For most first-time visitors to India, the journey is all about exploring a land steeped in colours, tradition, a rich heritage and history and of course, the food. For Erica James though, visiting India was a tad different, not to mention exciting.
Erica, a Sydneysider, is my colleague at work, and recently discovered a whole new world – that of the Indian film industry. The story began in early May when she came across a call seeking players in Australia who would be interested in playing cricket for an upcoming Tamil movie to be shot in India. Accommodation and flights would be taken care of. “India was never on my radar as far as travel goes but this seemed interesting,” says Erica.
There were no formal auditions but players were chosen based on screen presence and playing skills, as seen from videos they had sent of their chosen discipline – batting, bowling or fielding. Soon they were rushing to get inoculations and travel kits organised. The lead time was short and a few people even chickened out wondering if the whole venture was genuine. “In the end, it was just nine of us – four players, a pretend coach and manager from our club, and three from other clubs in Australia,” she says. Except for one girl who had been to India before for only a day, none had been there before. In less than a month since they heard about the offer, they were on their way. Her first impression of India and its people, which stayed with Erica throughout, was the welcome bandwagon at Vizag. “The Indian players came down to the foyer to welcome us as we came off this bus from the airport to the hotel and they were all so warm and friendly,” she recounts.
They only had a day to do some sightseeing around Vizag city. “It was very hot with temperature peaking to 40 degrees but we had fun getting to know each other and taking lots of pictures with the locals!”
Since the cricket season in Australia ends in March, the hiatus meant that the Aussie team also needed to get some net practice with their Indian counterparts. Erica talks with unconcealed awe about being on a professional cricket field for the first time. “This is where the biggies play cricket. I was thrilled. I was sore and dehydrated at the end but it was so much fun,” she says.
Of course when the shooting began the next day, the scene before her eyes changed dramatically. “There were people and cables everywhere, sewing machines on the field, hundreds of extras around. It was such a transformation,” gushes Erica, who was also shooting a film for the first time ever.
Putting on the Australian cricket uniform made her feel immensely proud. “I know it was just a costume but I really felt that I was representing the Australian international cricket team.”
Speaking about her experience with Aishwarya Rajesh, the movie’s lead actress, Erica says they got various shots of bowling, batting and fielding with her. “The cricket scenes we shot for were pretty disjointed. I guess they will be somehow pieced together.”
She also talks about how she almost broke Aishwarya’s finger in one of the shots when she was asked to hit a sixer. “Ash bowled a pretty good ball and I couldn’t get under it. When I hit it back, it struck her finger which swelled to three times its size. We lost an hour of shooting as they were icing it and I felt so bad,” says Erica, needlessly worried she would be deported for this accident.
Sydneysiders may have seen Aishwarya in The Crow’s Egg (Kaaka Muttaii) for which she received the Tamil Nadu State Award for Best Actress. Erica says that for this role as a cricketer, the actress was being coached by a leading IPL player. “She forgave me and we are friends on Facebook now,” says Erica, visibly relieved.
The Sivakarthikeyan film, Kanaa, is a story of a girl from a rural area who ends up playing for the Indian cricket team. The shoot was for a World Cup semi-final against Australia. “I don’t know who wins but I am looking forward to seeing the movie when it is released later this year,” Erica tells me.
Unfortunately, as soon as they finished shooting they had to head back to Australia but the snippet of India that Erica experienced was enough. “I expected dust and dirt but it was the beauty of colourful houses and clothes, people wearing smiles and the vibrancy that floored me,” says Erica, who wants to return to see more another day.