Friday, January 12, 2007

Celluloid Getaways: Filmi Places To Go To

Hindi cinema is such a star-centric industry that seldom do makers bother with chronological and geographical accuracies. Alternately, they end up choosing locations for their scenic beauty and not for their contribution to the screenplay.
So, you have Yuva's major action scenes happening on the Vidyasagar Setu of Calcutta, but the story may well have been set anywhere else. Corrupt politics and youth awakening is hardly the monopoly of Bengal anymore! On the other hand, Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar - with its plot of swanky boarding schools and 'fatichar locals' needed Dehradun, which it promised in the opening commentary.
Ramgopal Verma's visceral takes on the Underworld could well have happened anywhere but the director is insistent on grounding them in Mumbai. Quite a change from the 1970's underworld films, where even well-known landscapes were given fictional names. E.g. Deewaar, where Amitabh comes out of an eminently recognisable Hotel Sun 'n' Sand but the script calls it 'Sona Bar'!

Here are 7 fictional places of Hindi cinema. Could well have been 8, but I completely forgot the name of the place of which Simi is the Raani in Karz! (Nilendu...? )

Dongri-La: One of the infinitesimally few examples of pun in Hindi cinema. Dongri-La was the kingdom of super-villain Dong ("Jo kabhi wrong nahin ho sakta"), played with great relish by Amrish Puri. Dong was a Chinese looking (complete with the pigtail!), musically inclined villain who was subjected to fate worse than Saddam Hussein's... Javed Jaffrey, Naseerddin Shah and Aditya Panscholi in drag! Serves him right for all that gluttony... He kept on singing "Shaam shaam shaam shaam samosa-sa" instead of just ordering some of those from Nathu's Chat Centre!
There is no record of the geographical location of this place except that it is located in the middle of an ice wall kind of thingamajig, which can only be reached through cable-crawling and then entering through one small window - which is left open by a traitor (and whom Dong has killed by now, so perish the thought of getting there)!

Rampur: This is from where Lakshman hailed, in the eponymous film. Lakshman, played by Kareena and Karisma's father, sang a wonderful song "Goom hain kisike pyaar mein..." (RD, who else?) which was about his only claim to fame. Of course, he sang this to a make-up caked girl called Bhanurekha Ganesan (sitting on a swing, which did not collapse - at least, not on screen!), who was almost as fat as Adnan Sami but nobody minded too much since her cleavage show was better marketed than Adnan's "Lift kara de" hand-pumping routine!
Mr Kapoor sings energetically about how he is a Rampur ka baasi, for those amoeboid organisms who came to see the film but did not catch on where the hero hailed from! Unfortunately, there is no information of the location of Rampur. Presumably, there is no connection between this Rampur and the one of long-handled knives! After all, Lakshman hung around with a long staff. No, not that kind - you perverts! I meant a lathi!

Dhanakpur: This is where it all started. Thakur Dhanraj Singh killed Ratan Singh to avenge the injustice on his sister. And then, a couple of decades later, his son - Raj - came back to this place and fell in love with his arch enemy's daughter, Rashmi. And movie initials became the rage... long before K3G ruled the multiplexes, QSQT (sometimes, written as QS Cutie) came up with a marketing line like no other - "Who's Aamir Khan? Ask the girl next door!"
This is a place close to Delhi, possible to do a day trip by bike. Thats how Raj and Shyam went there. It also had a sessions court where Ajit Vachchani was a paan-spitting lawyer. And if you were lucky, you could see Rashmi Singh - in a yellow dress - riding a horse. But then, the guy who saw her like that died in her arms at the stroke of sunset. Lucky?

Fursatganj & Pankhinagar: Rakesh, son of TC Trivedi-ji, stayed in the former. Vimmi Saluja, whose parents wanted her to marry a head clerk, stayed in the latter.
Pankhinagar is in the Lucknow district (as a Miss India organiser of Kanpur said) and Vimmi got off at Lucknow from the Jhansi Mail. (There's no such train stopping at Lucknow, at least! Maybe it is Gwalior Mail.) So, Pankhinagar threatens to be somewhere around where real-life Sultanpur exists. Fursatganj remains steadfastly coordinate-less.
From the pictures of the towns, the mindscapes of its residents and their trajectory after they leave, these could be Anytown in Uttar Pradesh - where walls do not constrain dreams, where Bombay is the Holy Grail and where Himesh Reshammaiya is God!

Champaner: Okay, Champaner exists. In Gujarat.
But that is not the village where a band of 11 rag-tag Indians defeated the British. In a game of cricket. In 1893, a guy called Bhuvan went up one Captain Andrew Russell and challenged him to him a game of 'firangi gilli-danda' and, to borrow a Ravi Shastri cliche, set the cat among the pigeons.
Day-and-night cricket. Coloured clothing. Match fixing. Foreign coach. The 'doosra'. Last-ball victory. Nothing we saw in modern day cricket was not seen in the match of a 100 years ago... and it was a game like no other.
The drought and the landscape seemed to indicate a mid-Western location for the village. The crew shot near Bhuj and the language was a happy mix of central Indian dialects of Hindi.

Ramgarh: Kashiraam. Dhaulia. Imam sahab. Ahmed. Basanti. Mausi. Radha. Ramlal. Even without the main players, the village of Ramgarh gets populated and gets a life of its own. The ironsmith's shop. The village well, where the dead body of Ahmed arrives. The Thakur's house on a hillock. The famous water tank. The mango orchard. The talao. The Shiv mandir. The Holi maidan. We have been subjected to these set pieces so many times that if we are let off in the village, we can find our way around. And since the entire village was actually mapped and constructed, there is not a false step and no geographical inconsistencies either.
When Ahmed is offered a job in a beedi factory, Basanti mentions the two 'large cities' close by - Meerut and Moradabad. So, the badlands of Central UP is where Ramgarh has to be located. (But the shooting location was a place called Ramanagaram, about a hundred kms from Bangalore. Its landscape is now called "Sholay Rocks" and is a tourist attraction.)
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