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I Was a Bollywood Extra

By Will Bleakley

Feb 11, 2016

From the March/April 2016 issue

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Flickr.com/Kevin Dooley

The story of an accidental actor

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Back to the Future meets Bollywood. That’s how a casting agent on a Mumbai street corner pitched the movie to me. What this stranger lacked in credentials, I lacked in situational awareness. No place had ever disoriented me like Mumbai. And when you’re alone in a massive city, it’s surprisingly easy to say yes to being in an Indian time travel musical.

In the agent’s unmarked van I sat next to an American girl. We didn’t say a word but caught each other’s nervous glances as the journey to a film set “just around the corner” approached hour four. Just as I began plotting my escape, we arrived at a studio lot full of colorful fake buildings resembling a Hollywood Western on acid. 

Miss World 1994, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, and her entourage dominated the set. I wore a 1980s purple suit with giant lapels. The director told me and the American girl to act like we were in a “love marriage.” I even had a line: “Congratulations!”

After 14 hours, I was given 500 rupees and taken back to Mumbai. Alone again, I was unsure of my next step. Maybe I’d find a museum. Or maybe I’d end up in a Bollywood version of RoboCop. Either one would be an adventure worth taking.

>> Next: You Can Pay to Attend a Traditional Wedding in India

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