Bewitched by Bollywood
Fans descend on Healdsburg to catch glimpse of India's answer to Tom Cruise
By JOHN BECK
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Published: Wednesday, July 1, 2009 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, July 1, 2009 at 10:26 p.m.
Ducking behind a large truck across the street from a Healdsburg house overrun with a Bollywood film crew, Shalini Chandrahasa explained her infatuation with the film's star, Shahrukh Khan.
"I just want to see him. That's all. I don't even care about getting an autograph."
She had rescheduled a work meeting and taken a long lunch break to drop by the neighborhood around noon. She was back at 4 p.m. in an attempt to catch a glimpse of the actor, who's "the equivalent of Tom Cruise in India."
"Oh my God! Is that him in the black suit?" she said.
Her friends laughed and quickly convinced her she was hallucinating. "My heart started beating really fast," she said, tapping a hand to her chest.
It may be hard to tell, given that none of the neighbors seems the least bit interested, but Bollywood — the prolific Indian film industry that churns out more movies than any other country in the world — has invaded quaint, all-American Healdsburg.
Directed by Karan Johar, the film "My Name Is Khan" tells the story of an Indian couple living in America. Khan's character suffers from Asperger's syndrome, a disorder often marked by obsessive behavior and fixations. His love interest is played by the super-popular actress Kajol Mukherjee, known to her fans simply as Kajol.
After shooting in the South Bay, San Francisco and Sacramento over the past several weeks, the crew settled in Healdsburg for most of this week. They are scheduled to shoot scenes in and around the Healdsburg Plaza starting at 8 tonight.
"Together — Karan Johar, Khan and Kajol — are like the 'dream team' in India," said Vipul Sheth, president of the North Bay Indo-American Association.
As Sheth stood behind the same truck with Chandrahasa, his co-worker at Medtronic, he was trying to get his family onto the set. At that moment, they were hiding in a minivan down the street. When he gave a signal, everyone poured out of the van and then quickly hopped back inside — apparently they got mixed signals.
"If only we could just get a glimpse of them," Sheth said.
The unassuming and somewhat ordinary house on Greens Drive, where the film crew is shooting most of the backyard scenes, is owned by former Healdsburg Mayor Lisa Schaffner. Interior scenes are being shot next door.
"They found two people hiding in the bushes," she said. "The bodyguards just drug them out yesterday afternoon."
Standing in her back yard, Schaffner looked almost out of place. Among the crew of at least 50, half were dressed in bright costumes for a wedding scene. The other half scurried about in orchestrated chaos.
Ribbons of orange and saffron tapestry were strung from the back fence to the eaves. A camera on a dolly held a lens on a table full of brightly colored bangles. Every so often, tinny Bollywood music came across the speakers.
When they knocked on her door more than a year ago, "they had no idea I was the mayor," Schaffner remembered. "They said, 'This is the house. We've been driving around Healdsburg for three days, and this is it.'"
She was more than a little surprised since her house doesn't really stand out from other houses in the neighborhood.
"Maybe it was the wrap-around porch or the front lawn," Schaffner said. "I guess I had the clich house."
That was in May 2008. As time passed, "I didn't really know what to think," she said. "Then 'Slumdog Millionaire' came out, and I realized this is really a big deal."
On the other side of the fence, a documentary film crew shooting "a year in the life of Shahrukh Khan" for the Discovery Channel of India, is camped out in her front yard.
"You have no idea how big he is," said documentary producer Raj Gopalakrishnan, who is following Khan to London after this shoot. "He makes more at the box office than Tom Cruise and Will Smith combined. If this were being filmed in India, you would not be able to film in India. You would have a law-and-order situation."
Down the street, two more Medtronic Bollywood fans arrive, parking on a side street before cautiously stepping out of their car.
When asked if they're Bollywood fans, they answered, almost in unison: "Don't worry, we're not going near the house."
It turns out Arvind Srinivas had brought two color copies of a photo of Khan even though he's really only looking for one autograph.
"I'm just trying to get a signature for my girlfriend," he said. "If I were to come home with that tonight, I would be King Arvind. You see, he's King Khan, so I would be King Arvind."
To clarify, his friend Shivanth Bhaskaran explained, "He would be the man in his family for the rest of his generations."
You can reach Staff Writer John Beck at 521-5300 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
* 3 billion movie tickets are sold a year in India, which encompasses more than just Bollywood.
* In December, Newsweek magazine named Bollywood star Shahrukh Khan No. 41 on its annual list of the 50 most powerful people in the world.
* India's box-office revenue will rise from $5.9billion in 2005 to $7.4 billion by 2010, or 4.7% annually, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers.
* Most Bollywood films fall into the musical genre as characters break into song and dance at the drop of a finger cymbal.
* Last year's Oscar winner for best picture, "Slumdog Millionaire," is technically a British film, paying homage to classic Bollywood.
* Actor Tanay Chheda, who played the "middle Jamal" in "Slumdog Millionaire," is cast as a younger version of the main character in "My Name Is Khan."http://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/20090701/ARTICLES/907019842/1349?Title=Bewitched-by-Bollywood