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Wanted: white skin tourists!

By Syed Firdaus Ashraf
March 25, 2004 14:42 IST
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Swedes Sarah Gantner, 24, and Simon Palerbro, 23, and German lawyer Julia de Cuveland, 29, are sharing a table at Mumbai's Velocity discotheque.

They are on call for the shooting of the Aftab Shivdasani starrer, Shukriya.

Sarah has no idea who the actors in the film are. "My hotel owner told me that if I come and act, I will earn Rs 400 per day. They will also give me food and drink. Also, I won't be charged for my hotel room. So here I am."

Adds Simon, "I am not here for the money. I just want to see a Bollywood shooting. It is fun to be here. I feel elated with these lights, cameras and so many people around me."

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Every passing day, the demand for white skin in the Hindi film industry is so great that hoteliers, junior artist coordinators and producers are on a constant lookout for white-skinned people in Mumbai.

With so many Hindi films being shot abroad, there are always sequences or songs left to be shot. Enter white skin tourists. Many of them travel cheap to India. They are mostly students, people who have been laid off at work, or those who taking a break in their careers. 

"No one pays you when you are on holiday," says Julia. "I am happy I am being paid while on holiday. I will shoot my picture with the hero and heroine of the film, and it will be a memory for me."

"A film like (Ketan Mehta's) The Rising (set during the 1857 War of Independence) needed many foreigners. We provided 350 foreign artists to the producers who were desperate for white skin," says Kiran Suryagandh of Cute Look Productions, who coordinates junior artists.

Says Ragini Sona, producer of Shukriya, "Our film has been shot in London. There was a song we needed to record in Mumbai. So we had to create a London club atmosphere. That is why these foreigners are here. It would have been expensive for me to take all these actors to London and shoot."

Ravindra Suri, who arranges for junior artists, points out, "Every day in Mumbai, there is the need for a minimum of five white skin European feature people. Sometimes the demand reaches 35 people."  

As Shukriya director Anupam Sinha shouts, "Silence! Action!" and the camera starts rolling, the foreigners don't quite understand what to do. Their brief is simply to drink whisky and eat the food laid out in front of them.

They get into the mood soon, and start eating and chatting with each other.

The camera moves around them once and then shifts focus to the heroine Shreya Saran. She is talking into her mobile phone, and sits at a table.

Sinha yells, "Cut!"

As the heroine returns to her makeup room, an assistant director asks the foreigners not to look into the camera. They should be very natural, he says.

"Don't worry," quips James Anderson, a student from London. "I acted in a commercial yesterday and learnt some tricks about acting."

Isn't Rs 400 or about £4.25 a pittance for him? Says Anderson, "It's okay. It is better to earn something on holiday than do nothing. I am happy because they are covering the cost of my stay and food."

All Anderson knows about the Hindi film industry is Shah Rukh Khan. The superstar is famous among Asians in London.

Kay Van Beersum, who is from The Netherlands, is unaware about Hindi cinema. "I just know they make big films. There is very low awareness of Indian films in my country."

How does one convince these tourists to get on the sets of a Hindi film? "It is a trade secret. If I tell you, I will be out of business," whispers Suryagandh.

"All I can say is we are good talkers and have the knack of convincing these foreigners to act in our films," adds Suri.

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Syed Firdaus Ashraf