The seven-part series, “Breaking Into Bollywood” discovers artists and workers in various departments of the mainstream Indian film industry – Bollywood. The motivation, the passion, the soul and the talent is unearthed over candid interviews and footage of the artists at work in the departments of dance, music, set design, fashion and style, mythology genre films, as well as artists who are foreign faces in the industry.
Episode Synopsis (7 X 10 mins)
Today, the term Bollywood defines a style, a walk, a talk, and to some extent, a sense of being in Mumbai. In this episode, Remo, a successful choreographer whose journey began as a backup dancer talks about how he made his mark in the industry. Moving onto the idea of Bollywood ‘fusion’, the dynamic duo, Harshall-Vitthal, share their story and how they have contributed to redefining the look and style of the song-and-dance sequences in Bollywood films today.
Laborer of Love
Before delving into the industry, it’s important to take a step back and take notice of the extra hands on a film set, crowding around like the men on a local train in Bombay. But unlike the local transportation system, these workers are organised and are associated with one of Asia’s biggest Unions compromising over 30,000 members. This giant work force in Mumbai is specialised because these carpenters, spot boys, and laborers only work within the film industry and are the backbone to delivering efficiency and quality on film sets. In this episode, the story of Prem Singh Thakur, the leader of the Union, is told. Often known as Premji, he came to Mumbai as a migrant worker, worked as a spotboy and eventually made his way to head the Workers’ Union and in particular, the Vigilance Committee, responsible for busting up sets to make sure workers are paid and treated fairly.
Picturing the Illusion
The Bollywood film industry has created its trademark with bright colors, scenic backdrops and intricate detailed work. Feeling nostalgia for the ‘old days’ of Indian cinema, in this episode, a gem of an artist, Narayanji, shares his story. He is responsible for creating some of the typical Bollywood film images that are a part of the Indian collective conscious. However in the age of technology and digitalization, it is difficult for Narayanji to survive with his gutter pump and paintbrushes. Another old-time artist, Bal Krishna, who hand-paints film posters, is one of the last ones standing. He has painted posters for almost every popular Hindi film since the 70s, and today his small studio is barely running as no one but foreigners and kitschy art collectors are interested in his work.
Rooting the Story: Mythology in Indian Film and Television
This episode steps outside of the Bollywood film sets and looks at a making-of a mythology based television serial in India. When television was first introduced, these serials were ground-breaking. At the set of a show called “Ravan”, the director, Ranjan Singh reveals the challenges involved in creating believable real-life characters out of prototypes of famous Gods and Goddesses in Hindu mythology. As his show is a controversial take on the Ramayana, his work is burdened with an even greater challenge of telling a timeless classic under scrutiny.
The Lonely Planet travel guide lists “being a Bollywood extra” as an activity that one must-do while in Mumbai. Digging beyond just the backpackers who are extras on film sets, this episode reveals the small industry of foreign artists or white-skinned Indians who are successfully working in the film industry. In this episode, Harry Key shares his journey coming to India as a backpacker and deciding to stay back to work in the film industry. Harry explains how he is typecast as a villain in a colonial period film, a sexy white man in a music video or in his earlier days, as an extra in a Bollywood dance sequence. On the other hand, there is Tom Alter, who looks like a foreigner but is born and raised in India and thus speaks perfect hindi. Through his journey, it becomes clear that anyone who does not look typically ‘Indian’ (referring to mostly north-Indian features) is thought of as a ‘foreigner’ in the industry. Tom began his career in the 1970s after graduating from one of India’s leading film institutes, and has starred in numerous films as well as theatre productions in Mumbai, making him one of the most well-known ‘foreign’ faces of India.
India has many races and faces, yet the iconic images of ‘India’ are created and mirrored on the Bollywood sets. An Indian woman is defined on screen with close-up shots of her kohl-defined eyes, cascading highlighted locks, sexy curves gyrating in sequences and colorful outfits. As A-list celebrities in India create their own brand, youngsters look upon them to image themselves with a particular haircut, makeup style or fashion sense. In this episode, Ojas Rajani, tells us how he became trusted and known with the A-list of Bollywood actresses. Along with Ojas, Mumbai’s hip hairstylist, Sapna Bhavnani and wig-maker, Surendra Salve, give their insights on how hair and makeup have evolved and changed over the years as the role of women in films have to.
The Heartbeat of Bombay
The heartbeat of Mumbai is undoubtedly a medley of Bollywood music. From the dhoom of the traditional percussions to the pumping electronic beats, a film score is always released first as it establishes the essence and popularity of a film even before its release. Mixing traditional/classical instruments and eclectic sample beats, Bollywood music embraces Mumbai with its cacophony of street sounds, shouts and stir-craziness. In this episode, Bollywood music is explored through the insights of one of Bollywood’s most well known Musicians-cum-Music Directors, the trio, Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy, and the duo, Vishal-Shekhar. These composers work with some of the top fusion artists in India such as Naveen Kumar, a flutist, and Shivamani, a percussionist. Along with these well-known artists, newcomers such as singers Raman Mahadevan and Shweta Pandit, share their insights about where Bollywood music is going today.