AS A HUMID OCTOBER EVENING SETTLED over the asbestos roof of the Junior Artists Association to the east of Jogeshwari railway station, a production house rang to say five ‘constables’ were needed for a soap opera. Aziz Khan, the union leader, yelled out to the room: “Majeed uncle! Dinesh Andheri! Kishore Chembur!” After briefing the chosen five on the job, he added, “You can wear a normal pant-shirt. The company will give costumes to you.” Since the shoot was only the next day, the men returned to their seats to gossip with the others.
These ‘junior artists’, or extras, assemble here each day for the prospect of being chosen for an eight-hour shift on location at a film or television shoot around Mumbai, at the rate of Rs 660 per shift (only men come here—women extras have a separate association that manages their affairs). That payment only covers walking or standing in a fixed position. Additional work, such as getting wet or besmirched with gulal or shouting a slogan, can fetch them Rs 400 or so more, depending on the specific requirements of the job.
For the 1,500 members of the association, October is usually a busy period—a time when the end of monsoon makes outdoor shoots in the city feasible again. This year, though, business was slow after the studios cancelled a number of underperforming television soap operas; things weren’t expected to pick up until November. But the extras had learnt, from studio sources only hinted at, about a film on Ajmal Kasab, which would require CST terminus to fill up for the scene of the terrorist attack—provided the Central Railways consented to the idea. The suspense about whether or not the work would come through was making them jittery.