Saturday, June 16, 2007

Ramgarh Revisited

There are two kinds of people who take the road from Bangalore to Mysore. One, whose destination is Mysore or one of the towns that fall in the 120-km stretch. Two, the connoisseurs of Sholay, who treat the road as reverently as the Silk Route, traversing it to relive history. Presently I fall under category no. 2.

I am waiting at the traffic junction at Ramanagaram, a town 40 km from Bangalore. Sholay, the 1975 blockbuster, was shot somewhere here, as testified by the rocky terrain that flanks you as soon as you approach the town. This is also the constituency of H.D. Kumaraswamy, the Karnataka chief minister. But that’s only for record’s sake. For the connoisseur of Sholay, the territory is called Ramgarh and it belongs to Gabbar Singh.

Sholay ka shooting? Take a U-turn and then left,” the man selling sliced cucumber at the junction gives directions. So there we are, the driver and I, entering a narrow road off the highway, under the gaze of brown hillocks that loom large on the horizon. We snail past a ‘Men’s Beauty Parlour’ and a few timber shops, and then stretches of barren land on one of which stands a signboard: ‘Site for sale’. Then comes a nursing college: young boys and girls trickle out of it in white coats. From their gaze, it is very clear that a passing car is not a frequent sight on that road. Then comes a village, Konkani Doddi, and soon tiny boys with mischievous eyes and with catapults in their hands start running alongside the vehicle. Every adult we ask for directions points further down the road. So we snake through isolated huts, trying to evade roaming goats and hens all the while, and finally climb up a bit when the road terminates in front of a tall iron gate. The arch over it reads: Sri Pattabhirama Devalaya – Rama temple, in short.

Is Ramanagaram – and therefore the fictitious Ramgarh – named after this temple? I have just begun to wonder about that when the driver, looking relieved that he has finally deposited me at some significant-looking destination, asks me how long I will take. Thirty-two years, I want to tell him. But I hear myself saying, “Maybe an hour or so.”

“In which case,” he grins, “can I go and have my tiffin? You know we have been out since eight.”

I tell him he can take his time.

The search for Ramgarh begins with a steep climb. The temple, I soon make out, is right on top of the hillock that I am now climbing. As I pause once in a while to catch my breath, I realise I am the only living creature there apart from the birds and the insects – such is the privacy. No wonder the rocks along the steps bear innumerable graffiti that testify ‘love’ between people with every conceivable Indian name.

I soon realise there is someone lonelier than me: the priest of the Rama temple. Still, he treats me as if I was the 75th visitor since the morning and dutifully pours, on my joined palms, the holy water. He tells me that Sholay was shot around that hill but that he was too young then to remember the shooting of the movie. “Maybe you can ask the elders in Konkani Doddi,” he suggests.

One side of the temple offers a bird’s eye view of a terrain that could have well been Ramgarh. On the other side is a huge boulder, on top of which stands a small Shiva temple, a small dome (even its ceiling is cluttered with love graffiti – God alone knows how) and a water tank. Standing under the dome, I look at the other side of the hill – that too looks like Ramgarh. As I stand there wondering which could be the real Ramgarh, I notice an old man climb up, panting and holding on to his bag and umbrella. He walks into the control room of the water tank, and when he comes out, I ask him if he knows anything about Sholay. “Oh Sholay! I worked for it. I was a carpenter (on the sets).”

Meet Parasuram. He is 66 years old now and looks after the maintenance of the temple. He led me to the edge of the rock and points to the land spread out below: “That’s Sippy Nagar. The Thakur’s house stood there. And that was where they shot the Holi song. And there, do you see those rocks? Behind them we had built the bridge where Amitabh Bachchan dies.”

As a carpenter, Parasuram helped build the water tank from where Dharmendra threatens to commit suicide, and also the wooden posts on which the hands of Thakur (Sanjeev Kumar) are tied up before being chopped off by Gabbar Singh (Amjad Khan). “At first we put up temporary structures (for the hand-chopping scene) but they kept falling, so (Ramesh) Sippy asked us to build proper wooden pillars. Oh, what a scene that was!”

Other scenes that Parasuram recalls vividly include the one where the shrouds fly off the faces of the slain family members of the Thakur, the Holi song, and the shot where Gabbar orders Basanti (Hema Malini) to dance on broken glass. “Oh, such a fine actor! What a personality he had! The way he said, ‘Naacho!’” Parasuram says of Amjad Khan.

Parasuram reported to Aziz Sheikh, the construction manager, and his most difficult moments happened during the shooting of the Holi song, when he had to keep fixing the roller-coaster featured in the sequence. “Sippy was just not happy with the way it was going. He would keep saying, ‘Cut, cut, cut.’ It took 15 days to picturise that song. How much money must have been spent!”

He surveys the landscape and goes on: “Sippy was a lion-hearted man. By 4 pm everyday they would start counting the money to pay us. Four o’ clock sharp, everyday. And apart from the meals, we would be treated to puris and omlettes and kababs. Along with the sets, he had constructed a (makeshift) temple, church and a mosque for his unit. He had also installed a telephone line to talk to Bombay.” He says Dharmendra and Amitabh Bachchan were quite friendly with the locals, and so were the “two foreigners” (Sippy had hired stunt directors from London).

According to him, the shooting of Sholay, which was released in 1975, spanned three years. Sippy would shoot for four summer months each year, providing temporary livelihood to people like Parasuram and hundreds of other residents of Ramanagaram. “At least one member from every household in this village worked for the film,” says Elamma who, now in her sixties, sells knick-knacks from a wooden stall in Konkani Doddi. Her brother, for example, had lent his bullock cart for the sets.

But there are people whose lives the shooting altered forever. Such as Kadamma, who doesn’t know her age but is certain that she is past 70. Back then, she was young enough to have a daughter who was old enough to fall in love. And fall in love she did, the daughter, named Shanta, with a man called Shankar who was assigned to drive Dharmendra from and to the Ashoka Hotel in Bangalore every day.

“When I first got to know that my daughter wanted to marry Dharmendra’s driver, I thought it was some kind of a hoax. But Dharmendra and Amitabh Bachchan came home with the proposal. That was exactly eight days after Amitabh Bachchan’s daughter was born. (Jaya Bhaduri was pregnant during the shooting). I had made food for them but they did not eat. So I gave them tea and sherbet,” says Kadamma. Shanta and Shankar now live in Mumbai, where Shankar runs a taxi business. They even have grandchildren.

Kadamma, meanwhile, continues to be in awe of Hema Malini (she recalls the actress’ looks as “super”) and remembers how during the shooting, rice and sambhar had to be cooked separately for her and her mother (who accompanied her on the sets) because they could not stand non-vegetarian food.

Soon a small crowd gathers and the men complain about the lack of amenities in the village, most of whose residents are daily-wagers in nearby silk factories. “There are some 150 houses here but only one borewell and four taps. There is no proper sanitation. No government official ever comes here,” says Bairaiah, a neighbour of Kadamma. Kadamma, meanwhile, has begun to narrate the story of Sholay. Time for me to leave.

As soon as I get into the car, the boys with catapults arrive. Nothing has changed in Ramanagaram, or Ramgarh, in these thirty years. Each of them could have been a present-day Basanti, trying to aim at raw mangoes the whole afternoon because their mothers or aunts want to make pickles, or just for the fun of it.

By the time we hit the highway, the sun has begun to dip. Thirty-three years ago, Jaya Bhaduri must have been lighting oil lamps very close to the village I had just left, to the background strains of the mouth-organ, possibly played by R D Burman himself.


Anonymous said...

:) you almost reached the million word mark!!

it's amazing how you come up with such stories. good one once again.

Anonymous said...

Fantastic post! I thoroughly enjoyed every word.

Bimal said...

That was a great read. I mean the newspaper

Bohemian said...

BG,This post was damn good.I was also down on a soul-searching journey, groping for some history about DDLJ in Switzerland.Trying to find the Nook and Corners of the path then trodden by Sharukh and Kajol....It was some experience...

Sepiamniac said...

Wonder how I missed commenting on this post..:)))
Good one!!

Renuka Raj said...

Nice one mate! I was thinking of making the trip, but haven't managed to wriggle out from work overload. Your article made me forget my work. Great tribute to a great movie

Unknown said...

very well written....came to ur blog through Diptakirti's blog.....after reading ur post i could feel how you must have felt at reaching the mecca of hindi film industry which started it all.....Sholay is one such film which has made lakhs and lakhs of crazy fans through all these years and it was so fulfilling to know that till date the mania hasnot died.....great writing...thnxs

Shlok Hariramani said...

Reached back in time....after reading this one....

Pulsurge said...

Wow...I have never been so glued while reading- I could see Ramgarh through your words. Sholay has been my all time favourite and I don't even have a rough count of how many times I have seen it..and will continue to do so every time it comes up on TV.

I always wanted to ride to this place since long- and after reading your post, will definitely make it very soon.

Thanks so much for sharing your experience. It was a delight reading..and yeah pure nostalgia too!