Bollywood ... where fame and fortune are fleeting

IN LOVEABLY chaotic India, nothing is what it seems and you need to keep your wits about you. So the question "Excuse me, would you like to be in a Bollywood movie?" needs careful thought. The well-dressed woman is in my Mumbai hotel lobby recruiting Westerners as extras for a movie, offering 500 rupees ($9) a day. We are to play patrons at a European disco. My curiosity - or vanity - wins out and I say yes.

The next morning, a group of us wannabe movie stars are escorted to the station, taken by suburban train to a drab industrial part of Mumbai and asked to wait at the back of a vast studio, where they are filming the disco scene.

For about two hours, we endure countless takes of the same dozen bars of a dance-and-screech routine, performed by a large cohort of disco-style dancers fronted by a painted princess who just can't get it right.

It's uncomfortably hot and humid. I'm beginning to regret getting involved when a man approaches me and says, "You're too old for the disco scene. Do you have an English accent?"

"No," I say. "It's Australian."

Before I know it, I am overdubbing the part of an English police sergeant.

"That's OK, Indian audiences won't know the difference," he says.

Before I know it, I have been whisked to a small studio and am overdubbing the part of an English police sergeant in a serious film - unusual for Bollywood - about racism against Indians in London's East End. My script is handwritten on tatty bits of paper, with lots of crossing out and additions in the margin.

On a large television screen, I am given three views of the actor speaking each sentence, then I try to lip-sync his cockney staccato. "I'm not good at this," I say.

"Don't worry, we'll fix it up later," is the reply. Finally, after four hours of intense concentration, we finish. "What's the film called?" I ask.


"We don't know yet," they say. Finally, I'm dropped at the station with 500 rupees, a train ticket and the instruction: "Catch any train going in that direction." That's easier said than done. It's peak hour and the carriages are so packed, bodies bulge out all the doors and windows of each train that pulls up.

Suddenly I see an open door and leap inside. I can't believe my luck - there's a vacant seat. I'm just settling in when I hear, "Tickets please." A portly inspector takes my ticket and says sternly, "You are travelling in a first-class carriage with a second-class ticket. The fine is 350 rupees."

I realise with dismay how stupid I've been. "You're joking," I say. The inspector straightens up and suddenly becomes very pompous: "Sir, I can assure you, I am certainly not joking." It seems Indians don't recognise Australian idioms either.

I button my lip and hand over most of the money I so recently earned. That buys me the right to remain in the carriage. Chuckling, I settle into my seat. Of course I'm travelling first class, I'm a movie star!