Notes from the set of The Rising:
Or, Don't Wear an SRK T-Shirt on an Aamir Khan Set

© 2005

Editor's 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.

   It was a very nice day today. Yes. Very nice indeed.

   Our 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.

   I'm not even half in the door when I spot a familiar large mustache.

   Aamir 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.

   I 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.

   Anyway. 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.

   Aamir keeps eating.

   I finally turn his way. Be calm.

   Excuse me, I say. He looks up. He looks so intense this early in the morning.

   I continue. Am I right in telling people that you're the star of this film? I say, casually. Kaya, you dork.

   Yes, he says. Oh, I say. My name's ---, I add, a bit helplessly.

   Aamir nods and continues eating. Conversation over.

   Lovely. 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.

   Then, suddenly, he lights up a cigarette. What? Has he always smoked?

   Just 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 Aamir.)

   And 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.

   Watching 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.

   So 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.'

   A 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 drank.

   And 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.

   The 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.

   A note on attention to detail: The British AD asks the cameraman, Are you getting a reflection of the camera in his belt buckle?

   The 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.

   A 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, they say.

   After 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.

   Stop 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!

   The 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? Never mind.

   Aamir 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.

   Later, 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.

   Oops, 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 himself.

   Back 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.

  Then 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.

   Aamir 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.

   My 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.

   Another 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 ...)

   So 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!

   Aamir 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.

   But 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.

   And 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 from scratch.

   I 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?

   And then, one of my small army of foreign extras completely ruined it.

   This 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.

   But today. I could kill him.

   Oh, 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.

   I'm 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!'

   No 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.

   Needless 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?

   Others, 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.

   And 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.

   Aamir, 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.

   Eventually, 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.

   It 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?

   On the next take, the cameraman was instructed to be ready for anything -- and to shoot it.

   And 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.

   So 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 feet cheered.

   Once 'The Rising' is released, you'll realize what scene was filmed today when you hear Aamir shout, 'Fire!'

   And ... 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, waiting.

   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.




This filmi ramble was
written by Kaya.

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