Published on: 30 October 2015 in Longform

Hooray for Bollywood

Reading time: 4 minutes and 50 seconds

Illy Hill, Directors UK member and Nations and Regions Representative for North West England, has recently been working as an advisor on the production of a new Bollywood film, Veda, shot in both India and the UK. We spoke to Illy about his role, and found out what it was like to work outside the conventional UK film industry.

Can you tell us a bit about the project and what the film’s about?

Veda is a contemporary dual-language (English and Hindi) adaptation of Shakespeare’s Hamlet shot in India and England, directed by Onir.

How did you get involved? Did they approach you or did you seek it out?

I was approached by an NGO, who asked if I would be up for being the go-to man for the shooting of a Bollywood film in England, with a full Indian cast and crew. I presume they approached me because of my past experience of working abroad on educational projects, which involved working with foreign crews, tight schedules and low budgets in places like Africa, Malta, Spain and Italy.

Can you tell us what your role on the production was?

I was involved with pretty much everything on the film. I was the advisor and fixer, the go-to man to solve problems. My advice was sought on every aspect of the project, but the majority of my time was spent organising and arranging the complex locations, which was a bit of an alien concept for them! They informed me that crews in India shoot where and when they want – they would just stop off if they saw something they liked; no permissions, contracts or fees. I don’t know if this was a slight exaggeration of the facts, but they were adamant, and it took them a while to come to terms with the concept of applying for permissions and paying a fee prior to shooting. The locations in India and the UK also had to match up. There were a lot of sequences that evolved and morphed into one another, i.e. walking out of the desert in Rajasthan and into Chorlton Water Park in Manchester and vice versa.

What was it like working with an all-Indian crew? What were the differences between their way of working and what you see on a typical UK set?

It was extremely enjoyable. I had a great time. The whole crew to a man were a joy to work with, extremely polite and courteous to everybody, very knowledgeable about all aspects of the business, and very creative. However, because of the intensity of the way they work, they did have a habit of going back to their hotel of a night and changing the schedule without informing me or the facilities guys. So we’d arrive on set at 6am – as per the call sheet – only for the cast and crew to not show up until 8 or 9am. But that’s just how they work! On the plus side, if the shoot is slow and running over, there are no arguments, no complaints, and no question of overtime; they all take responsibility and get on with it and they always complete the day’s schedule. They are passionate about what they do and only want what’s best for the film, to get the best results and complete the job! 

Travel is not a problem to these guys. One day we had a 6am call in Manchester, so we could then travel to Stratford-upon-Avon, shoot four scenes in three different locations, before travelling back up to Manchester at 10pm. It was an amazing day, and I very much doubt a British crew would do it. The crew were all super-efficient – the sparks actually ran to rig and set up lights, no arguments, no fuss, they all wanted to make a great film and all had an input.

Did you change your approach to suit the different cultural context you were working in?

Yes I did, I immersed myself in their work ethic and accepted their approach to filming. However it did take me a couple of days to get used to the meal break situation: even though lunch breaks were scheduled, no one called lunch, they just seemed to go off and eat when they felt like it, or when the chef (who was also Indian) decided it was ready. But when the meals came the food was excellent.

Did you feel “removed” from the rest of the process, seeing as it’s being made in and for a different country?

No. I had no problem adjusting as my own ethos is also one of pride in what I’m doing. I love the art that’s involved, the dedication and the feeling of self-satisfaction when you’ve achieved your outcome. It was a pleasure and a joy to be accepted as a member of their crew.

It was a little off-putting when suddenly everyone would start taking in Hindi and laughing and all you can do is stand there like a mug. But they would always say they were saying nice things about us…

But I had a great time with them, a very enjoyable and enlightening experience, and anyone who gets the opportunity to work on a Bollywood film should grab it with both hands.

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