Reshma Gajjar from 'La La Land' talks about what it was like to be stuck in the most joyous traffic jam
The girl in yellow, dancing on a grid-locked Los Angeles freeway, in the infectious opening sequence of La La Land, is perhaps, the film’s only India connection
Actor Reshma Gajjar (extreme left) grooves to Another Day of Sun, the opening song of the Golden Globe-award winning and Oscar-nominated musical, La La Land. Pic/Dale Robinette
The girl in yellow, dancing on a grid-locked Los Angeles freeway, in the infectious opening sequence of La La Land, is perhaps, the film’s only India connection. Long before we see leading lady Emma Stone twirl around in a fairy tale yellow dress, it is Reshma Gajjar, an Indian American dancer and actor, who sets the tone for the mad musical as she dances to Another Day of Sun, the film’s opening track. She is joined by 32 dancers, four band members, a professional skateboarder, one BMX biker, a free-runner, a hoola hooper and 40 extras. The song has gone on to become such a rage that no discussion on the film is complete without talking about it. How did director Damien Chazelle manage to shoot it all, has been the question on everyone’s minds.
Taking us behind the scenes, Gajjar says, “The 105 Freeway overpass was shut for two days to shoot the song. Planted on the road were about 52 cars that were propped and reinforced for the performance and many more lined up in the distance. The song was shot in three long continuous takes and, I guess, each take was shot more than 20 times.”
They rehearsed on an empty parking lot using a combination of their own cars with some reinforced prop vehicles. Gajjar was part of choreographer Mandy Moore’s “skeletal crew” that mapped out the choreography to present to Chazelle. “During these rehearsals, Damien saw me play the part that I eventually play in the movie. There were auditions for that role, but in the end, he chose me, which was an incredible feeling. He’s very focused and kind, and has a grand vision that he communicates with specificity and enthusiasm,” says Gajjar, in an e-mail interview from LA.
The brief given to her was to "ride the balance between existing in total fantasy while remaining grounded in the real world." Her movements needed to be simultaneously pedestrian and extraordinary. "Damien wanted me to follow my instincts. For me, the beginning of the song felt very internal, so I chose to play it as natural as possible until the moment I get out of the car," she says. The film swept seven Golden Globes and is now riding on 14 Academy Award nominations. "The whole process of creating Another Day of Sun was epic for me, so I love that it became a sensation to the rest of the world. I think the song resonates with so many because hope springs eternal and we’ve all been stuck in traffic wishing we could just get out of our cars,” says Gajjar, who has previously been part of 500 days of Summer and American Beauty.
She feels the time is ripe for Indian Americans in Hollywood. “I remember going to auditions for years and not booking anything. I was good enough to make it to the end, but was often considered ‘too ethnic’ for the part. I don’t think Hollywood was ready back then. To the industry here, Indian Americans just didn’t exist. But we do, now,” says Gajjar, whose parents moved to the US in the 70s. They didn’t have any connections in the entertainment world. “I was the oddball in the family chasing a career in entertainment. Growing up, I didn’t know any Indian Americans doing what I was doing. It was a path I had to pave on my own.”
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