefront of my mind.
Listening to the scriptwriter, taught me that telling a story you want to tell will make you enjoy writing. One day you’ll read something and think ‘there’s an idea there.’ You have to believe in the idea because you will spend six months with it. ‘Any script that we write we make sure it’s not more than two locations because if I have to freight the equipment to 5 different locations, I’ll go crazy if I don’t have that kind of money to move. Dangerous Ishq is a film that actually needs 5 different locations, but I’m shooting one around Bombay and shooting around Rajasthan and finding everything there, otherwise I would have to go to Mysore and go to Calcutta, and I can’t afford that’ (Tejaswini, 2013). This reflection from Tejaswini reminds me that if I pursue scriptwriting or any role in the entertainment industry, I need to remain realistic. I need to be smart about the content I create and make the most of the resources available to me. In the scriptwriting meeting, I also learned that inspiration often comes out of writing for other projects. I believe that in my life, a lot of what I do will stem out of working a variety of jobs. I am an indecisive person and my career will likely be fluid as a result.
There are so many pieces of advice I learned on study tour that I can apply to any profession in creative industries. Hansal Mehta for instance, taught me that it is important to stick with a story and always have a pitch and a visual in your mind. And, never forget the heart of your story. As Gautam Kohli said, have a big idea and take it to the end. Suparn Verma taught me that industry is about establishing relationships and using them, there is nothing else to it. Komal Lath taught me that you should always have teams of three so you can depend on at least A, B or C being available. You should have about six people in your line of business and you should have a point one and a point two. Point two should have a link directly to the person you need to reach, perhaps a star or a valuable contact. Komal Lath also reminded me of a crucial fact. Everyone in society wants something for an exchange. ‘Filmmaker Arin Crumley, of Four-Eyed Monsters fame, attended Cannes this year to make connections for his next, in-progress feature. He describes his strategy: My process has been talk my way into events I’m not on the list at, talk to people about what they’re looking for, and through my own insights and ideas, see if I can help them. And through that people are offering to help me. It’s been a big lesson in working together as a community’ (Macaulay, 2012).
Study tour gave me the opportunity to learn information that I’d never considered before from people who live in a culture so different to my own. The fact that I’ve been to India gives me an advantage. I should take aspects of the way India works and apply it to my work in Australia. For example, in writing I can consider the structure used for content in Bollywood. Structure in Indian film is much different to Hollywood. In Bollywood, there are two different movies in one, before and after the interval. In Creative and Professional Writing we learn to avoid being cliché. By writing a story with the same structure as a Bollywood film, I immediately move away from what is cliché in the Western world. I can produce something with my background knowledge of Bollywood that will separate my work from other people’s.
I am so thankful for the experience of study tour. It was such a privilege to learn from inspirational and genuine people who seemed so confident in you and willing to help you. In Australia, most professionals in the industry would not give you the light of day. Sharing this experience with a group of students who are so like-minded and driven and interesting was what made study tour the best it could be. I miss the experience every day. It is amazing how transformative three weeks of your life can be.
Take me back to the fifth of July. I want to do it all again.
First published on Carmel’s blog.
Ganti, Tejaswini. 2013. Bollywood. 2nd ed. New York: Routledge.
Macaulay, Scott. 2012. “12 Tips on Networking from the Cannes Film Festival.” Filmmaker, May 30. Accessed August 10, 2015. http://filmmakermagazine.com/46168-1-tips-on-networking-from-the-cannes-film-festival/#.Vccp1vlbGed.
Roberts, Gregory D. 2003. Shantaram. Australia: Scribe Publications.
Wilkinson-Weber, Clare M. 2014. Fashioning Bollywood: The Making and Meaning of Hindi Film Costume. 1st ed. London: Bloomsbury Academic.