Mumbai is the glittering epicentre of India’s gargantuan Hindi-language film industry. The Lumière brothers screened the first film ever shown in India at the Watson Hotel in Mumbai in 1896, and beginning with the 1913 silent epic Raja Harishchandra (with an all-male cast, some in drag) and the first talkie, Alam Ara (1931), Bollywood now churns out more than 1000 films a year – doubling Hollywood's output, and not surprising considering it has a captive audience of one-sixth of the world’s population.
Every part of India has its regional film industry, but Bollywood continues to entrance the nation with its escapist formula in which all-singing, all-dancing lovers fight and conquer the forces keeping them apart. These days, Hollywood-inspired thrillers and action extravaganzas vie for moviegoers’ attention alongside the more family-oriented saccharine formulas.
Bollywood stars can attain near-godlike status in India and star-spotting is a favourite pastime in Mumbai’s posher establishments. You can also see the stars’ homes as well as a film/TV studio with Bollywood Tours, but you’re not guaranteed to see a dance number and you may spend much of the tour in traffic.
Studios sometimes want Westerners as extras to add a whiff of international flair (or provocative dress, which locals often won’t wear) to a film. If you’re game, just hang around Colaba where studio scouts, recruiting for the following day’s shooting, will find you (as will gaggles of scammers).
A day’s work, which can be up to 16 hours, pays around ₹500 (more for speaking roles). You’ll get lunch, snacks and (usually) transport. The day can be long and hot with loads of standing around the set; not everyone has a positive experience.
Complaints range from lack of food and water to dangerous situations and intimidation when extras don’t comply with the director’s orders. Others describe the behind-the-scenes peek as a fascinating experience. Before agreeing to anything, always ask for the scout’s identification and go with your gut feeling.