Vivek Smells Good:
A Stunt-Double's Experiences On The Set of KISNA
note: Kaya, a journalist and BollyWHAT? forum member, worked
as an extra on several Hindi films and commercials during 2004,
getting up-close views of actors at work including Shahrukh,
Aamir, Rani Mukherjee, Karisma Kapoor, and Akshay Kumar. Below
is a compilation of posts she made after being drafted into
playing the stunt-double for Antonia Bernath on the sets of
Subhash Ghai's Kisna, including her first-hand account of Vivek's
the first time since my work on the set of 'The Rising,' I piled
into an SUV before dawn for a ride into the countryside, sleepy
cinematographers for company. We arrived at a lonely plain with
a view of the Western Ghats (hills) in the background. The scene
was familiar -- trailers, growing heat, dust, horses, tiny plastic
cups of chai.
job: be the stand-in for the lead British actress if needed
during an action sequence. I had similar height, similar hair.
They handed me a dress, stockings and too-big shoes. Then the
hairdresser took me into a trailer and for the next hour transformed
my hair into cute little ringlets (kind of like Aishwarya Rai's
hair in 'Kyon Ho Gaya Na').
was only then that I realized the talented Mr. Oberoi was indeed
on set. The hairdresser, keeping an eye out the window as she
curled, had already pointed out director Subhash Ghai walking
past in a bush hat and khakis. Now she said, suddenly, 'Vivek.'
I stood up and took the curling iron with me. 'Where?'
she answered in Hindi shrugging. 'He's gone.' Off to the set.
I had missed him. She seemed amused by my response and would
say 'Vivek' a couple more times just to see what I'd do.
soon realized that the trailer, with toilet and lighted mirror
and sofa and AC and TV that got no channels, was essentially
mine. Mine! No man would come in while I was there, so I curled
up by the tinted window with a book and kept the peripheral
vision sharp for Vivek walking by.
enough, the lead actress walked by on her way to the set, and
a few minutes later a dark, long-haired man in a turban walked
by in the shade of an assistant's umbrella. I hopped up and
was standing by the day's main prop, a two-horse carriage. The
actress was already in position. A half-dozen people attended
to Vivek, retying his headband and adjusting a black wrap around
his shoulders. Subhash Ghai stood there as well. Vivek looked
rustic in black and maroon homespun cloth -- a pair of brown
canvas shoes didn't look very period (1940s), but ah well. Vivek
looked serious, speaking to everyone in Hindi. He didn't have
a 'star' attitude, but he wasn't Mr. Cheery either.
he climbed into place on the carriage, but someone finally realized
that paid duplicates were on set, and quickly I and a man named
Yako were in the carriage and holding on as it rolled across
the plain with horsemen in pursuit.
enough. We did the rehearsals, they did the takes.
one rehearsal, Vivek said something and Yako climbed down. Vivek
was climbing up next to me. I hesitated. Vivek said nothing
to me. Instead he told the British actress standing nearby that
he was going to do a rehearsal and would she like to join him?
actress and I glanced at each other. I remember my look being
a mild mixture of 'Don't you dare' and 'Please?'
should mention at this point that Vivek Oberoi has never held
any particular attraction for me. If it had been Shah Rukh or
Aamir, I would have been hissing at the girl like a cornered
cat. But since I felt an Obligation to the Forum, I did hope
to get the chance to observe the man up close.
and most lingering impression: Ladies, Vivek Oberoi smells nice.
Midday in long sleeves and makeup and you might expect otherwise.
But he smelled freshly laundered and cologned. He settled in
right beside me on the carriage seat -- but didn't say a word
to me. No 'Hi' or anything. 'Oh no, Rani Mukherjee all over
again,' I thought.
brought the reins down on the horses' backs and we were off,
bouncing over the dust. 'Aram se, aram se,' he kept saying to
the horses, trying to keep them from bolting. We neared the
cameras and he yelled to someone in Hindi whether we should
be turning or what. 'Go under the crane,' I said. 'Go straight.'
So he did.
finally wheeled and headed back. At the same time both of us
pointed out a potentially dangerous hole beside the dirt road.
As we neared the end, I said, 'I hope you're having fun.'
kind of snorted. 'God, this is the first time I've done this,'
he said. So maybe he was a bit nervous, then. I'm glad I hadn't
talked to him during the ride.
for the take. As I turned to climb down, I swear he said, 'I'll
see you later, ----.' I wondered how in the world he knew my
carriage takes finally ended abruptly when one of the horses
veered sharply off the track, pulling everything into a large
shallow hole. The carriage tilted, and Vivek leapt off and helped
the actress off before the carriage could tip over. Obviously
they were shaken, but both were OK. And that was it for that
scene, at least for the day.
a while after they disappeared into their trailers, I decided
to pay the actress a visit. I knocked on her door. Nothing.
I turned and looked around and the guys sitting outside Vivek's
door (the other half of the trailer) motioned for me to open
the door. So I did.
looked right into the face of Vivek, who was sitting and paying
a visit himself. 'Oh!' I said and started to back out. 'It's
OK, ----,' he said. He really did know my name, interesting.
So I carefully entered and closed the door behind me and I slowly
panned across the rest of the room -- the actress' assistant,
the actress ... and Subhash Ghai himself.
'OH!' I said, looking even more stupid. 'I didn't realize you
were having a meeting.' I hesitated for about five lifetimes
before Subhash Ghai said politely, 'I think someone is calling
was so relieved. 'Oh? Yes, of course.' I bumbled at the doorlatch
for another few lifetimes before getting the heck out. Very
it all ended well. A relaxing late afternoon, a pretty sunset,
a coolish breeze rising. As I asked a wardrobe girl whether
I could change, some guy walked into my field of vision and
kind of waved. I looked at him blankly and then realized it
was Vivek in street clothes and without hair extensions. I blinked
and waved and started laughing to the wardrobe girl -- 'He looks
he was walking over.
I and Vivek Oberoi, ladies, had a conversation like the two
normal everyday people we are. Small talk, details on the carriage
tipping, details on a horse that had just collapsed and injured
its rider. We actually chatted for a couple of minutes and he
seemed very nice, very relaxed. I was happy -- so this is how
you're supposed to talk to a Star. No need for compliments,
blushing, overheating. Just be natural. Why couldn't I have
done this with Shah Rukh or Aamir? A few reasons:
Come on. They're Shah Rukh and Aamir.
* They never approached me one-on-one.
* The 'Kisna' set was relatively small, with
only Vivek and the British actress the main actors present.
hot hot. The sun sucks everything out of you, which must be
why the past two days barely come to mind. A lot of waiting
in my trailer, huddled under the air-con, and feeling dehydrated
all the time -- even being happy for tiny cups of hot chai.
Staring out the tinted windows and watching the eyes of curious
locals skim unknowingly skim across mine as they search for
stars behind the dark glass.
no star. But in my trailer I get to feel like one.
I remember, was busy. Lots of carriage riding, my head artfully
turned so my hair covered my face. No problems at all, until
the end of the day when they wanted a shot of the girl and the
guy riding a horse together.
had been asked a few times if I could ride. "Yyyyes,"
I'd say carefully. "I have before." I think so.
to remember: Always, always say "yes" with confidence.
the chain of walkie-talkies a flicker of hesitation must have
passed, because as the sun started to set and the scene was
prepared I discovered a surprising on-set rival.
very own duplicate. A slight young Indian man -- man -- by the
name of Rajkumal, with hairy legs and long blonde wig and heavy
pancake makeup on his face and arms. I was quietly outraged.
But he certainly could ride a horse. He could saddle it, too.
while Rajkumal got to sit behind Vivek's double and bounce across
the grass, I was hustled into the trailer to change into a white
off-the-shoulder dress to film a bit of a song sequence.
joined Vivek's double, now dressed in white, on the carriage.
The sun was about to sink behind the hills. My only hurried
instruction was to stand up. I figured that the shot would be
us silhouetted against the sunset, so I made sure my dress and
shawl and hair were free to stream behind me romantically. I
stuck my padded bust out as best as I could and tried to strike
a pose as we started off, gripping the arm of the carriage seat
with my free hand.
that was that for the day. A one-hour drive to the hotel. Food.
was much quieter as the silent but deadly Rajkumal elbowed in
on my gig. In the whole day I shot two things -- a carriage
ride and a short trip with Vivek's double on a horse. The rest
of the morning and into the afternoon, Rajkumal drove the carriage
while Vivek's double did battle with a bandit on the carriage
that's OK," I told myself. "It's a tricky sequence,
and I've never driven a carriage before. Those horses can be
hard to handle."
I settled into a torpor in the trailer. For a few minutes the
nice man who played the traitor in "Lagaan" dropped
by for a visit. Otherwise, silence. I watched people's comings
and goings. Vivek came out of his trailer, waddling strangely.
I followed. Turns out his pants were stuffed with padding because
he had to slide along the ground while holding on to the carriage.
while later, he was helped back to his trailer, with a not very
happy look on his face. Apparently he bumped against a rock
in the ground.
suddenly -- because after hours of inertia on a set things happen
suddenly -- I was grabbed and tossed into a car for a change
of location. We drove to a nearby stream, where the horseback
bandits would chase the main actors across a shallow stretch
was ready and standing by the horse, sure that since I had ridden
that morning I could do this. I was simply waiting for a stool
so I could climb on. But then ... Rajkumal came running.
had come to hate our little encounters. Nothing against him,
of course, but the idea of the two of us in matching dresses
and blond hair swapping shoes while everyone watched just became
a bit embarrassing. The "Lagaan" guy cheerfully said,
"His value is going up, yes?" I could have kicked
I stood helplessly, shooting dirty looks at the action director,
while Rajkumal got to splash through the water. I asked the
action director's assistant why I couldn't go instead. "He's
lighter than you," he said, perhaps grasping for an excuse.
OK, true -- but Vivek's double must be close to 200 pounds!
a snit, I retreated to a nearby car and started reading. Then
I realized that Vivek and the main actress had arrived and were
by the water's edge.
would have to ride across for a tight shot. The girl looked
a bit scared. First, Vivek would do a rehearsal. Here was my
chance! I elbowed closer, ready to be called. I couldn't wait
to report this to Vivek lovers -- riding a horse together, my
arms around his waist ...
then. Then. The voice of the action director: "Rajkumal
I said, mostly to myself. But Rajkumal was already running over.
Vivek took one look at him and said something funny to him in
Hindi. Rajkumal was tossed on the back of the horse, grabbed
Vivek around the waist and away they went.
lovers, perhaps I could have tried harder. But I was sun-stunned
as it was, and questioning a seasoned director seemed like a
perhaps it was just as well, because just as the horse emerged
from the water Vivek and Rajkumal started tilting to one side
and slid off onto the grass. They were OK, but I don't think
I would have enjoyed it. One of the stirrups had slid down.
did not help comfort the main actress. She looked nervous as
she was lifted into place on the horse. She looked at me. "You've
already done this, yes?" she asked.
wish I could have said yes -- maybe that would have changed
things. But darn that Rajkumal. I had to shake my head. "I
*could* do it," I offered a bit weakly.
kept talking to her, trying to reassure her. I waited. But she
decided she'd go through with it. Ah well ...
so I sulked a bit and pretty much ended my day.
three days of shooting turned into four ... and it was by far
the most dramatic.
had switched locations and were in a small forest. The main
actors were sitting with Subhash Ghai under a big umbrella by
the TV monitors.
scenes were a chase through the forest -- the actress being
held on a horse by one of the bandits and Vivek chasing the
bandits alone in the carriage.
was sitting near the stars, reading. At one point Vivek walked
by and greeted me, glanced at the book and said, 'Midnight's
Children. Salman Rushdie' and walked off. What a typical book
to be caught reading!
they waited for the cameras to get ready, Vivek talked on his
cellphone with Indra Kumar and passed on messages from Subhash
Ghai, who eventually took the phone and chatted with the 'Masti'
director and complimented him on the film.
few minutes later, Vivek got a call. The way he sweetly said
'Hi' and got up and wandered off, his umbrella man in tow, said
it all. When he finally returned and then left to get in place
for the scene, Subhash Ghai said something to him in Hindi about
getting his mind back to the film. The director and I smiled
at each other as Vivek walked off.
rehearsal, or maybe it was the first take. In any case, the
actress flashed by on the bandit's horse, and then the bandits,
and then Vivek on the carriage, urging the horses on.
the next time fell apart.
girl, the bandits ... then, as Vivek approached, a loud crack
was heard as if one of the carriage wheels had hit a large root
if in slow-motion, within 50 feet or so of where we were sitting,
the carriage started to flip to its right, towards us, with
Vivek trying to throw himself clear. He hit the ground and started
to groan and probably curse loudly in Hindi. He immediately
was surrounded as people came running.
people around me said, 'S---.'
was surrounded by dozens of people and calls for water and ice.
The ambulance that had been parked down the road arrived and
he was put in the back and taken to a nearby hospital, people
said. But surely he would soon be in a Bombay hospital for a
later said it was his right knee, along with the expected bumps
and scratches. (He told the Mid-Day newspaper that he had dislocated
his knee but put it together himself.)
as Vivek was still in the ambulance, Subhash Ghai and some of
the others watched the film to see what had gone wrong. One
camera showed the left side of the carriage banging into a tree
trunk. A lantern perched on the left side of the carriage was
knocked off, and the left front wheel looked bent.
Ghai went to the hospital with Vivek. Then, after a meeting
and a report on Vivek's condition, the filming continued.
oddly enough, back to business. I managed to grab my last two
scenes from the 'triplicate,' Ramkumal. One required me and
Vivek's double to lie on a blanket in a depression in the ground,
covered in leaves, as the bandits rode by looking for us. The
camera zoomed in on us and we were urged to breathe heavily
so the audience would see the leaves move slightly. We got terribly
sweaty, and my hairdresser (who really only speaks Hindi, which
is good) asked me teasingly in Hindi, 'Did you sleep well?'
second and final shot was a simple horseback ride through the
forest. And that, my friends, was that ...