Friday, October 05, 2007

Sholay Part II

For a really long time, I had not watched the original Sholay. Then one day, I happened to catch parts of it on TV and have been watching it ever since. Films like Sholay, Mughal-e-Azam and a host of others that define cinema in India should never be tampered with, even by someone as good as RGV, I believe. I have not watched the new 'Aag', I don't think I ever will. My editor asked me to visit Ramanagaram, about 45 kms from Bangalore and write a story post Sholay II. It was a beautiful Saturday, Manju, Shashi the photographer and I went in Shashi's open cut-chassis jeep and had a wonderful time. Read on....

The flames versus the fire: 32 years on
An old man, wrinkled with age and the lines of several years of experience marking his face, is oblivious to the new Aag in the theatres. All he wants to know is whether the film has rocks and mountains and fight scenes like the old Sholay.We say no, it is set in a city and the only jungle is that of concrete. His tone is one of dismissal as he wryly remarks how the film would not be too good without the rocks and Ramanagaram. That is the mood in this little town post Ram Gopal Verma’s trial at recreating the 1970s’ masterpiece.

Shivanna, who works at the City Civil Court, takes us around the area that made Gabbar Singh’s hideout. The entire town of Ramgarh that was built for the film is today a ragi field. A part of it is a parking lot for the several adventurers who descend on the sleepy town every weekend for para sailing and rock climbing activities. All that remains today is a dusty road leading to a temple at the top of the mountains, a road that Ramesh Sippy’s crew built, and distant memories of the beautiful Hema Malini, the gentle and friendly Amjad Khan and the other stars who relaxed under large umbrellas under the scorching sun.

Shivanna has a closer connection with the film. His brother Naganna left to Mumbai with the crew after the movie was made and continues to be associated with the film world. Shivanna, as a student, also found odd jobs at the unit during vacations and hung around, bunking school, to watch the shooting. He is unaware of the new Sholay too. He shows us the place where an air conditioned room was built for Hema Malini and her mother. He poses for photographs atop the rock where, in the film, Samba was crouching when he was asked, famously by Gabbar Singh, ‘‘Are o Samba, kitne aadmi the?’’ Jumping over the rocks with ease, he spiritedly describes the shooting, the techniques used during the fighting scenes, the famous dialogues.

We are at Ramanagaram on a festive day. Several devotees line up to pray at the Rama temple on the other side of the hill near where Thakur’s house was set up for the film. Over some cool cucumbers and cut mosambis spiced with masala on top, we ask several other villagers what they think about the new Aag. Most are hearing about it for the first time. The only one who knows about it has not seen it, neither does he intend to, he says.There is talk of an old photograph of a villager posing with Dharmendra. We ask to see it. A mad hunt later, it turns out that the photo has, somehow, reached the Andamans and we could see it after a fortnight!

From Passage to India to the latest Kannada flick Nenapirali, several movies have been shot here.But Ramanagaram holds on to Basanti and Veeru and the rest of the motley lot. They do not know Ram Gopal Verma, do not want to hear about Aag. All that they want to remember is the Sholay, the flames that engulfed their little town over three decades ago.

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