Local film majors catch a touch of Bollywood

When film majors David Kahn and Dwight Schultz began planning the execution of their college thesis, they logged on to craigslist.org, clicked “India” and started making connections. Four months later, their cameras were rolling in Bombay.

The 22-year-olds, both 2002 graduates of Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School, are promoting their 56-minute Bollywood movie, “The Bombay Project.” ( The name Bollywood, given to the Hindi film industry, is a conflation of Bombay and Hollywood. )

During their winter break this year, when fellow college seniors headed to Florida to bask in their last rays of responsibility-free sunshine, Kahn and Schultz labored in Bombay as a veritable two-man film studio.

But by the time they arrived in Bombay (Mumbai, as it is also called), the pair were veterans at surmounting obstacles. Consider the challenge of orchestrating a movie while attending schools 300 miles apart — Kahn at Connecticut College, where he majored in film and Asian studies, and Schultz at Syracuse University, where he majored in film, marketing, and finance.

“Writing the script long distance wasn’t too hard,” Kahn said. “Lots of e-mailing back and forth with different revisions and frequent phone calls. “The screenplay took six months to complete. What did prove difficult from overseas, Kahn said, was the production preparation such as casting, then scouting and securing the 25 locations.

“I wanted to shoot a scene inside Elephanta Caves, a famous site on an island near Mumbai,” Kahn said, “but after multiple e-mails with my contacts in India, I finally had to send the production manager we hired to go out there.”

The manager, found on craigslist, took a daylong ferry trip to the caves only to discover the crew would need permission from the archeological society of Delhi and the government because the caves were on the United Nation’s Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization list. They never got it.

D-day in Bombay

Schultz said that when they first got off the plane in Mumbai, the only thing they were sure they had was the 100 pounds of borrowed camera equipment. “We didn’t know if we were going to get past customs and, at that point, we hadn’t met any of the cast or crew.” It was all incredibly nerve-racking. They were counting on Indian crew members they had never met in person, people they were asking to work 23 straight days, 12 hours a day. And, with the exception of the production manager and the driver, no one was getting paid. Kahn and Schultz were mightily relieved when two days before Christmas everyone showed up to start filming.

“It sounds corny, but they came because of their love for filmmaking,” Shultz said. The volunteers included two lighting people, a full-time production assistant, five part-time production assistants, and a choreographer.

The screenplay follows an American college student named Mike who reluctantly agrees to fly to India to assist in making a Bollywood film to complete his graduation requirements. Mike finds the Bollywood genre, with its fanciful costumes and music, so ludicrous that he openly laughs on the set. That immediately puts him at odds with Pretee, the lead actress, and Raul, the director.

But, gradually, India begins to grow on Mike. As Raul shows him around, Mike becomes enchanted with the culture, and his character’s path takes twists that are right out of a Bollywood flick. And, as in any self-respecting Bollywood or, for that matter, Hollywood production, love complicates things: Mike falls for Pretee, but Pretee’s parents have already arranged for her to marry Raul.

“Bollywood movies are immensely popular escapism in the Indian culture,” Schultz said. “They portray these beautiful fantastical lives” that their audiences don’t necessarily have.

Mike is played by Schultz, and Pretee by Maya Singh of Acton, who is of Indian descent and has known Kahn since they were children. They all stayed in a friend’s apartment in the city free of charge.

“We were tweaking the script right up to the day that we got onto the plane,” Schultz said.

More last-minute changes were made three days before filming ended, when Singh had to bow out after coming down with dysentery. A key scene in which she expresses her feelings to Mike has her doing so in a letter rather than in person.

Greasing palms

Schultz’s and Kahn’s adventures took them throughout the city of Mumbai and surrounding towns. Along the way, they learned some lessons about filmmaking that you won’t find in a textbook, such negotiating deals — both above and under the table — as they hashed out rights to soundtrack music with Sony Music India and paid off airport guards so they could film at the terminal.The first day they arrived, Kahn received a solemn lecture from his friend’s parents to be wary of those who would cheat Americans. The next day, the driver they had hired for the three weeks requested half of his fee up front, stating that his sister was getting married and he needed the money.

“After much deliberation, I decided we had to take a risk and hope that it worked out,” Kahn said. “It turned out that the driver’s sister really was getting married; as a result of giving him the advance, he was early every day, and worked extra hours.”

Filming ended in February and Kahn spent the next three months editing. Now Schultz is putting the final touches on “The Making of ‘The Bombay Project,'” a behind-the-scenes documentary that will be included on the main DVD.

The total cost of making the film — excluding their two plane tickets — was $3,200.

“The Bombay Project” earned Kahn the Oakes and Louise Ames Prize , Connecticut College’s highest academic honor. It is awarded to the senior who has completed the year’s most outstanding honors project.

Passage to India

Kahn became interested in India during his senior year of high school after taking an Asian studies course. In college, he took classes in Indian civilization, Hinduism, South Asian culture, and anthropology, and created a dual major in film and Asian studies. He became friendly with students from Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. “They got me into these ‘Bollywood’ movies that I’d had no exposure to before,” Kahn said. “Suddenly, I started to watch them and thought they were awesome.”

Kahn spent a semester of his junior year in India, where he studied Hindi and became proficient enough “to be able to get around.”

Kahn’s and Schultz’s love for film began long before they knew the difference between Pav Bhaji (a spicy curry) and Vada Pav (fried potato sandwich), now two of their favorite foods.

“In high school, we would make little movie trailers for movies that didn’t exist,” Schultz said. Favorites included chase scenes and horror movies. They recruited the school’s formidable building foreman, Bruce Millet, who became a regular in their films.

When they were in their junior year of high school, their film “Bees Wax” took first place in the New England High School Video Competition, sponsored by Mount Wachusett Community College.

Kahn’s interests hurdle between film and theater. He’s working on a number of theatrical lighting design projects, including a professional production of “Cats” in New Bedford.

He’ll also spend the rest of the summer marketing “The Bombay Project” and sending it to film festivals across the country. The movie will be screened at Lincoln-Sudbury High next month.

In the fall, Kahn plans to launch his search for a job in the entertainment industry.

Schultz, whose father, Anthony, is a graphics editor at the Boston Globe, said his ultimate goal is to be a producer, but first he needs to save up money to finance his “film habit.”

He recently accepted a job on the trading floor at Morgan Stanley in New York.

‘The Bombay Project’ will be shown at 8 p.m. Aug. 18 in the Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School Auditorium. Admission is free. For more on the movie, go to www.bombayprojectmovie.com.

© Copyright 2006 Globe Newspaper Company.

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