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Bollywood party, baby iceblock, Mumbai police!!!

I met the lady who coined the term, Bollywood. Janet Fine is a freelance journalist for magazines like Variety and the Hollywood Reporter. After living 20+ years in Mumbai, I think Aussies make some kind of sense to her.

She invited us all to a strange, glitzy party - hosted by a famous Italian chef.

No place in Mumbai is particularly impressive, so when I got out of the car and stepped into a muddy, dirty roadway, I was surprised. We were on the doorstep of the famous downtown Bollywood restaurant, Olive.

Photographers and videographers pumped flashes and lights at model-like actors. Watching the Bollywood films which play every night on TV here (there are literally thousands of them) shows just how skilled these people are. They're not using Stanislavski, Adler or Meisner - they are more like expert dancers with fantastic co-ordination and lip-synching skills. It's a different style of acting. They are more than simply models.

I recognised nobody and ordered a Tom Collins. Fellow Aussies thought me a seasoned drinker, but I'd only read about the big Tom in a cocktail book. It wasn't great. But I can say I had my last one at a Bollywood party.

When actors so much as moved, lights would flash.

It was all very silly.

But the silliest thing by far . . . was the bathroom.

Toilets here are crazy. At one hotel, I turned around and a uniformed guy was standing there. He switched the tap on for me. He even squeezed out some soap as I approached the wash basin and then he issued me a stream of several, palm-sized towellettes for me to dry my hands on.

The Bollywood toilet was even crazier. There was the usual toilet guy standing there to show me the way to the urinal (2 metres away) but the funniest thing was a baby-sized block of ice, sprinkled with flowers - sitting right there in the urinal. I rarely laugh when I'm alone, but this thing really tickled my funny-bone. The only purpose I could think of was to cool my urine before it became an integral and perhaps spiritual part of the great Ganges.

It was an interesting night.

When an Australian actress heard that Aussies were there, she mysteriously disappeared. Out the back door, I suspect. I caught her eye and I'm sure something passed between us. Something not so good. Something nervous - awkward. A mixture of embarrassment and indignation. Being a big star in Bollywood - a film society pretty much run by India's mafia - isn't considered to be a serious career move. Down to earth Aussie filmmakers might have seemed a bit daunting. If the bepetalled ice-block in the urinal was anything to go by, I might have snuck out the back door, too.

The following night, I went to a nightclub with my new Indian friends, Somdev Chatterjee and Rajdeep Randhawa - two filmmakers with excellent documentaries screening at the Mumbai Film Festival. It took us a few tries to get into places.

No stags, sorry, no stags!
doormen kept repeating.

In India, men aren't allowed into a nightclub without being accompanied by a woman. Apparently women get hit on quite a lot here. How do men meet women in Bombay? I asked my friends. They shrugged.

The sexual divide in India is an infinite chasm - as evidenced by one MIFF film, Hoon I. Pretty much the Indian equivalent to a women's rights film (made by Amit Babulal Shah). In the film, women were almost daring each other to remove their veils - without seeking permission from their husbands.

You can't simply meet a woman at a party here and then go to bed (not that you can do that in Australia without cushioning a few good slaps on the way). It's a huge, six month battle with phone calls, SMSs and coy meetings with parental involvement. It sounds like an absolute nightmare. In India, it pays not to be single.

We finally get into a club (I think because I'm a white guy - which does mean cash to some degree, here) and we sink a couple of Kingfishers (local beer). We took a few photos and made our way to the exit . . .

. . . whereupon the nightclub was stormed by Police!

My friends hid my beer and we all crouched under the stairwell until my friends could get me out of there without being spotted by the cops.

I had no idea what was happening.

I was told later.

The police are really corrupt here and will go into a nightclub at 1am (everything finishes strictly at 1am here - despite Mumbai's exciting nightlife) to get whatever money they can from . . . white guys! They simply approach the white guy and get cash off him - for no particular reason. If he doesn't have enough, it could mean a night in a cell.

I once asked my friends if they pay much tax. Of course we do. Apparently about 25%. But there is little evidence of it in Mumbai. People are poor and dying, roads are falling apart and in a city of 20 million people, I rarely saw public works, a nice park, or a rennovated building. It's as if India has no government.

It may be different in other Indian cities and let's be fair . . .

How does one govern 20,000,000 people?



t.b.c. . . .

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