It was a week before Diwali (which is like Christmas in India) and thousands of people were shopping in the open air markets buying colorful lights, flowers and gifts for the upcoming celebration. Shoppers were rummaging through piles of shoes and rugs and everything you could possibly imagine while taxis and mopeds inched their way through the thick crowds. It was chaotic yet strangely orderly and beautiful. The sounds were intense as the shopkeepers, shoppers and car horns all fought for attention. No one seemed upset and everyone went about their business. My goal was to make sure I never lost sight of the man with the yellow and white striped Charlie Brown looking shirt. He was our Mumbai guide and it was his job to make sure I didn’t disappear.
It was about 4:30 and the sun was about to set. It was the magic hour, the moment you live for as a filmmaker. Our journey was about to come to close in a spectacular fashion. Three cities in 6 days, Bangalore, Chennai and finally Mumbai. I had quite the entourage. Hussain my Director of Photography and Satish, the Audio Engineer were both from Delhi and travelled with us. Jennifer and Maxine were the clients but they were more like Den Mothers making sure I didn’t eat or touch anything that would make me ill. Plus the crew from Tata Consultancy Services that assisted us in every possible way. It was like traveling with Indian royalty.
Hussain was the serious and focused Director. Satish, the Audio Engineer had an easy smile and laughed a lot. He regaled us with incredible stories of his last production with the Dali Lama. His easy going nature was only disrupted with the occasional “Quiet on the set! Silence please!” They made a great team.
As we continue further into the market, the crowd begins to thin out. Through the haze I see a mosque at the end of the street. Behind me is the traffic and noise of the square. I turn to Hussain and pointed up. “Can we get above the crowd?” He turns to this fellow with a thick red “Duck Dynasty” beard and a white hat. He mumbles something and points up.
I hesitantly follow Hussain, Satish into the building, past the noise and color of the markets and into a quiet dimly lit hallway. The air has a stale smell and two dogs lie panting in front of us. Then it hits me. This lily white American is walking into a random building in the heart of Mumbai with about 25 grand in camera gear. Is this adventurous or foolish?
Mumbai is the home of Bollywood and filmmakers are required to carry permits (which we didn’t have) and warned that filming in public will most likely attract police and crowds of onlookers. But I felt completely safe with my companions as the attendant pressed “3” in the rickety elevator. Hussain takes us through a maze of hallways and we finally we find the apartment with the view. It’s clear that it belongs to the red-bearded man, because standing by the window is his red-bearded son. The panoramic view of the market square revealed a 100,000 or more merry shoppers. We thank the son and returned to the street without incident. It was the most amazing 2 hours of filming ever.
Each city had a distinct vibe. Our first stop, TCS Bangalore has a glass replica of the Epcot dome. While shooting inside and I noticed the glass was kind of dirty. I turned and jokingly said to our handler, “Someone needs to clean these windows.” An hour later we see a man suspended from the dome of the roof cleaning the windows!
All the TCS campuses were incredibly clean and modern, especially TCS Siruseri in Chennai, the largest campus in Asia. It’s a breathtaking structure. From the top it looks like a butterfly and from the front an Indian Temple. A 400 meter spine connects one side of the campus to the other. Over 30,000 people work there.
Siruseri is about 90 minutes from Chennai and TCS workers shuttle by bus. One day our film crew took one of those buses to shoot broll and interviews. I saw a lot along the way. The real unvarnished India you won’t see in the travel guides.
An ancient current flows through India. And yet in many ways it’s quite metropolitan. It’s not uncommon to see a luxury condominium or a high-end shopping mall right next to a shanty town. There is no separation. Imagine rush hour traffic in LA but with no one observes the lanes. I would hold my breath as the driver would zip into oncoming traffic and the shoulder to pass. Craziness I tell you but that is the norm. BMWs and Rolls-Royces speeding by a family of four on a single moped. Carrying a microwave. With no helmets.
My colleague Jennifer confided, “Jeff, you wouldn’t believe how much it’s changed since my first trip 10 years ago.” For all India’s progress I saw many things that were difficult to witness. India impacted me in many ways, some I’m not sure I can even put into words. It’s something you have to see for yourself to understand. As I reviewed the images and footage from my travels, I realized that capturing what’s real is just as important as capturing what is beautiful.
The production schedule was tight, so I missed out on most of the tourist attractions. But the trade off was getting to the people.
Our two main characters, Namrata and Rameez, the Rajeshes, Amit, Maxine, Jen, Raj, Kiki and dozens more. For six days the cast, crew and clients were one big family. At mealtimes, we shared stories about our families, upbringing and culture. I met so many incredibly smart, innovative and hard-working people that work for a fraction of an American salary. They are proud of their accomplishments and rightly so, but never arrogant; incredibly gracious and kind.
I cannot wait to go back.
There are many more stories to share, like the time we almost missed our flight to Chennai because I had to dump my ENTIRE video suitcase for airport security, but we’ll have to save those for another time.