Yesterday, I stumbled across a Tamil film crew shooting a movie on the streets of Pondicherry. As the Indian film industry is the largest in the world, and most of the films are made on location, this is not so uncommon. Most of you are probably aware that the film scene in Mumbai (formerly Bombay) is known as Bollywood (a portmanteau of the words Bombay and Hollywood). Bollywood is the center for Hindi language films. The center for the Tamil film industry is located in Chennai’s Kodambakkam district, so both the district and the industry have come to be referred to as Kollywood (Kodambakkam+Hollywood).

This particular company had the most equipment of any I’ve ever run across, but that’s not saying so much. Budgets are generally pretty slim, so they know how to improvise. This crew only had one camera, but they had quite a few accessories—and two or three fairly large trucks.

Indian films tend to change camera angles about every two seconds, and that’s not much of an exaggeration. Doing that kind of filming with a single camera is, needless to say, extremely time-consuming. One sentence, move the camera; a flash at the hero’s face, move the camera; zoom in on the heroine’s face, move the camera . . . .

The stars were newcomers, and they rather looked it. Maybe the final cut will be much better, but the part I saw wasn’t very encouraging. This was clearly supposed to be somewhat of an emotional scene because she was telling him off about something, but it sure didn’t come through.

Things got a little livelier when when the lead actor started cracking jokes, but that wasn’t part of the script.

The first Indian film I saw being made was Bas Itna Sa Khwaab Hai, starring a then-unknown Abhishek Bachhan. At least, all anyone knew was that he was the son of Amitabh Bachhan, Bollywood’s biggest star. Now he’s a pretty popular star.

Anyway, that film was seriously low-budget. They had nothing but a camera, and that was mounted on a long block of wood, with some sort of slider. No tripod. No lights. No monitor. No reflectors. Nothing but the camera. That was on the ghats in Varanasi, next to the river. They spent three or four days filming one song and dance number. It was a fun number, though the dancing was hardly stellar. I got to know some of them over the few days they were staying at my guest house. Never saw the film, though. It was evidently a bit of a flop.

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