Freudian Slips: Hindiana Jones

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Location: Irony, New Jersey, United States

Life takes us many places. It's a box of chocolates and a Hansel and Gretal trail of candy wrappers. I have filmed as an actor in The Happening, Invincible, The Lovely Bones, The Bounty Hunter, The Greek American, Bazookas, Limitless, TV's Its Always Sunny in Philly, Outlaw, New York, The Warrior, The Nail, Game Change, Cold Case, & commercial work includes The Philadelphia Eagles, Septa, Coors, Turbo Tax & Carnival Cruises. Freudian Slips spotlights irony in short story format.

December 05, 2005

Hindiana Jones

Background actors are rarely selective of their movie roles. So it didn’t take much more than a call from my casting company to my cell phone last Thursday to reel me in.
The foreign movie is KANK, an Indian film starring two of the country’s biggest actors Shah Rukh Khan and Rani Mukherji. The plot focuses on the romance of Jai(Shah Rukh Khan) and Shalini(Rani Mukherji) who are both married to other people. Indian audiences traditionally demand their movies to draw from elements of song and dance. Bollywood, a blend of Bombay and Hollywood, has been infusing the movie industry in India with a departure from tradition.
30th Street train station in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania provided the backdrop for the Grand Central Station set. The movie set had rented an entire rail station but we were not alone. Police on the scene and barricades holding back a frenzy thong were the first indicators that these actors were world renowned. I brushed the early morning sleepies from my eyes and gave my name upon my arrival at the station. About ninety extras waited in a cattle shoot before we were handed an adhesive sticker identifying us as EXTRA, DHARMA PRODUCTIONS. The status allowed us to be herded passed the security checkpoint and unto the set. Now part of the cast in a caste system, could this acting gig be very, very good to me?
Idling in the staging area of the train, I started to ponder what language is spoken in India. A group of extras playing Trivial Pursuit nearby did not make my trivial pursuit a long wait.
“What is the primary language spoken in India?” echoed a Trivial Pursuit reader.
My ears did not deceive me. “Hindi.” was read off the card.
Like rubles in the sky with diamonds, the bi-lingual Hindi and English speaking crew voiced excitement over the forecast for snow while the actors had all they could handle in the cold wintry outdoor shoot. As far as the non-weather related stars, let me say that Shah Rukh Khan and Rani Mukherji are both breathtakingly beautiful and gracious. In fact, the entire film crew was pleasant although difficult at times to understand. When my eyes saw the diminutiveness of the star actors on the movie set, I knew I was going to be huge in India.
On the set, our roles were handed out to us. I played a New York City train passenger. If my role sounds less than glamorous, realize that everyone played a train passenger. The only difference in roles was if you were boarding, disembarking, or stuck on a train for whatever scene being shot. They piped background Indian music in one scene and select extras had to comically dress in blue for the musical number. Since I followed the casting company’s instructions to the letter of the law, I came prepared for a costume change to bright blue. I was rewarded, I think, with a part in the number. Egad, I almost glowed in my winter hat, gloves, and sweatpants. When the crew cruelly added a blue sweatshirt and blue skateboard to my ensemble, it was no surprise that I got ‘Papa Smurf’ catcalls from the other fun loving extras. Twenty four hours earlier my life was status quo but somehow I found myself a blueberry ripe for the picking in a musical number of a foreign film!
While we were filming a scene on the platform of the tracks in regular clothes, Shah Rukh Khan’s jaunt around the concourse with his handsome travel bag reminded me of Hindiana Jones in a complimentary leading man way. Between the roar of the trains and the heavy accent of our instructors, it was reasonable to suggest that we had just finished a single take of many more to come. So we were told to return to our marks and not move. About fifty actors held their exact positions waiting for further instruction. Frozen in time and space, the background actors made it look like the Earth had stood still. Out of the corner of my eye, I caught the movement of a man not wearing a KANK crew jacket. The infiltrator actually walked up to the extra playing my wife and I on the set.
“Is this the R5 to Doylestown?” he asked in baritone innocence.
“No. This is a movie set.” answered my pretend wife. After he did an about face, we giggled endlessly as only newlyweds could and that is how the R5 to Doylestown became our wedding song.
I got in some choice scenes with the lead actors so my fate now rests with the mercy of the editing floor. Allow me to set the stage. I had three scenes that I actually had physical contact with the lead actors and let me go on the record by saying that two were not entirely my fault.
Gaffe #1. While my wardrobe changed from a backpack traveler to Smurf skateboarder all of my scenes were filmed on the concourse. The actors moved in between extras on the concourse. Scratch that. The actors moved in between the extras skillful at the moveable furniture role before them. I seemed to Helen Keller it by getting in the way. One scene called for me to walk over power cords, around a bucket that caught melting snow, over a floor track that swung the camera around for a panoramic view, then end with sidestepping the lovers embrace in the middle of the concourse with all of the above accomplished while I stared straight ahead. I moved with fleet footed agility through the obstacle course but my sidestep cut it too close and Rani’s pocketbook swung right into my gut. Thankfully, the camera was positioned on the other side of the action and it obstructed not only the view but my cower too.
Gaffe #2. During this scene, 75 extras approximated the hustle and bustle of a transformed Grand Central Station. Our movements were loosely choreographed. I had to walk a straight line as the leading lady frantically ran to catch the train. I was told to exit right of the set once the moving camera and heroine of our show got close. Shah Rukh was to occupy the spot where I vacated to board the train. Like the pocketbook caper, this too is Oscar material for background actors who usually appear as unrecognizable blurs far away on the screen. I needed my cameo to go off without a hitch. The first take went well. Into our second take, however, I aptly moved to my right without noticing that the debonair Shah Rukh setup in a different entry spot. He was to take my spot on the set not the sidelines. I must have felt like a big linebacker to him because when he bumped into me he muttered, “Aye.” Thankfully, he caught the train because my underwear was starting to feel skid marks on the track. Shah Rukh must not have harbored any hard feelings because he let me hold his lit cigarette between takes.
Gaffe #3. On another take, the gorgeous Rani runs the length of the track searching for someone or something. extras weren’t given the details so I had no clue whether she lost her puppy or way home. As luck would have it, Rani ran right by me clutching unsuspecting Americans. She didn’t touch me on the first take but on the second take she jerked my elbow. I must have looked really surprised as an unsuspecting American but I adopted the Misner school of traditional acting by giving her a bewildered look. Misner might have called me a natural although acting had nothing to do with my primal reaction.
Smurf impersonations and gaffes aside, a funny thing happened on my way to the public restroom on Saturday. As I climbed down the steps leading back to the station, I saw a crowd of salivating fans behind the roped off barricades.
A face in the crowd yelled, “Look, here comes an actor.”
Of course, I turned to look for celebrity but the voice meant the designation for me in the most liberal of terms in cinema history.
“What can you tell us is happening up there?” asked a young female devotee.
“Ugh me? Well, I just had a scene with Rani. She ran passed me and grabbed my arm.” I outstretched my coat. “She touched me right here.” I offered my arm to the crowd. I whipped them into frenzy and they all felt the leather of my coat and eked incredible “Ooohs and Aahs”. Eventually, they even returned my arm to its rightful position in my socket. Since I almost barred dismembership, let’s just say I won’t do that prank again.
I filmed for 21 hours this weekend on this film and the train never left the station. I can’t wait for the release in 2006 to see how they transform this Indian film into a departure.

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17 Comments:

Blogger Merci said...

"...I knew I was going to be huge in India." LOL - One of your finest double entendres!

4:54 PM  
Anonymous prican411 said...

Its funny how you mention Helen Keller being that the lead actress--Rani Mukherji--recently acted in a Bollywood version of the Miracle Worker, and is called Black


Thanks for the great description of your account as an extra in KANK

2:28 PM  
Anonymous Darshana said...

Hi Joe - I loved your account of being an extra in Philly. Has anyone told you that there is a website where a lot of us have been following this filming since in started in New York?

The website is bollywhat.com. We are mostly people who are crazy about Bollywood but did not grow up with it. Lots of extras have written their stories and posted pictures, and we'd love to have yours too if you feel like posting it there.

3:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I enjoyed your account sooo much. Too bad you have'nt been around for the NY, NJ,CT, shoots . You would have had an epic.

3:54 PM  
Blogger Joe Tornatore said...

merci,
a huge entrende.

prican,
coincidences are all around us.

darshana,
you have a beautiful name. It sounds like royalty. i will check out bollywhat.com.

anonymous,
two days in the cold was enough for me.

7:23 PM  
Anonymous sandidi said...

Man, this was a scintillating read, extremely entertaining...thanx so much! I am an Aussie who's totally devoted to Shah Rukh and so many of SRK's fans can only dream of an experience like yours...

12:06 AM  
Blogger Joe Tornatore said...

sandido,
If I never wanted to work in acting again, I could have saved his cigarette for an Ebay auction.
Share with your friends and visit again.

12:36 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hey joe ...u r really lucky to hav met SHAHRUKH KHAN ....he iz truely worldz biggest star as quoted by time magazine....btw ur account ws really good...thx

8:58 AM  
Anonymous PrettY WomaN said...

Thanx for ur account Joe.it was very good.it has my Fav SRK n also Preity zinta .i will check out for u when i watch the movie.

12:39 PM  
Blogger Srkfan89 said...

hehehe.. that was really funny :) glad u had a good time being an extra for kank! il look out for u when the movie comes out :)

7:15 AM  
Blogger Joe Tornatore said...

srkfan,
with a name like that, you must be a real fan.

10:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey joe. what a great piece of writing. i thoroughly enjoyed the post and will surely be back for more.
In KANK will definitely watch out for the guy who bumped into SRK and got (ahem) pocketbooked by Rani :-) in a blue Smurfsuit.

thanks for your account...

9:13 AM  
Blogger Joe Tornatore said...

anonymous,
I enjoyed writing the piece Hindiana Jones so much it made it as a finalist for best blog posting for 2005. I should say that I control all of the votes. lol.

6:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Believe me u will be famous, all SRK and Rani Fans that read this will give u a warm smile when u apear at the screen. we wont forget your face :) thank you

8:42 AM  
Blogger Joe Tornatore said...

Anonymous,
Just hoping to make the final cut. thanks for the feedback.

6:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great fun to read. I have gotta see the movie. What fun that must have been. Emily

4:12 PM  
Blogger Joe Tornatore said...

emily,
glad you found your way back to the blog.

9:02 PM  

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