Reluctantly Lahore

The set of a Mira Nair film transforms a corner of Delhi

01 January 2012
On the set of Mira Nair’s film adaptation of The Reluctant Fundamentalist.
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On the set of Mira Nair’s film adaptation of The Reluctant Fundamentalist.
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THE TANDOORI CHICKEN vendor pouted in front of his week-old wares, the shrivelling carcasses and sundry appendages having gathered a thick cloud of flies. A few metres away, a teenage jalebi-maker cracked jokes while flicking a gas burner on and off, refrying the same orange curlicues into increasingly ragged confections. Among these ersatz vendors gathered together—a date vendor thumbing through Saudi dates and khajurs, a sharbat vendor lackadaisically ladling through a treacly red liquor—I stood fiddling with a pendulous steel machine gun.

If you’re looking to shoot a film and your pockets are deep, many of the world’s great cities will eagerly proffer up their monuments and streetscapes. Paris’s Mission Cinéma will provide you with shooting tariffs for everything from the Arc de Triomphe to ramshackle football fields, its staff pleased to provide parking spots and weather updates. Directors clamouring for Manhattan sidewalks need only consult the City of New York Mayor’s Office of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting, which will dole out permits by the usurious square inch.

Delhi, by contrast, offers few such niceties. The funeral scene in Richard Attenborough’s 1982 film Gandhi—an estimated 350,000 extras were brought to Rajpath to reenact the procession—was no doubt as much a triumph of red tape as it was a feat of casting. Strong evidence of Delhi’s cinematic inexperience are the relatively piddling fees levied on Archaeological Survey of India sites: since 1959, shooting at Qutub Minar has been a R5,000-a-day bargain. (The savvier Metro, by contrast, used to ask for R100,000 hourly, in addition to R44 entry fares levied on the car’s standing capacity, before forbidding shoots this fall.)

Benjamin Siegel is a doctoral candidate in history at Harvard University, and is finishing his first novel.

Keywords: The Reluctant Fundamentalist Mira Nair Mohsin Hamid film set film Lahore Delhi cinema Anglo Arabic Senior Secondary School
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