Rituparno (Ghosh) never asked me to do it, though now and then he came up with requests for friends to fill party scenes, which I always shrugged off. But another filmmaker who had graced one of my book launches in Kolkata had no such hesitation.

“You ask me to your book launches,” he said. “Now I’m going to ask you to mine.” I asked him mildly whether he had written a book. He told me it wasn’t his but a friend’s and if I would invite the usual book launch suspects I knew, I would be doing him a favour. He gave me a four-month deadline, so I was forced to explain that no one would look at a book launch until it was a week or so away. And left it at that.

In early November a girl phoned with a reminder. She was working on the film, she said. ‘Film? What film?’ I asked — the word had not been mentioned before. She explained that the book launch was a scene in the thriller my director friend was shooting and they needed people to fill up the chairs at the bookshop.

“Social media,” I said promptly, “create an event and get people to come.” By now I knew there were people who tended to forgive film shoots anything for the sake of selfies with the stars. My idea of the event was politely dropped because no one wanted a bookshop bursting with star-struck fans. Instead I was told to bring myself appropriately clad — no, she didn’t say ‘appropriately clad’, I assumed it. Supposing I wanted to wear shocking pink, for example. Would that throw the whole scene out of kilter, with a screaming blotch of colour? Feeling it was a matter of honour, I fussed and fretted over my wardrobe before settling on a subtle brick khadi salwar kameez with a reversible green shawl.

So attired I presented myself at the bookshop on the appointed day — luckily a Sunday — well before the appointed time. The pavement outside was crowded with trolley tracks and technicians looking slightly jaded. Inside, the mezzanine floor was equally crowded. There was a bustle of saris and dangly earrings and an anxious buzz of, “Do you know how long this is going to take? I’ve abandoned my family for the day...”

I had a sneaky feeling that it was going to be a long haul, because I caught a snatch of dialogue about the star leaving at 2.30 pm and reaction shots being done later. My director friend assumed that I knew what it was all about. I did, in bits, and that was how the day evolved — in bits.

We were organised into our seats and the fake book launch — or rather, the portions of it that needed to be shot — kicked in. A speech from the podium, a couple of audience questions punctuated by a skittering young technician with the clap stick who popped in and out of each take. I had to move at one point to make way for an actor who would enter and ask me to shift, and wondered if I was even in the frame at all — possibly a blur of green shawl?

We dutifully listened to dialogues which were misdelivered, then repeated and repeated again by a stand-in, because by then the camera was on the audience instead of the stars, who promptly floated off to do ‘illegal’ things like catching a smoke.

Scenes and lenses were swapped. There were directorial explosions and spells of tranquillity. Stomachs growling, we promenaded in the background, clutching empty teacups, pretending to be discussing the book that had been launched. The important shots had to be taken before the star left. Lunch could wait. A few sandwiches materialised and, regardless of visual continuity, they were wolfed down. A plate of chops went by to be served on camera and the waiter carrying them was made to do three takes of the scene while the actors delivered their lines in the foreground. Luckily the chops weren’t hijacked before that.

A socialite in a blue sari declared on her third background chakkar that this was her fourth film as an extra, including one made by the notorious Q. I gave in to a flash of wild speculation as to what a crowd scene in one of Q’s films would be like — which I kept to myself. Quite obviously there was a breed of people who flitted proudly from film to film. When we paused, the legitimate lunch finally arrived and felt like a non-event after those desperately munched sandwiches.

By half past four, we were all jaded with very little reaction left to show. One by one we sheepishly crept up to the director to ask for leave to pack up. As I finally slunk away, I could almost hear Rituparno saying, “ Ebar bujhli kaano bolini (Now do you know why I didn’t ask you)?”

Anjana Basuis the author of In the Shadow of the Leaves and Leopard in the Laboratory