“It’s a third world country”, I was told – as if that begins to prepare one for the experience of being in India. I’m not unfamiliar with the disparities of wealth and poverty in today’s world. I’ve lived abroad and traveled extensively throughout my life, but India is something quite apart, it must be seen to be believed. I’d just returned from Mexico the week before, and their poverty in no way resembled what I saw during my seven days in India. In the populated areas, the noise is appalling and constant, the air visible and barely breathable, with stifling fumes of vehicle emissions. The streets and road sides are congested with bikes, cyclo’s, motor scooters, cars, trucks, water buffalo, buses, and pedestrians…the first impression is wonder or disbelief that so many people can occupy so little space at the same time without going ‘postal’. Their poverty extends to a shortage of space, both personal and physical. I imagine it becomes a cultural dynamic, the acceptance of being constantly jostled, accosted, interrupted.

‘I honk, therefor I am’. This credo expresses the reality of traveling along the country roads and city streets of India, the constant, interminable cacaphony of horns from the variety of vehicles vying for space and survival as they move from here to there. Motorbikes and scooters are the choice for the majority, and they tax their capacity to the max. (I saw a ‘5’ on my first ride in from Hyderabad to Ramoji Filmcity, ‘4’s’ were commonplace and the ‘6’ described by Scott, our producer I suspect is Urban Legend, but then again, one never knows). These numbers refer to the family members jammed atop a Vespa or motor scooter, usually Dad at the handlebars with a child in front of him, another child behind, then Mom and perhaps a fifth (more agile or less favored) child bringing up the rear and seated on what could only be the rear tail light, there’s surely no more seat left. Few if any have rear view mirrors, so approaching traffic beeps in warning and insist that slower and smaller (size DOES matter) traffic make way. The two-lane highways are an exercise in machismo and nihilism. We drive on the left side, cars’ steering wheels are on the right, and the rituals of passing demand timing, courage and faith. While I saw no accidents in progress (and still can’t believe it), I often came upon a recent mishap, victims sprawled, wheels and limbs distorted. I had thoughts of The Knight Bus from the Harry Potter mythology; our not colliding with the oncoming trucks and busses as we passed and re-entered our lanes seemed to require some magical intervention. I noted a roadside travel advisory: SAFFETY FIRST – THEN SPEED. I really doubt that’s an alternative British spelling.


I first thought the man with whom I was speaking might have some tic or involuntary tremor, for his head occasionally wavered from side to side as he spoke or listened…and then I began noticing it in other men
(I spoke with relatively few women and noticed it not at all with them). I soon realized that it was cultural and a physical way of expressing several very different sentiments. At times it meant, ‘Yes, I agree’ or ‘I understand’ or ‘without doubt, I will make that happen’…but could just as easily have meant, ‘that’s right, motherfucker, and whatchu gon’ do about it?’ (The eyes play a small part, often closed or hooded during the gesture, a quick one-two-three of movement). Think of the little football players with bobbling heads you see in car rear windows, and you have a sense of it. I began doing it, to the delight of my crew and cast members, not in disrespect, just trying it on for size. Steve, 2nd Unit director, mentioned Bulgarian men do something similar, but I’ve not noticed anything similar to this in any other part of the world that I’ve visited.


Boy, is this a relative concept, particularly away from resorts and in a 3rd world country. In some respects, I’d prefer to stay where Tom Podette might keep a light on for me. My mattresses, both in Bombay and the Satari were foam pads. Clocks in rooms seem to be an alien concept, though the front desks in both hotels handled wake-up calls responsibly. The rooms were certainly clean, though the cooling and heating systems remained an enigma to me – sometimes I succeeded in making them work to my preferences, more often I simply turned them off, making the room quieter and less frigid, for some Indian people take their air conditioning seriously (I think I could see my breath when I first opened the dressing room door to my trailer)…perhaps luxury to them includes all the cool air you can breathe. (Already paranoid about the possibility of malaria, knowing my pills wouldn’t even kick in with protection for two weeks, long after I’d departed the danger zone), that first night in Bombay, I sat down for breakfast at 3AM. Unable to sleep, with a departure to Hyderabad at 6:20, I was eating my traditional breakfast of vegetable curry – (ignoring my water glass, which tempted but was fraught with unbottled peril) – and to my horror, a rogue mosquito did a fly-by. (After checking into my hotel at 11PM and showering, after 38 hours of travel, I’d lit a stick of Nag Champa to make my room less musty and more familiar and turned on the TV- to a Discover Channels’ documentary on ‘Vampires of the Animal Kingdom: The Mosquito.’) I freaked, frantically swatting it away, to the amusement of the night shift waiters (in defense of the Centaur Hotels’ 5 Star reputation, they DID maintain a 24 hour coffeehouse and the coffee was quite good.) On the set, I later discovered my trailer toilet to be a breeding place, the small room literally swarming with hundreds of them. After swatting a few dozen, I reported my discomfort to my AD, was offered a new trailer, but since they all seemed to be similarly infested, requested that a bomb be set off once I was on set. That worked…at least for few hours.

Indian TV, like much of the country’s unique personality, needs to be seen to be appreciated. My first exposure, in Bombay, revealed commercials in English but heavily accented, to my eternal amusement (I LOVE the music of Indian accented English, the rhythms and tonalities, and fall into it willingly, needing no encouragement.) “Brought to you by TIIIDE”….but you have to HEAR me say it to enjoy the music. CNN revealed the current madness in the Middle East on the eve of Yom Kippur, and I was mindful of the attendant dangers of being an American in an area of the world which looks upon us with suspicion, if not downright hostility…(but in truth, outside our own borders, that is a remarkably consistent possibility, despite or perhaps because of our willingness to take stands on world issues and back them.)

With so many languages and cultures, Indian programming is a colorful and confusing stew, to my unenlightened eye, but I did become aware of its style, once in Romaji FilmCity, where many of their films and videos are shot. Evidently there is an accepted tradition to include several musical numbers in each of their films, seemingly having little to do with the surrounding story, but integral to their tradition. (Imagine watching On The Waterfront, and Brando suddenly bursting into an MTV-ish musical dance number, with a bevy of colorfully costumed dancers, KODAK reds, blues and yellows essential and dominant.) Out of touch for days and desperate for DOW JONES updates, I found their financial news channel, (which concerned itself with Asian markets, curiously enough….DUH), but it did occasionally mention the dog, our DOW, whose wagging tail the Asian markets constituted. I was losing more in a day in my holdings than I was making in a week by being away filming, but so it goes. Our 5 star hotel had failed to pay their ESPN bill so their satellite did not provide Monday Night Football for our Tuesday mornings’ breakfast,.to my disappointment, (and it was a great match-up, Minnesota and Tampa Bay, still don’t know who won. ) But Channel 16 was a revelation – it was’ the MODEL channel’…24 hour fast- cut sequences of runway models from Milan, Paris and other haute couture sites…the models were sassy, insouciant, kicky, sexy, often barely dressed and always expressing, with their runway strut and facial expression, their confidence and unattainability…though there were side windows on-screen , revealing their names, agencies, measurements, zodiac signs, etc. I wondered for whom this information was intended, perhaps the Sultan of Bahrain or some similar potentate, who might dial up, like room service, for their daily twinkie of choice. This was the most sexually daring fare available on Indian TV. Their own films and videos, while often provocative in theme, were clearly G rated and geared for release within this multi-religious and sexually repressive society. HBO was available (though interrupted occasionally by promos for future HBO showings) and heavily censored, both visually and verbally. Imagine LETHAL WEAPON, which aired and featured the interesting lip-synced substitution of ‘mother –frigger’. Hey, it works for dubbing. I missed my accustomed daily dosage of soft-core porn on screen. Their statuary of deities celebrates the voluptuousness of woman – images of lush hips and full, surgically-unenhanced breasts abound, but apparently that sensuality is restricted to the print and artistic community, television in India needs no V chip.

Sports, such as it was, was available, but to my American eye, sadly inadequate. I managed to discern the progression of my beloved Yankees successfully negotiating their way through the payoffs, and the Mets as well. (Could a Subway Series be a Millennium possibility?) But I now know a great deal more about cricket and rugby than I’d ever thought I needed to know (amazing what a sports junky will endure to satisfy his jones.)


Thought: Indian food grows on you. I’d long been a fan of Indian cuisine, have even learned to cook some of my favorite dishes, including Keema/peas with Basmati….But I could literally watch my waistband expanding with each passing buffet. I’d read about their liberal use of ghee, (yak butter), and knew I was in Fat City when I ordered french toast for breakfast and was asked whether I preferred sweet or salt…and they meant butter…and it was brought, molten, in a LARGE accompanying carafe. As rich as the various sauces seemed to be, the portions of real meat turned out to be rather paltry. Tikka and Tandouri were quite tasty, and chicken seemed readily available – but dishes made with beef were rather thin and meatless, and I later discovered that when they said beef, they really meant buffalo – cows being sacred and used only for milk, cheese, and traffic disruptions. And buffalo is leaner, anyway, so that’s no great loss- but the lamb dishes were a big disappointment…I began to understand why the bones were so small and the meat so sparse when told, if they said lamb, they really meant goat.

Sadly, I was too fearful of ingesting something for which I had no immunity and so eschewed all condiments and chutneys…but the rice was always great, the breads quite good, though poori seemed unknown in this region. Paneer (what they called cottage cheese) was always available and tasty, and the occasional seriously hot pepper was always just a swallow away. I discovered a new treat, a fruit available only in that area, called a sweet lime. It’s the size of an orange, green in color and its juice is delicious and was a constant at my breakfasts, along with toast, very fatty bacon (which they called ham, I never saw what they called bacon). Many ate the porridge and oatmeal, which I shined on. The Brit traditional tomatoes were always present and the occasional potato patty. Their coffee was quite good, once we convinced them to prepare it with filtered water (I’d already negotiated the Mr. Coffee for my room and was using it to heat water and pour into my two-cup coffee press, brought from Australia.

Hotel bottles of Kingfisher, the most palatable beer were $3, we purchased them at a roadside stand for $1 and brought them down to each meal. The daily trick was allowing our enthusiastic waiters to open them without making contact with the top….and wiping it in the event that they did. The waiters were all personable, spoke varying amounts of English and lived on the “added 10% plus applicable taxes”. We were all signing our bills to our rooms, to be paid when we left, (using whatever per diem survived our shopping frenzy) and one could put a child through Harvard on some of those ‘applicable taxes’, but no matter, with dinner maxing out a perhaps $6, one could hardly begrudge a waiter’s gentle padding of the bill.

After a day or so, I’d persuaded them to do some musical programming. Much as I LIKE Ravi Shankar, it was pleasant to have our waiter accept my CDs, allowing us to dine to the more digestible strains of Bonnie Raitt, Johnny Lang and Little Feat. Evening meals often began after a long day of filming and we commandeered the ‘Stammtish ‘, which seated at least 12, and burdened it with any number of bottles of beer, vodka, and whiskey. Curiously enough, we drank our liquor neat, unaccompanied by ice cubes (tho Bob had managed to locate these seriously TINY little ice trays, they must have come from a dolls house, which he brought down to offer martinis on these very small rocks). Meals involved wonderful sessions of war stories concerning past films, crews and actors who’d earned their contempt (or respect). Our director, Bob, (who’d produced TOMBSTONE and had wonderful tales about its making) has got to be one of the funniest men I’ve ever met! I really enjoyed both working with him, -felt appreciated and respected as an actor – and truly entertained as an audience to the experiences recounted and recalled with Rollie, our South African stunt coordinator. Though a very affable man, he had a rather spooky appearance, the result of a recent devastating motorcycle accident. Rollie had quickly gotten Rod’s attention by studiously appraising him, during their first meeting. Rodney presumed he was being cruised, and was cool about it – turned out Rollie was deciding who could best stunt double Rod for the many dangerous shots he had before him in the weeks ahead. This winding down at days end was the best part of the adventure, with much laughter, drinking and recounting the days’ difficulties with our willing but often totally without-a-clue local crew members.

Many of our extras had been recruited from tourists encountered at the airports. Since this film presumably takes place in Chicago, we needed faces that seemed indigenous to that area, both in meetings and aboard the airplane. My first briefing looked more like a UN gathering, and there were a couple of faces I dared not even look at, they were so truly STRANGE – I often felt as though this film was taking place in the Twilight Zone. Two African tourists capably doubled for a Black American couple, and they found an Australian couple plus a few missionaries enroute to Malasia to appear as background..but the dead giveaway was the clothing, the costumes. There is simply no way those costumes looked like anything Americans would wear, they resembled a Bulgarian fashion show, some Eastern European country’s IDEA of how people in the West dressed. The fabrics, the cuts, the colors were all …just slightly off, somehow. Although I’d fielded frantic calls from here and India regarding my sizes, once on location, I found they’d assembled a wonderful assortment of dress shirts in varying colors and fabrics, ALL of which were XXL. I am a medium, mind you, and they found it more logical to have tailors cut down both shirts and suits for me than to select choices anywhere near my real size. I tolerated that for my suit, since I only wore the jacket in one scene, but found ONE shirt in their costume shop that really fit me properly (There was no double for it, which meant if ANYTHING bad happened to it while filming, we were fucked.) I was reeeeal careful.


My airline of choice (NOT) for this odyssey turns out to be China Air, an obscure foreign carrier with nary an affiliation for mileage with any recognizable partner…and I’m going business class for the better part of 30,000 miles with them. What a bummer. Bear in mind that the project taking me to India involves a story line about deranged computer hacker who breaks into the airplanes on-board computer and makes them CRASH ! I don’t do a great deal of work on my script while in the air, understandably, as I negotiate my ITINERARY FROM HELL. Breaking new ground in inefficiency, my schedule takes me to Taipei, change planes, then Hong Kong, get off plane and reboard, then Bangkok, change planes and carriers to Royal Thai Airlines, then Bombay, where I finally get to leave the airport for a night in a hotel (well, actually a few hours, from 10PM til 4 AM) then the final flight to Hyderabad, aboard a domestic India Jetways flight.

China Air is well run and the amenities are both familiar and foreign. The airport lounges are attractive, but I evidently arrived too late for their single English-language copy of TIME, so I’m stuck looking at magazine pictures and text which resembles ASCMI. The pre-flight announcements are a bit terrifying, since I realize their first language option in an emergency is likely to be in Chinese, sorry ‘ bout that, Tucker. The stews thank me for choosing China Air for my ‘fright’ and tell me we’ll soon be ‘frying’ over South Vietnam (hmmm, think they know something I don’t?). As we crossed RVN, the cloud cover broke and I looked down upon the Mekong River, somewhere in the Central Highlands, and suspect my view was probably similar to that of Phantom jets and F105’s during their bombing runs in years gone by. The cloud formations were rather unique, huge towering columns, almost like rock formations, I’ve never before seen such stable and strangely vertical patterns existing in any sky before. My meals are delicious and varied, lovely wine selections and the good news is that their rum of choice is Bacardi. Evidently business class doesn’t merit the little bottles, no matter, for my stewardess is more than willing to keep my water glass filled, once I convince her that I DON”T want ice cubes in it.



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