Taking a guided Bollywood tour of Mumbai

Taking a guided Bollywood tour of Mumbai

Writer Tamara Hinson gets a crash course on the Indian film industry with a trip through the heart of Bollywood.

Bollywood expert and guide Yogesh Pawar in front of the G7 multiplex, Mumbai’s first multiplex cinema.Bollywood expert and guide Yogesh Pawar in front of the G7 multiplex, Mumbai’s first multiplex cinema.  (Tamara Hinson)

MUMBAI, INDIA—To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t entirely convinced when my guide, Yogesh Pawar, pointed out the home of Bollywood legend Shah Rukh Khan.

I certainly wouldn’t have known it was his house if it hadn’t been for the clusters of young Indian men eagerly snapping photographs of each other pulling Khan’s signature pose: arms spread, eyes half-closed in a don’t-mess-with-me-squint.

In Bollywood, it’s the men who seem most enamored with India’s film stars, and it’s the male actors who appear to attract the most adulation. Their roles are often stereotypical — key accessories include leather jackets and a piercing stare.

I didn’t see a single woman posing outside the houses we saw in Bandra, the Mumbai neighbourhood popular with Bollywood’s biggest stars. Only men, gyrating their hips or clutching their belts in carefully-rehearsed imitations of their idols’ favourite moves.

The majority of Bollywood’s superstars live in this palm tree-dotted seafront in western Mumbai. The first property I’m shown on a four-hour walking/tuk tuk Bollywood Treats tour with Urban Adventures belongs to the aforementioned Bollywood legend Shah Rukh Khan.

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Amazingly, Khan once slept rough on the beach, metres from where he now lives. He was determined to make it as an actor, and told his friends that when he made it in Bollywood, he’d buy a house overlooking the patch of sand where he’d once slept. And that’s exactly what he did.

Today he’s a millionaire, thanks to roles in films like Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge. It was released in 1995, and it’s still the most popular film at many of Mumbai’s cinemas.

Huge, dirty walls protect his sprawling mansion from prying eyes, but his security appears somewhat lax.

The entrance is framed by a ramshackle wooden shed. I poke my head inside and spot a seminaked local (definitely not Khan) dozing on a bench while a flea-bitten dog snoozes nearby.

Just as surprising is the nearby home of Salman Khan, an actor worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

“He lives in those flats with his mum and sister,” explains Pawar, pointing to an apartment block. I’m pretty sure he’s got more than enough money to move into a place of his own, but as a single man, it’s apparently not the done thing. “He’s unmarried, so he still lives at home,” explains Pawar.

Our next stop is the house of Aamir Khan, known for his dedication to his craft.

One of the films he’s most famous for is Dangal, although it’s not his acting skills which stole the limelight. Khan played a wrestler, and had to put on a huge amount of weight for the role, which portrays his character at various stages of his life.

Khan decided to film the later scenes first since these required him to gain an enormous amount of weight.

He knew that the scenes in which he played a lithe, muscled wrestler would be an added impetus to lose the weight he had piled on.

After ballooning to 97 kilograms and acquiring 38 per cent body fat (thanks largely to a diet of samosas and brownies), Khan had a matter of months to lose the extra weight. Within five months he’d reduced his body fat to nine per cent.

Beautiful, enormous homes are built at lightning speed in this part of Mumbai.

Behind high walls I sneak glimpses of bustling construction sites and tangles of scaffolding. Outside one site, a sign informs the public that the property belongs to someone called Kapoor.

The Kapoors in question are also known as the first family of Bollywood. Pawar admits that residents often complain that regulations relating to noise pollution are flouted by those with the most money.

It’s time for a movie. We head to the G7 multiplex, a beautiful cinema where ceilings are covered with colourful, painted planets and where the samosas served during intervals are prepared by the same caterer who made them when the cinema opened in 1972. It’s Mumbai’s first multiplex cinema.

We take our seats and a sign flashes up reminding people not to spit inside the cinema. Next comes the national anthem, and we stand in unison as a fluttering Indian flag appears.

The film, Begum Jaan, is in Hindi so it’s difficult to work out exactly what’s going on, but in the opening scene an elderly woman saves the life of young couple by stripping naked in public and scaring off the confused attackers.

The rest of the film takes place years earlier, and revolves around the efforts of a group of prostitutes desperate to repel soldiers trying to seize control of their remote brothel prior to the partition of India.

There’s violence, explosions and sex scenes and at one point two of the leading ladies almost kiss while reclining on a hay bale. There’s probably some swearing, but it’s in Hindi so I can’t be sure. Consider looking away if you’re planning to see the film, because I can reveal that almost everyone dies.

When the credits roll, Pawar turns to me and says “well, that was dark.” And it was. But at the same time it was one of the most memorable films I’ve ever seen, thanks to a spectacular setting, wonderfully choreographed dance scenes, colourful costumes and an uplifting foot-tapping music score.

Bollywood, I’ll be back.

Tamara Hinson’s trip was sponsored by Urban Adventures, which didn’t review or approve this story.

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