I signed up for a “full-day” excursion with Bollywood tours at the end of my ten days in India. Bollywood is probably Mumbai’s (if not India’s) signature overseas export so the decision to sign up for a tour was an easy one. Unlike Hollywood, the India version isn’t really a defined geographical entity as much as a loosely linked group of studios that create over a thousand films every year in a variety of palettes: documentaries, action, romance, drama, soap operas, etc. The full-day tour consists of driving by the homes of a few films stars and then visiting a couple of the studios themselves.
We started off seeing the home of Shahrukh Khan, probably one of the most famous movie stars in the world and certainly the most eminent actor people in the US have never heard of. This was followed by visits to homes of a couple lesser known stars. These stopovers were views from the street only; don’t expect to be having drinks with these guys as the security roughly approximates the White House. This introductory hour was followed by the main section of the tour: visits to Basra and S.J. Studios, small and medium-size film lots respectively. It was here that the trip really became interesting for me, as I saw a number of different productions from a show for National Geographic to a soap opera to rehearsals for a regional dance competition. I was allowed to watch the action from the director’s and cameraman’s viewpoint or just stand quietly in a corner and observe. The studios were quite different, with Basra being a bit of a smaller operation and S.J. the opposite: large sets, larger shoots, and much busier. I also got a chance to tour equipment rooms, a dressing room, and various sets both being used and those waiting for a movie to be shot there. After about 1-2 hours at each studio I was brought back to my hotel.
This experience was well worth the time and money spent for several reasons. First, it gave me a good overview of the Bollywood industry and the vast number and variety of productions it makes every year, as well as the importance to the local economy of what is evidently a very fickle business. Second, and probably more importantly, it gave me an insight into how films anywhere (US, Asia, Europe, etc.) are made; this was the first time I had ever been on a film set so just to hear the director say “cut” was a bit of a thrill to be honest. I also learned to my surprise how boring and tedious making these things can be: waiting for the stars, waiting for the designers to get the set “looking just right,” waiting for the make-up crew to do the same, etc. etc. In a way the experience as a whole was a metaphor for the industry: a lot more glamorous on the outside than inside. Lastly, my tour leader was superb. My guide (Ishan Shrivastav) constantly looked out for me at all times, steering me to something that he thought would be interesting when I had my fill watching the fifteenth take of a scene. We had great conversations during the entire trip about not only Bollywood but a number of topics regarding past and current day India. In short, customer service clearly seems to be a priority with this company.
In summary, I would highly recommend a tour with this group. The experience is one that I will remember for a life-time although I admit this may be due to two unique facts: I never had this type of insight into the industry before and also have a special interest in films. Given the commute times the full-day option is probably going to be your best bet in the value-for-money category; aficionados or those in the trade may want to explore the multi-day alternatives.
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