My first feature film experience was for an Indian production called Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna (Never Say Goodbye). It starred the famous Bollywood actors Shah Rukh Khan, Preity Zinta, and Amitabh Bachchan and was directed by Karan Johar, one of the biggest directors in India. It was a New York City love story told in Hindi and English. My role was to be the assistant of one of the main characters who works for Diva Magazine, a fashion magazine similar to Vogue.
We background actors in our “featured roles” were thrilled to be a part of a big production and excited to be on camera. I had my hair and makeup done, put together a stylish costume, and spent time bonding with the other Diva Magazine assistants, who, once the film started rolling, ended up competing with each other for the most camera time. It was a point in our careers when we thought anything could be our big break.
The director seemed to like me. In our group scenes, he would move the other actors around so I could be front and center. He even decided, joy of joys, that I was going to have a line. I became confident and proud of myself. Not only would this be my first feature film, but I was getting my first line on camera! This, I thought, would surely get me into the Screen Actors Guild. The Bollywood experience was going to pave the way to stardom.
The shoot took many days and nights. We unimportant actors were all stuffed in the back room together, while the Bollywood stars strutted in and out of their dressing rooms in robes and slippers, with at least three assistants walking behind them. One of the female actresses had an assistant hold up a hand mirror in front of her every two seconds, while misting her with Evian facial spray. She was truly a diva, embracing her role in the movie. At one point, off camera, her assistant was no where to be found. The actress screamed for her. The poor assistant came running and the actress yelled at her, “FETCH ME MY SLIPPERS!!” She obediently brought the slippers and put them on the pampered star’s feet.
After many takes of me shouting, “Come on, Riya, let’s celebrate!” the director finally got what he wanted. Or so I thought. The next day he decided another girl should say my line because she was at a better angle on camera. I was devastated. Humiliated. Crushed. After many days of shooting this huge production, and losing my big line in the movie, I was bitter and ready to be done with the whole thing. Once shooting finally wrapped, we all straggled home and anxiously waited for months to see the end result.
I heard the film was a huge success in India, but I had to go to Amazon.com to find a copy of it on DVD. I ordered it and watched it for the first time alone in my house. It was a painfully long film, so I fast forwarded to my scene. There I was. On camera. Looking good. But I thought the girl who took my line was unimpressive. She didn’t truly capture the moment of “Come on, Riya, let’s celebrate!” as well as I did, but what can you do? At least I had a feature film credit now, and a page on IMDB. It was a start. Hooray for Bollywood!