The first time I visited the sets of Dee Saturday Night, I was mildly nervous, moderately excited and massively curious. It’s not every day that you’re told to rush to a set because, like the PR manager assured me, “We’re shooting a semi-naked song today. You’ll get your story as well as good sexy pictures.” I did get my story and some good sexy pictures, but not through Mr PR’s prescribed channel.
I reached just before the team broke for lunch. Director-Producer Jai Prakash of Market (2003) fame was shooting the title song on a set in a far-flung suburb of Mumbai. My first thought on reaching the set was that it looked far too normal. For a ‘hot and sexy’ film, things looked far too smooth and professional. Sure, lunch was a simple dal-chaawal-papad-pickle affair served in melamine plates instead of organic, low-fat tofu and soba noodles; and maybe the vanity vans were fewer, not quite as fancy as the ones I was used to seeing at ‘regular’ Bollywood film sets, but other than those surface differences, it was like any other set of any other film.
So what makes a C-grade film different? For starters, the fact that roughly 90 per cent of the cast has no idea of what’s going on. Barring a handpicked few, who would be a constant through the film, everyone is interchangeable. Not least, the groups of girls all over the many bedroom, swimming pool and rape scenes. They don’t know how much of the movie has been shot, when the next schedule is, when it will be released or what it means for their careers. All they know is what’s expected of them. “Story ka toh pata nahin, but mera swimming pool waala scene abhi baaki hai,” (I don’t know about the story but my swimming pool scene is still left) says one girl as she rushes to the dance floor to secure herself a place before all the good positions are taken up. Ditto for girl number three, four and five. “Kuchh toh Dhoble ke uppar banaya hai,” (Something on Dhoble) says girl number six after thinking for a few minutes. “Social message waali film hai hamari,” (It has a social message) she parrots, clearly impressed with her stroke of genius.
I wander around the set some more, catching snatches of conversation here and there. At some point, Ritesh, our photographer, joins me. The curious stares I’d been getting up until then turn into impressed and inviting smiles as soon as Ritesh whips out his impressive camera. Suddenly the girls are sitting up straighter. Legs that had been covered with thin wraps are back on the floor, heels are quickly strapped back on, and the jackets that are covering the itsy-bitsy dresses the girls are wearing are discreetly hidden away. What’s not so discreet is the way they thrust out their chests, cross and uncross their long legs or arch their scantily-clad back towards Ritesh. Each is hungry for her 60 seconds of fame.
Through all the eyes that stare at us, I find one pair that draws me towards her. They’re green, large and hungry too, yes, but there’s something else in them. I walk up to her, hoping that I’ve finally found my story in green eyes, but she doesn’t seem very happy to see me. “Please kuchh matt poochho hamare se. Aap kuchh ulta-seedha likhogi aur mereko nikaal denge movie se,” she mutters under her breath. (Please don’t ask me anything. You’ll write some nonsense and they’ll kick me out of the movie.) “Why will they throw you out?” I ask. “Because it’s easy to find someone else if they think I’ve fucked up,” she says in halting English. “Koi bhi mill jayegi.” (They’ll find anyone). Up close, I realise that the green eyes are actually contact lenses.
Her friend is more accommodating. “Madam, aap mujhko poochho. Mera photo lo aap,” she says eagerly. (Ask me, take my photo). “How old are you?” I ask. “Twenty-four.” Green Eyes quickly answers before her friend can reply. A look passes between the two as her friend looks at her in surprise, but she has the sense to keep mum. I suppress a smile and continue. “How did you girls get a part? Do you have an agent?” “No, no. No agent. We audition. All of us auditioned for our parts.”
A few more questions and rehearsed responses (“Yes, it’s all very professional”; “No, no one even looks at us like that”; “My parents know it’s just work and they don’t mind the short clothes and sex scenes…”) later, it’s time for the current batch of girls on the dance floor to be replaced with the second batch. Green Eyes and her friend hurriedly touch up their makeup and get up to depart, but I’m not ready to let Green Eyes leave yet. With promises to never use her name or reveal her identity, I manage to get her number. She gives me a name half-heartedly, but I suspect it’s a fake one. In any case, she is already Green Eyes in my mind.
The next time I meet Green Eyes is a couple of days later, after she’s done shooting for the day. I meet her a little away from the location because she doesn’t want to be seen hanging around ‘journalist types’. “Log poochhenge main madam saath kya kar rahi thhi,” she explains (People will ask what I was doing with you). As she walks into the café where we’d decided to meet, I can barely recognise her. She looks like another person altogether. The bikini top has been replaced by a kurti, the tiny skirt with jeans, and the pointed boots with a pair of Kolhapuris. The face is scrubbed clean of makeup, but the lenses stay on. With about 10 kg added to her frame, she could be me. For some reason, that surprises me. Again, it’s too normal, too ordinary. “Saara time thhode na unn chhote-chhote kapdon mein ghoomoongi main,” she laughs. (I don’t roam around in those tiny clothes all the time.) “Ma doesn’t like it,” she says more seriously. “I have to dress properly while leaving home and going back. Varna log mummy ko pareshaan karte hain.” (Otherwise they trouble my mother.)
Despite our many phone conversations, this is the first I’ve heard of her mother. “Mummy hai? Bombay mein?” (Your mother lives in Bombay?) “Half the time. Aadha time she goes back home.” ‘Back home’ is a small town in north India. “And Papa?” “Woh toh tapak gaya, saala. Kameena thha ekdum. Accha hai marr gaya.” (He dropped dead, was really mean, and it’s good he died.)
Considering that ‘Ma’ is ‘back home’ right now, Green Eyes is in a mood to party and get drunk. It helps that I’m the one footing the bill for the night. We move to a club in Bandra, a suburb I’m more familiar with. The jeans are again exchanged for shorts and the kurti for a vest. We’re joined by two of her film friends at the club. By now, we’re friendly enough for her to drop the ‘Madam’ and start calling me by my name. But I begin to realise that Green Eyes is trying pretty hard to impress me. She’s invited friends who are not quite as pretty and clearly lower down the pecking order.
While Green Eyes has graduated to B- and C-grade flicks and every once in a while lands an extra’s role in bigger Bollywood films, her friends are still making the rounds of the questionable back-offices of fly-by-night production houses all over Andheri and Malad. “Inka toh woh teen-chaar din waala shooting hota hai. Bahut saare sex scenes, ek-doh murder, baaki kuchh nahin. Inn movies ka sets ya schedules nahin hota hai. Koi farmhouse mein shoot ho jaata hai. Hamare movies jaisa nahin hai,” she tells me proudly. (Their movies are shot in 3-4 days. Lots of sex scenes, a couple of murders. They don’t have sets or schedules. They just shoot at farmhouses, not like our films.)
The other two girls look at Green Eyes with admiration. Clearly, they dream of making the transition from ‘their’ movies to ‘her’ movies. With that, the drinks arrive, and soon the girls are on the dance floor, having the time of their lives.
I meet green eyes again, a few days later. This time Mumbai’s monsoons wreak havoc on our drinking plans and we’re stuck at home. Hers. She brightens up substantially when she sees that I come bearing presents. Two big bottles of Old Monk and Coke and my wine. Her house is a small one-room apartment in a chawl. On a small shelf in a corner, there’s a small garlanded idol of Ganesha. The flowers are fresh and the incense stick is recently lit. Ma’s absence has clearly not upset their deity’s routine. “Kissi mard pe toh vishwas karna chahiye na…” she says as she catches me looking at the idol, and laughs at her old joke. (One must trust at least some male.) “Baap toh mera bhadwa thha saala.” (My father was a damn pimp.)
Green Eyes hated her father, that much is clear. I find out why over the next few drinks. “Uski doosri biwi thhi. Kabhi dhyaan nahin deta thha hamare par. Itna maarta thha ki meri susu nikal jaati thhi.” (He had a second wife and never paid attention to us. He would beat me so much that I would pee in my pants.) “He died [nine] years ago. Phir hum Bambai aaye. Main toh bacchi thhi tab.” (After that we came to Mumbai. I was a child then.)
With no education and no qualifications, Green Eyes found herself with a job at a dance bar near Oshiwara. “I have big breasts na, so the men loved it. Low-neck choli pehen ke dance karti thhi (I used to wear blouses with plunging necklines while dancing).” “And Ma? She let you do it?” I asked. “When there is no food to eat, you stop minding everything,” she replies matter-of-factly. She worked there for two years and made some invaluable contacts. That’s also where she turned into a gutter mouth. “Arre, you have to learn. Varna (Or else) they keep touching you everywhere while dancing. Gaali dena padta hai (You have to swear at them).”
Green Eyes was spotted by a ‘Bollywood producer’ during one of her performances. “He made those three-day films. The money was good. Waise bhi handjob aur blowjob dena padta thha customers ko, to make decent money. Maine socha kar leti hoon.” (In any case, I would have to give handjobs and blowjobs to customers… I thought might as well do the film.)
By now I had heard enough of Green Eyes’ conversations to know that a ‘three-day film’ is a euphemism for porn. “First it was weird. Kapde utaar ke so jaana bed par. Kuchh toh de dete thhe humko toh nasha hota thha. Phir itna nahin ajeeb lagta thha. Baad mein, you get used to it.” (We had to lie naked on the bed. They would give us something to make us drowsy. Then it wouldn’t feel weird and eventually you get used to it.)
Green Eyes’s stint in these three-day movies continued for about four years. Those four years saw her constantly changing phone numbers, living in perennial fear of police raids, rape, and worse, murder.
“Maine seekha ke (I learned that) you have to keep your mouth shut and your head low. Gunde aur mafia hote hain kuchh filmmakers. (Some of these filmmakers are part of the mafia.) You can’t make them angry. Aur sote rehna padta hai unke saath beech-beech mein (You periodically have to have sex with them.)”
Luck smiled on Green Eyes in the form of an infatuated young producer who offered her one of his bigger productions. With that she made her C-grade film debut and said goodbye to the world of porn. “Finally I stopped doing those ajeeb (strange) shaitaan aur sundari (devil and the beauty) type films.” And what happened to lover-boy? “He found someone new,” she says with a twinge of sadness. “Aisa nahin thha (It’s not that), I loved him. But woh accha thha. Khayaal rakhta thha mera. (He was nice and took care of me.) It was nice to have a boyfriend.”
The reality of her life and everything she’s seen may have hardened them, but the vulnerability in her eyes becomes apparent as she tells me about her hopes for the future. “English seekhna hai acche se. Naam kamana hai. Shah Rukh Khan se milna hai. Shaadi karni hai,” (I have to learn English properly, become famous, meet Shah Rukh Khan and get married) she ticks off the list on her fingers.
“Someone will toh love me also, no?” If she was expecting an answer, I didn’t have one for her. I wonder how many more dreams those green eyes are nurturing. And I wonder even more whether any will ever come true. Maybe if her number doesn’t change as is wont, someday we’ll all find out.