2022-04-29

Shooting in India

As I'm off to India for the 9th time in 18 months (History of India with Michael Wood, BBC/Discovery) I thought I'd impart some  hard won wisdom.


Travel: Overnight trains are a great way to cover large distances while asleep. They're clean, they serve breakfast and dinner to your bunk, and are a lasting legacy of British rule. However, in keeping with British legacies just because the timetable says 7pm departure it doesn't actually mean 7pm departure. Oh no. Much like British rail, deciphering both timetable and tannoy announcements takes an effort of herculean proportions, and not a little blind faith. Expect to spend between two and eight hours waiting on the platform for your train. Yes, between two and eight hours. Bring a book and a cushion. It's worthwile to note that the  service industry is abundant in India. The little guys in red coats at Indian train stations are porters, and although many of them should have been pensioned off years ago there has not yet been invented the flight case they cannot carry. Tell them which train you're on and they will deposit your kit on the platform in good order, and then disappear. And here's the clever bit. Your train has been indefinitely delayed, you've just spent 4 hours on the platform passed out on a lense box, and you're about to have a serious sense of humour failure because you don't know when the train will arrive. The porters do. Just before it rolls in they will magically appear, grab all your gear, and put it on the train in the correct booth. Well worth the 200 rupee tip (£2.40).

Eating: Never drink the water. Never. Never eat pizza. Really, never. Never go off continent when ordering food. Indian cuisine doesn't get any better than when  you're in India so do try all the street stalls, especially if they're busy with customers. Ordering a Greek Salad in a dusty little town that's not got a water main or a single tarmaced road will only end in disappointment. And possibly the runs. Also, top tip when eating out. Something like 800,000,000 Indians are vegetarian, indeed in the South it's very difficult to find a restaurant anywhere that serves meat. Go veggie. Three quarters of the population can't be wrong, and I've not once been ill in India. The only two times I've had food poisoning were Turkey and Turkmenistan respectively. Both pizzas, both ended quite badly.

Shooting: While attempting that atmospheric shot of the mist rising off the river at 6am, or the solitary temple with the birds circling in the afternoon haze, you will draw a crowd. As with anywhere in the world, the more kit you have the bigger the crowd, the higher the DP's stress level. Four crew members having a cup of tea = 20 onlookers. Four crew, one camera, and a fluffy thing on a stick = a welsh choir. Add a jib or crane and you have the equivalent of Highbury after the match. There are two accepted ways to deal with the wall of smiling faces standing directly in front of the lense. While shouting and waving ones arms  has a vague  short term effect, a  policeman brandishing a stick is taken far more seriously. Psychologists may agree that negative reinforcement is extremely effective in illiciting the correct response, however just as useful and more in line with the BBC's health and safety policy of not hitting the public is the Indian rope trick. Simply bang four posts into the ground, attach a long rope around said posts, bring in a few chairs and shoot in comfort and security. No one will cross the rope. No I don't know why, but it works.
Note for sound recordists. The horrendous din that sounds like 40,000 mopeds with truck horns? That's 40,000 mopeds with truck horns. Panic not, this is natural, this is India. Also the constant "hack and spit" you're hearing in the middle of every link is pretty much normal too. Just watch where you step.

Hope this is vaguely of use.

 Next week, negotiating Indian bureacracy ("yes sir, you have the first 5 correct permissions, but you need the 6th, 7th and eighth. In triplicate"),how to bribe government officials (see previous), and why you should never leave a copy of FHM out in your hotel room.


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