The next day started at 6am (which was to become my standard starting time of action until the very end), stretching up to midnight almost every day.
While in the car, on the way to the shooting site, Sanjivani would give me my script in Marathi, read it out to me in Marathi, translate it into English, and then emote it. I would write the pronunciation in English, and start memorizing the words and corresponding emotions/expressions.
All in all, it was tough – especially so if, 5 minutes before the shooting, they suddenly decide to change a few words, or decide that Sanjivani’s version of Marathi was not fully correct (it became evident to me that, in India, nobody speaks their regional language 100% correctly!), or decide to replace the scene with another one for which I did not get the words in advance.
Sometimes I would envy other actors – unlike me, they were not appearing in all the scenes and had a lot of time to rest and joke around, not to mention that memorizing the script in their native language was a piece of cake for them. I was the only one who was puffing and sweating all the time – either memorizing the lines, or changing costumes and make up.
However, those issues were nothing in comparison to my biggest problem – the toilet issue. When I first saw the toilet they were using, I did not even realize that was a toilet! A hole in the corner of the floor, with a stone in the middle on which one is to stand. That was a real shock (a ‘cultural bump’, as Americans would call it)! Moreover, when I was to wear the traditional Marathi sari (called Nawari Sari – the cloth is wrapped around each leg, which made me feel like a sausage..), I would inevitably get dehydrated because make up and shooting would take at least 3 hours, and using a toilet in this sari was not an option, unless it was to be taken off completely.
The most memorable ‘toilet experience’ happened during the shooting of the windmill scene in the hill area. There was nothing but barren hills and windmills all around us. The breakfast I had that morning didn’t go well with me and my stomach was giving me alarming signs. I asked Sanjivani to take me to some toilet ASAP. She said: “Oh. We’ll have to drive down to the nearby village and request someone to allow us to use their private toilet – that’s all we can do.” That was a real test of my endurance. When we finally reached the village and started walking down the street, deciding on whose door to knock and ask for this mighty favor, I felt truly embarrassed. We picked one house that seemed decent and were welcomed by a lady preparing the lunch in her modest kitchen. She welcomed us with a big smile. When Sanjivani explained her what we were looking for, she moved one curtain and signaled to me to go to the room behind the curtain. I was totally confused as I stepped into a completely empty room. I soon peeked behind the curtain and pleaded to Sanjivani: “I really can’t see any toilet here”. The lady said again that it is there. It was then that I noticed a small hole in the corner of the room. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry! I ran out and told Sanjivani: “This won’t work for me. Please, I need a proper toilet – with a flush!” We continued our search immediately and Sanjivani explained to the neighbors she spoke with what we were looking for. Finally, we found it. I was overjoyed – agh, what a relief! I still laugh when I think of the “hole in the floor” scene, one of the strongest impressions I carried with me from the movie shooting – it is amazing what kind of conditions some people live in, and still manage to be happy and grateful. That is the big lesson that Indian villages taught me.
In terms of movie shooting and acting, my greatest challenges were:
- not to look at the camera lens during the shooting but at the CORNER of the camera, which felt very unnatural
- the crying scenes (I almost never cry in my real life. I’m just not the type. Crying in front of a camera was naturally even more difficult. My co-actors explained to me that I should swallow saliva, raise the eyebrows and remember some deeply painful moments from my real life, which will trigger the tears, and then get into the role fully. I was amazed – it worked! When my first natural tears came and the scene was over, there was a big round of applause! I soon gained confidence and most of the scenes were done in a ‘one rehearse and take’ mode, which was, as the Movie Director told me, “how the professional actors do it.” I was very happy!)
- the awkward moments when they would shoot only facial expressions in reaction to a group discussion. They would mainly not have the time to translate to me what each actor was saying, so I felt a bit idiotic as I could only guess how my reaction should look like.
- long monologues for which I had to memorize several sentences in Marathi (if the scene involves other people, they can show their facial reactions and thus cut the monologue and give me a chance to refresh what I memorized. But if it’s a proper monologue, there can’t be any cut). That was really tough. Two such scenes were my greatest challenge.
Aside from these few issues, it all just flowed with utmost ease. There was a fighting scene as well, prior to which I saw Mr. Pradeep (Movie Director) completely upset. I asked him what made him so disturbed and he said: “The stunt who is supposed to do the fighting scene is late. This will disturb our complete shooting schedule.” When I understood that the stunt was supposed to do my bit in fighting against several thieves who steal a golden statue from the temple, I smiled and told the Director – “That’s not a problem at all. I can fight. I’m almost black belt in Tae Kwan Do.” His face brightened up instantly and we started the shooting then and there.
It was a lot of fun and they could see that I enjoyed this scene thoroughly. I always loved my martial arts training, but was not sure whether this skill would come to be of any use in life. It was so fulfilling to see it utilized.
Moreover, when the whole movie was done with, I realized it was as if this role was tailor-made for me. The story and character of Jennifer resembled my real life quite a lot (accepting the challenge of life and choosing to live out of the comfort zone, remaining dignified in spite of lack of basic living conditions after a life in abundance, etc.) and acting part was not at all so difficult.
However, the hectic shooting schedule and lack of sleep got to me in the end – no make up could hide the dark circles around my eyes during the last few days of shooting.
The songs were done the last and were therefore the greatest challenge. Running through the field enacting great joy and bubblyness (while my skin was itching from the leaves touching my arms and sweat kept pouring down my spine due to the scorching noon sun) was definitely not fun. A real blessing was that the dance choreographer noticed I could dance and therefore suggested I should improvise some of my dancing scenes, which prevented us from wasting a lot of time in rehearsing under the harsh sun (not to mention that some of his choreographies, alas, belonged to ANOTHER ERA)– thank God I could improvise!
As I was commenting how smoothly all is going, a bull chewing grass next to me sneezed and splashed all the mucus from his big nosedrills straight onto my right arm! That topped my “Yikes list”, as it was even more yakky than the ‘hole in the floor’ toilets and the cow dung cakes that I had to use (and smell) during the cooking scenes in the hut with no windows.
All in all, the experience was great fun! After the hectic schedule, Sanjivani and a few of her family members offered to take me to Shirdi, to pay gratitude at the samadhi tomb of a Great Master whose energy presence and direct guidance and blessings continue to touch the lives of thousands of people across the globe.
Already exhausted, I nevertheless agreed to a full night jeep ride on bumpy village roads just to reach Shirdi for the Morning Arati at 4.30am. The car was packed, driver wild (especially with the brake pedal) and I sat at the very back, on top of the luggage. By the time we reached Shirdi, my legs were red and swollen due to many merciless bites of bed bugs (my first ever encounter with these cruel creatures) – ugh… However, irritating itching and utmost tiredness were all forgotten the moment I entered Shirdi Baba’s magical abode and the vibrations around his samadhi tomb expanded my heart. This is something one can only experience, but not describe in words…
In order to do justice to all the amazing experiences with this great Master, a separate blog will be written on this topic. For now it will suffice to say that it was COMPLETELY CLEAR to me that this movie was entirely his ‘Leela’ (divine play) – I noticed that most of the Foreignchi Patlin film crew members were Baba’s devotees and the movie even starts with his image! (I was soon to find out the real reason why Baba brought me to Maharashtra to act in this movie – a story yet to be told).
And finally, 15 months later, the greatest surprise of all came my way – I received a phone call from Sanjivani who said that I should come to the famous Dadar Hall in Mumbai for the Movie Awards organized by the government of Maharashtra – to receive the Best Actress Award!
Even though ‘Foreignchi Patlin’ is an emotional drama with elements of comedy, Sanjivani also received the award in the “Best Comedy” category. Furthermore, I was amazed to learn that ‘Foreignchi Patlin’ was screened in the main cinema in Kolaphur for more than 100 days in a row, houseful (which means that many people must have went to see it several times). It did very well in other cinema theatres across Maharashtra and the songs became very popular on Marathi chanells.
‘Foreignchi Patlin’ made history as the first Marathi movie with a foreign actress in the lead role, acting in Marathi language.
Here’s a short movie trailer video:
All in all, I can’t but conclude that the success that comes as a result of a conscious choice to follow one’s intuition (against all the odds) is so incredibly sweet as it opens the doors of the new, magical dimension of life – SURRENDER…
Love to all,