Notes from the set of
Or, Don't Wear an SRK T-Shirt on an Aamir Khan Set
note: Kaya, a journalist and BollyWHAT? forum member, worked
as an extra in 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 her account, originally posted on the BollyWHAT? forum, of
working as an extra on The Rising, an upcoming film starring
Aamir Khan, Amisha Patel, Rani Mukherjee and Toby Stephens.
was a very nice day today. Yes. Very nice indeed.
first day on the set of 'The Rising.' The sun's just up. Several
male foreign extras and I pile out of a car at a police barracks
in Pune. Half-awake, we ramble into the canteen for breakfast.
not even half in the door when I spot a familiar large mustache.
Khan is standing at the humble buffet table, serving himself.
He is wearing a navy-blue polo shirt, dark jeans and black boots.
His hair is long, dark and a bit tangled. He sits in the middle
of the near-empty canteen and starts eating.
thought Shah Rukh looked rough in the morning, I think to myself.
But actually, Aamir simply looks like some of his worse photos.
And I know that a lot of my 'ew' reaction has to do with all
that facial hair.
I casually grab a banana from the buffet table and sit down
at his table, with just an empty chair between us. I (casually,
casually) strike up conversation with the guy on the other side
of me, who seems to be an assistant director of some sort. We
chat a bit. I strive to be charming. Witty. Overheard.
finally turn his way. Be calm.
me, I say. He looks up. He looks so intense this early in the
continue. Am I right in telling people that you're the star
of this film? I say, casually. Kaya, you dork.
he says. Oh, I say. My name's ---, I add, a bit helplessly.
nods and continues eating. Conversation over.
Really. Bravo. So I move to the next table to chat with another
foreign extra, who actually is a Bollywood fan as well. Listen,
I ask. Do you think I should wear this T-shirt on the set? I
lift my long-sleeved shirt to reveal a red T-shirt with a big
photo of Shah Rukh on it. We collapse in unsightly giggles.
Aamir has finished eating and is now busily tapping at some
high-tech handheld gadget. He doesn't seem to notice us.
suddenly, he lights up a cigarette. What? Has he always smoked?
as quickly, the star of 'The Rising' is asked to take his cigarette
outside. He leaves. The extra I'm with points to a bare patch
on the floor. That got burned yesterday, he said. Ah. (It wasn't
so, on to the shoot. It is a hot, sunny day. A couple hundred
Indian extras are getting dressed as soldiers. Soon, Aamir is
in army uniform, standing with a group of British actors, also
soldiers. The scene? Aamir has to bite the end off a bullet
cartridge, spit it out disdainfully and load his gun. If I am
not mistaken, he at times says 'Cut' himself, not even waiting
for the director.
Aamir act, so far, is not as fun as watching Shah Rukh. Aamir
seems to remain in character all morning, with a stern look
in his eyes. No smiling.
instead, I sniff out little tidbits on the film. I now know
how it ends. I know that originally there was a British love
interest for Aamir in the film but that they later cut out any
hint of it. I know that in order to help the British actors
memorize their lines in Hindi, Aamir himself recorded the Hindi
dialogue so they could study. That's why he's the kind of actor
he is, says one Indian co-star. The British assistant director
calls him 'Aamirji.'
few days ago, the co-star says, Aamir stopped shooting in the
middle of a scene because the hundreds of Indian extras were
complaining about not getting any water. Aamir sent for water
immediately and wouldn't drink any himself until the extras
yet the heat here in Pune is nothing compared to that during
Lagaan, the co-star says. Here it might be 28 degrees. There
it was 48.
close-up shots of Aamir continue. He gets a mirror stuck in
his face between takes but does little more than smooth his
mustache. He also seems to stroke it when he's preoccupied.
note on attention to detail: The British AD asks the cameraman,
Are you getting a reflection of the camera in his belt buckle?
Indian extras mass on the field and line up in rows. Aamir takes
a microphone and coaches them on what to do. Even when he's
supposed to be standing in formation himself, he breaks out
and walks up and down the line of troops, making sure everyone
is lined up. He cracks a joke in Hindi and the extras laugh.
rather quiet morning. Then lunch. Aamir and his British co-star
eat lunch at a table outside the canteen in the shade instead
of inside with everyone. Still, the Indians seem impressed.
So many actors stay in their dressing room, you never see them,
lunch, shooting shifts to another nearby parade ground. The
British co-star sits with a couple of extras in the shade. He
says that when he was approached for the film, he didn't know
who Aamir was. He seems to be enjoying the shoot and life here
in general. Aamir even took him to Film City to watch -- yes
-- Shah Rukh film a dance scene. I had no idea who anybody was,
the guy says.
and rewind. Aamir? Visiting Shah Rukh? Did they talk? Yeah,
the British guy says, and starts talking about something else.
I am left hanging for further details. Curses!
shoot continues. The foreign extras join the Indian extras and
the British on the parade ground. The scene is a dramatic one
in which Aamir ... oops, that would be a spoiler, wouldn't it?
isn't needed today, though. Instead, he rides around the parade
ground on a black horse that turns out to be the horse he used
in Lagaan. A Hindi-speaking foreign extra (the BW fan) asks
him in Hindi about the horse, and Aamir explains that he happened
to come across the horse again today on the set. He seems to
be a graceful rider, and once he dismounted without using his
hands, just swinging his right leg up and over and sliding down.
I tell some of the foreign extras that the man on the black
horse who might have been chatting with them is the star. Really?
one guy says. I thought he was the horse trainer or something.
some notes on voice and height. Aamir speaks with more of an
Indian accent than a British one and quickly slips into Hindi.
Also, his shortness is not that striking, maybe because of the
determined, almost fierce, look in his eyes and the way he carries
to the shooting. I have slipped into conversation with the man
who plays the mute temple drummer in Lagaan, and when we are
asked to move to the other side of the field to get out of camera
range, I follow him. He stops in front of Aamir, apparently
a good friend, as Aamir rides up.
my newfound friend startles me. Aamir, he says, pointing to
me, this is ----. I look up at Aamir, with not enough time to
even freeze. Or fix my hair.
looks down at me without changing expression. Yes, we met this
morning, he says. I just kind of smile, at least I hope so.
Aamir rides away.
friend and I end up chatting away beside the parade ground about
all sorts of things. It turns out that he helped a bit with
the writing in Lagaan, and he's also written part of Swades.
In fact, a couple of days ago Aamir and I went to visit Shah
Rukh on the set a couple of hours away, he says.
Aamir-Shah Rukh encounter?! I press for details. Sure, there's
competition between them but they get along, he says. Like brothers.
This man even sat between Aamir and Shah Rukh while watching
Lagaan and Shah Rukh would elbow him every time he was in a
scene. (Oh, what I would give for that seating arrangement ...)
we're sitting there and I'm giggling at something, and up rides
Aamir, looking playful for the first time all day. What are
you talking about? he asks, looking at us. At me! Umm, everything,
I say, startled. Sub kuch. My Hindi kicks in!
says something in Hindi and winks at me, smiling. WINKS. Lord
have mercy. What did he say? I whisper. He said, Are you missing
the shot? my friend says.
my brain is so overheated that I think he says, Are you missing
Shah Rukh? Oh no, I think, has word of my pagaldom really spread
that far? But then I understand ... and by that point Aamir
has smiled at us again and ridden away.
that, I think, is a very nice way to end the day. It's a wrap!
... And on the second day, Kaya has to start
was so ready. I was wearing my cute little Shah Rukh T-shirt,
and I imagined the banter with Aamir that could ensue. Would
he kick me off the set in mock anger? Pretend to snub me? Start
some running secret joke that only the two of us would share?
then, one of my small army of foreign extras completely ruined
old German guy. A complete veteran of BW film shoots. A wallet
full of photos of him with Shah Rukh (from 'Shakti'), Arjun
Rampal and others. No shame whatsoever -- within five minutes
of joining Aamir in the canteen yesterday he had me take a photo
of him with his arm around the Khan.
today. I could kill him.
the German loved the Shah Rukh T-shirt. So much that he pulled
me into the canteen this morning, where a serious-looking Aamir
was clearly holding a meeting with his Indian co-stars. This
German guy grabs me by the shoulders and pushes me forward.
'Hey, Aamir!' he says.
frantically backpedalling and hissing, 'He's busy, he's busy.'
It was too late. A *very* serious-looking Aamir looks up at
us. The German guy continues. 'Hey, do you think she should
be wearing this T-shirt on your set? Ha ha ha!'
one at the table says a word. I look both apologetic and murderous.
The German guy laughs, oblivious, ho ho ho. I shove out of the
canteen pronto. Oh, very very bad indeed.
to say, I lay low the rest of the day. There must be some way
to show off my intellect, what's left of it, in front of Aamir
to recover from this. Doesn't he like brains? Any advice?
such as Daniel [editor's note: Daniel is a moderator on the
BollyWHAT? forum who also worked on The Rising], had a much
better day with Aamir. An American woman who otherwise wouldn't
have known Aamir from the spot boy actually waved at him during
lunch and smiled. He waved and smiled back. By the way, he ate
lunch in the crowded canteen today just like anyone else.
the shoot? The biggest day ever, and with this the most expensive
Hindi film ever made, that's saying a bit. Eight hundred extras
in military costumes were on the dusty parade ground today.
microphone in hand, paced the platform on which the British
officers stand, ordering the hundreds of Indian extras into
straight lines. It was midday. All the extras wore woolen coats.
They apparently were not allowed to squat or leave their position.
They also had no water. At one point, as spot boys started to
carry boxes of water bottles out onto the field, Aamir (I do
believe it was him) told them not to give out water until the
scene was finished.
a couple of men staggered and were taken off. When one man apparently
fainted outright, a herd of staffers rushed on the field and
helped him off, and the order was given to finally serve water.
was long past noon, and there would be no lunch until at least
a couple of takes of a very dramatic Aamir scene were in the
can. All I'll say is that in the scene, the hundreds of extras
are supposed to slowly move towards the platform. On the first
take, perhaps with the relief of getting to move around and
the restlessness of hunger, the hundreds of extras ended up
massing on the platform itself, totally unscripted, cheering
into the camera perched on a crane high above. It was fabulous.
Will they use it? Who knows?
the next take, the cameraman was instructed to be ready for
anything -- and to shoot it.
then, finally, it was lunchtime. But the extras were restless.
They wanted Aamir, who had been nimble enough to quickly hop
off the back end of the platform as the extras piled on.
Aamir, in his own itchy wool suit, returned to the platform
with a microphone and spent the next few minutes as Aamir Khan,
superstar. He sang, rather badly, songs from 'Raja Hindustani,'
'Lagaan' and his other movies, and whenever he attempted the
slightest dance move (cheesy hip thrusts), the extras at his
'The Rising' is released, you'll realize what scene was filmed
today when you hear Aamir shout, 'Fire!'
... more tidbits tomorrow?
Before every take of the sword fight, Aamir
Khan would snarl to get into character. 'I've already shot one
man,' he said. 'I'm sweating with the madness of complete violence.'
A doctor was standing by. On Aamir's first swipe, he bends Toby's
aluminum sword. Another take, and the sword is bent again. Another,
and Toby's sword is broken in two. 'Shite,' Toby said. Then
another breaks. 'He chews up swords like candy, yaar,' Ketan
Mehta said, walking over. Only three swords are left for Toby.
The swords are kept in a bucket of ice water
to keep them cool on the fighters' hands, and there is a discussion
about whether the cold water is making the metal brittle.
Aamir insists on fighting with different,
stronger swords. The audience will see what we've shot here
and say, 'They're not really fighting,' he said. He wants to
show the feeling of violence, or else get rid of the sword fight
entirely. The next day, swords made of stainless steel are brought
from Mumbai, and a day later the sword fight scene is shot again.
This time the swords hold up, but Toby is
having trouble with sunscreen dripping into his eyes in the
heat. 'I'll have to take this stuff off my face. If I get burnt,
I get burnt. I just can't see.' His shirt is soaked. He sits
and gulps a tablet to help prevent muscle spasms while a member
of the crew massages his shoulders. Aamir crouches on the platform,
After one particularly good take, there is
a burst of applause.
Meanwhile, members of the British cast and
foreign extras are being pulled off horses and kicked and bayoneted
in the fight scenes. 'Cut, cut, cut, cut!' the assistant director
yells, and the action slowly ends. Doing fight scenes for films
can get out of control, actors say. One of the British cast
is hit on the back of the head during a take, creating a large
red bump. 'I've got worse,' he says, and shrugs.