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Bert Danckaert

Bert Danckaert as Stewart at the Mehboob Studios, iPhone film still

The last scene of the early afternoon was shot, and the digital rendering checked for mistakes. Priyadarshan took his glasses from his nose and slid them into his breast pocket. After he had lit the next slender king-size cigarette, he leant back and rubbed his eyes. An assistant removed the microphone from his collar, and disappeared off with it. Anil Kapoor had a short chat with the director, the photographer couldn’t make out what they were saying, but it was clearly small talk. Priyadarshan smiled, gave Kapoor a pat on the shoulder, stood up and left the studio. Kapoor followed his director to a place the lower castes, like the extras, wouldn’t get a chance to see.

Outside it was light and warm. A number of tents had been set up next to the trailers of the actors. Inside one of them, food for the extras was being prepared, served in metal trays like in a hotel. Mansoor guided them to the tent and gave them each a plastic bag containing cutlery, a serviette, a pot of yogurt and a bottle of water. The photographer was reminded of the scene in Slum Dog Millionaire where the Indian kids had used superglue to reseal mineral water bottles after filling them with the dirty water they usually drank. The photographer had seen the film on the airplane from Vienna to Mumbai, not quite knowing what he was getting himself into. Now that he was here, he wasn’t certain whether he should find the scene funny or sad. There he was, with the same Anil Kapoor in this poverty-stricken city, pretending otherwise, in a meta-construction of well-controlled entertainment. He joined the queue and served himself some rice, Indefinable meat and vegetables and then went to join the actor, who by that time had also found the catering. The actor was feeling better, you could tell by his full plate of food. The photographer asked how it was going. “ok,” he said, “I think the worst has passed. But, I want to leave, I’ve had enough of this shithole studio in this crappy country!” He couldn’t blame the actor, although he was having a good time. To start with, seeing the film set was giving him new ideas, despite its plainness it was still relatively intriguing. And secondly the photographer had a hidden agenda: he would soon be photographing the extras. He was excited and focused.

Using his iPhone, the actor filmed—by way of letting off steam—the photographer playing the role of Stewart, in his brown suit and shiny black shoes, giving an improvised guided tour of the studios. In Indian-English he explained where the toilets were—at least the toilets for the extras—and where the refreshments for the extras were being served and that all in all there were just thirty seconds and counting before they were expected back on set.

Where had he taken his brother? He could have been at home with a Trappist beer next to the open fire, visiting family, or reading the paper. Instead, he was here, with a churning stomach, on a shitty film set in a crappy country, surrounded by the sick, the wretched, and film actors, in a spacious hotel with palm trees beside the pool, but next to a stinky beach where crippled dogs hobbled back and forth. Overwhelmed with the general feeling of “why?” were they standing here, lunching, donning these ridiculous costumes. It had all happened too quickly. Hysterical giggles, for a prolonged amount of time. They had to put their plates down. Tears rolled down their faces. Security guards looked on indignantly. Luckily they were far enough away from Mansoor and the other extras, it could have otherwise been disruptive for the planned photo shoot.

Once they had recomposed themselves the brothers continued eating. Watched the film, and yawned somewhat. It was then time for the photographer to approach Mansoor and collect his equipment from the room where he lay asleep.