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Film City

It’s not very often a person gets invited to go inside the heart of Bollywood. It’s probably even less often that the person doesn’t know where they’re getting invited to.

I, of course, am that silly person in this scenario.

To be fair, no one ever told me what Film City was. I was mostly just happy that someone was willing to lend me equipment.

You see, the biggest challenge for any person hoping to volunteer their time to Mumbai NGO’s as a journalist/documentarian (or, filmstress, as one friend recently dubbed me) is that to be productive you need the help of some very expensive equipment.

I’m used to working for organizations that own innumerable cameras, have all the editing space you need and technical support whenever you want. Here, I’m like a jockey without a horse.  NGO’s don’t have a budget for even the most basic resources, let alone thousands of dollars worth of camera and editing equipment.  So for the projects I’m working on, every scenario has been a bit of a scramble.

Luckily for one, we got a little bit of help.

I’m doing all the documentation for a large education conference taking place next weekend called InspirED (www.InspiredIndia.in if anyone is interested). The aim of the conference is to bring teachers and educators in from across the country to discuss ways to improve innovation in India’s classrooms.

One of the conference’s partners happened to be connected to someone at a major film school – and as such they were able to convince the film school to become a sponsor of the conference and donate equipment. It was a huge relief.

Our contact at the film school told me that I should come out to see the equipment and facilities I would be using. We set a time to meet and then he told me the school was located within Film City. The words flew over my head.

When I got in the car the next day I confused my driver: “Can we go to the film school in Film City. Do you know where Film City is?”

“You want to go to Film City?”

“Yes, it’s in Goregaon.”

“Yes, ma’am. I know where it is. Everyone knows where it is. Are you sure you have permission?”

“What do you mean?”

“You can’t go in without permission.”

“I… I have permission.” I said, still a bit confused by what he meant.

“Why would I need special permission?”

“Ma’am, Film City is where all the Bollywood movies are made.  You have to have authorization to go in.”

I assured him that we had permission, and he began to drive. But I was still quite curious- I asked him to tell me more.

Apparently, the land for Film City was given to the film industry by the Indian government and it’s been home to thousands of Bollywood movies since the first film was shot there in 1911. It’s on the edge of Sanjay Gandhi National Park (the largest urban park in the world) and it is a sprawling place- forests are next to large sets next to various sound-stages. While films are created across India, Film City is known as the hub. It’s as though half the studios in Hollywood were located in one place. And in an industry that puts out  over 900 films a year (more than Hollywood), that’s really saying something.

We drove up to the gate. A glowering guard stared at me as I rolled the window down. I gave him my name and he checked his list. Apparently, I was good to go.

An unused elaborate film set

We drove in and it was as though someone had turned the city on its head – the noise and dirt and pollution instantly disappeared. It was like we were driving down a remote dirt lane – hills stood tall in the distance as a lush forest came right up to the road.  It was hard to remember we were two minutes from the insanity of Bombay.

At every turn there was something else hidden in the space– an elaborate set, a soundstage, a group filming some movie or tv show. I know that hundreds of extras must see this every day but I couldn’t help but feel like I’d entered some secret compound. It just didn’t feel like the city anymore – and I suppose that’s what movies are supposed to do best. This was the perfect hidden space to make a film about anything.

We pulled into the film school and I was greeted at the door. I was shown the equipment and everything looked perfect- they were giving us great cameras and unlimited time in an edit room. It was fitting that they could give me everything we required for filming the conference – we were in need of a bit of magic and they, apparently, were in the right place to make it happen.

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