Driving through the dawn. Daniel, Dougal, Robbie and I. Chewing through Navi Bombay, the largest planned city on the planet, super-powered. Geetu, our driver, has got the hammer down, on a Navi-hype, banging his favourite radio station, and pounding the steering wheel. I can feel your heart beat. Baby I can feel your heart beat. If Geetu looks horny that’s because he is: dude’s got three girlfriends, the youngest of whom is sixteen. That’s enough to keep him busy. And horny, as he never tires of telling us. I can feel your heart beat. His piffy eyes struggle to focus on the road as another set of full-beam headlights bear down on us from the oncoming lane. They don’t dip in India. Dip it low, pick it up slow. The reason for our dash? We’ve got a rendezvous with a train at a small town station, the name of which I forget, for the second day of shooting on a Cobra Beer commercial for Beattie McGuinness Bungay.
An hour has passed. We’re drifting, on the nod. Then a collective stirring. A shared cognisance. In the distance a smear of yellow appears on the roadside. At first we’re distrustful of what we’re seeing, putting it down to a spatial variation, a refraction of air. But no, it’s fucking McDonalds. Mickey Dees. The golden arches have never burned so brightly. The car is filled with silent yearning. Can we go McDonalds? Can we go McDonalds? Geetu responds, bending to our unconscious will by quickly indicating and pulling into the forecourt.
Like somnambulists we walk past the giant, leering figure of Ronald McDonald, suspended from the top of the building by a cantilever. Hanged man. After weeks of dal, palak, paneer, aloo, chana, gobhi, matar, roti, the need to eat a Sausage and Egg McMuffin is overwhelming. Geetu waits by the car, smoking and talking on his mobile. He’s a busy man. We eat like savages.
Back on the road. Alert now. Bellies full. I can feel your heart beat. The final push to set. We arrive at a junction and turn into a narrow sandy track, the half light failing to obscure the fact that we seem to be entering some kind of truck graveyard. Hand-painted, brightly-coloured, broken-down rigs line the way. The progress is slow: deep fissures, created by the shifting sands, have to be carefully negotiated. The undercarriage scrapes from time to time. Even with the windows closed the smell of piss is overpowering. Deathly urine swamp. As Geetu says, ‘This is a bad place. Very dangerous’. Some stray dogs flip out and attack the car. The sound of their ragged paws scratching the doors is drowned out by their baying. Baby I can feel your heart beat. In the gloom a man sets down his Kingfisher Strong, pulls up his dhoti, squats, and takes a shit. Beside him a rubbish home-fire burns, releasing toxic smoke into the atmosphere, adding to the apocalyptic flavour.
Finally Geetu pulls up by a pedestrian tunnel that runs under a railway line. The passage appears to be blocked by a dead dog. Dougal is the first to investigate with his torch. It actually turns out to be a sandbag. The rest of us get out and walk through the underpass. It brings us out onto a station platform that looks as though it’s been abandoned. ‘Geetu is this it? For fuck’s sake. Are you sure this is it?’
It’s 6.00am. We still have half an hour before the train arrives. Robbie, Daniel and I embark on a mini recce to the other end of the platform. Very suddenly Daniel doubles over in pain. Stomach cramps. Watery mouth. The whole deal. He dry heaves, his face ashen. Robbie and I are in hysterics. ‘Fuck off. It’s not funny.’
On the other side of the underpass the agency motorcade arrives. Trevor Beattie steps out of a people carrier. For a man who has just got off a long haul flight and driven straight to set without sleep, he looks surprisingly sprightly. After exchanging a few pleasantries he makes his way through the tunnel, emerging from the dark to witness Daniel, the director of his commercial, projectile Mc-vomit onto the railway tracks. A crippled dog hops down from the platform and starts to devour the remnants of a Sausage and Egg McMuffin.
I’m Lovin’ It.