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Hello there, I’m Owen and this is my podcast for Friday 27th September, 2019. Welcome! I have to start by making an announcement. Sadly, PodClub is coming to an end, which means that this will be my last podcast. I recorded the first episode of this podcast almost five years ago, so to everyone who has listened over the years, I thank you very much. It’s been a pleasure telling you my stories. I do have one last story for you today about an experience I had on my last trip to India. So let’s get started.
In one of my very first podcasts, when I was still living in Kunming, I told you a story about a rather bizarre encounter I had in a bar. I was approached by a casting agent, who was working on a Chinese war movie, and she was going around all the bars in Kunming looking for a tall bearded foreigner to play a British war correspondent in the film. I thought she was going to offer me the part until a tall American walked into the bar and she lost interest in me. Almost five years later I was once again in a bar. Not in Kunming this time but in Kolkata. There was a little TV behind the bar that was showing a Bollywood film. Bollywood is the Indian film industry based in Mumbai. There are, however, other film industries in India. There’s Pollywood in the north and Kollywood in the south and then there’s Tollywood, which is the Bengali film industry based in Kolkata, in a neighbourhood called Tollygunge. As a matter of fact  Tollywood was the first to derive  its name from Hollywood. If you’re interested in exploring Bengali film, look no further  than Satyajit Ray, the greatest Bengali filmmaker in history. In the 1950s he wrote and directed three movies which together are referred to as the Apu Trilogy. I highly recommend them. Anyhow , back to the bar in Kolkata. I was minding my own business  when a guy came up to me and told me that he worked as a casting agent for a film production company in Tollywood. He told me they were in the middle of shooting a film and he was looking for some white guys to be extras . In other words he was looking for people to stand in the background of some scenes in the movie. The casting agent asked me whether I’d be interested in being an extra in a Tollywood movie. I had a couple of days to kill  and it was paid work, but most of all, especially after coming so close in Kunming, I really wanted to be in a movie. I mean, who doesn’t? So, of course, I said yes.
The following day at 7am I was picked up from my hotel. The casting agent had managed to recruit  a group of foreigners from different bars in Kolkata. The group consisted of  a couple of French businessmen, a Swedish medic who was volunteering in the slums of Kolkata, a Californian hippie, an Armenian alcoholic and an Indian who didn’t look Indian. And me, of course. We drove to the set on the outskirts  of Kolkata where we were immediately given our costumes. Some of us had to play scientists and some of us had to play security guards. I was one of the security guards. My costume consisted of a black buttoned jacket, black trousers, black boots, black gloves and a black balaclava. With the balaclava over my head all you could see were my eyes. I kept thinking: ‘Hang on , this is a bit weird. I thought they needed white guys but all you can see are my eyes.’ But before I could say anything they sent me to see the stunt coordinators who told me to undress again, so they could strap some styrofoam  to my back and hips. Once they’d done that they handed me a fake gun and started showing me the stunts I was going to have to perform. At this stage I was thinking: ‘Hang on, I thought I was supposed to be an extra. You know, just standing in the background not doing much.’ Before I knew what the hell  was going on, though, the director, who also happened to be the star of the film, showed up. He greeted everyone and then immediately said: “Let’s shoot.” And that’s how my first day on a movie set started. I spent 12 hours that day filming scenes of me pulling a gun on the hero, of him strangling me, of him kicking me in the guts , of me falling to the ground, of me kidnapping his baby, of his father-in-law cracking my skull with a stick and of some other guy snapping my neck. It was a long, chaotic, bizarre and very fun day. It was also just the first of three days I ended up spending on the set. The whole shoot was a bit disorganised and running behind schedule and the Californian hippie turned out to be a terrible actor and stuntman, so they asked me to film a few more scenes in his place. Keep in mind that I was dressed in black from head to toe and all you could see were my eyes, so I could play multiple security guards. And then on the morning of the third day they had the Armenian playing a scientist. In his first scene he was sitting in a chair and he had to jump up and run to the door. They gave him clear instructions about how he had to jump up and run and the Armenian just nodded. The director shouted: “Action!” But instead of jumping up and running, the Armenian barely managed to stand up from his chair. It quickly became apparent that the Armenian was extremely hungover and as the day went on his hangover got worse and worse. That’s when they asked me to dress up as a scientist and film a few more scenes. Now, you’re probably thinking: ‘What kind of production is this?’ And I can’t blame you. But, amazingly, this wasn't a small production. Tollywood is a pretty big industry and this was a big production with well-known actors and a substantial  budget. After they finished filming in Kolkata the whole crew flew to Italy to film the rest of the movie. The film will be released later this year. The title of the film is Bony. If you happen to find yourself in Kolkata, go see it in the cinema and look out for the security guards and scientists.
And with that, we’ve almost reached the end of my final podcast. I’m happy because it feels as if this series of podcasts has come full circle. Five years ago, when I was living in Kunming, I told you how I almost got to play a British war correspondent in a film. Well, that didn’t work out, but almost five years later I get to tell you about the time I was in a movie in Kolkata. From my stories about Kunming and my memories of Beijing, to my travels in South America and across the Indian subcontinent and my eventual return to Europe, I hope you’ve enjoyed listening to these podcasts as much as I have enjoyed recording them.
You’ll be able to find all of our podcasts on our website and our app until the end of the year. After that you’ll still be able to listen to them on SoundCloud.
Thank you to everyone who worked on these podcasts and to you for listening. Take care. Goodbye.