It was exactly 100 years ago this week that Dadasaheb Phalke released his first film Raja Harishchandra. This was not only Phalke’s first film, but it was the first film in India to hit the big screens.
Who would have thought that this film would give birth to what would become the world’s largest film industry? When you go to a theatre in India to see a movie, you can’t help but be absorbed in the vibrant and lively vibe in the building. The energy flows inside the theatre is different than anything else you’ve seen. This vibe, in India, is sacred. Indians call it Tamasha (entertainment); the more of it, the better. For a culture so vibrant and well-versed in telling colourful tales, the advent of moving pictures was tailor-made to the Indian DNA. The theatre has become a hall for expressing emotions where the audience is not only watching the movie but also taking a vital role in it. Cinema Theaters in India are the noisiest in the world. If you don’t cry, laugh, shout, clap your hands, boo, whistle while the movie is playing, you’re simply not getting the full experience.
Now here’s how cinema and travel become friends – Good friends…
Cinema in India is an obsession and you are about to step into the film sets of some of Bollywood’s cornerstones. We are about to start a journey to some of the most beautiful film sets that almost every Indian has seen on the screen. Places that have become a part of Indian’s cultural identity.
Location #1 – Rancho’s School Ladakh
Movie: 3 Idiots starring Amir Khan
The most successful Bollywood film ever, Raju Hirani’s 3 Idiots has become a massive success throughout India. Critics are gushing; audiences (across gender and age) are packing into theatres in hordes, declaring that there is no better film. Film directors like Raju Hirani and other up and coming ones such as Anurag Kashyap, Dibakar Banerjee and Vishal Bhardwaj have been changing Bollywood’s mindset and have carried the Indian film industry into a new territory.
The film 3 Idiots states a bold message: India’s higher education system is idiotic. If nothing is done about it very quickly, India will become the vision put forth in 3 Idiots. Although the core massage is troubling, the film is still super fun to watch, especially when the filming locations they’ve picked up are outstanding like the small village of Shey, a 30-minute drive from Leh in the Himalayas. In the movie, it is the school which Rancho and Amir Khan set up for the local kids. After the movie was released, the school became so popular that the locals officially changed its name from Druk Padma Karpo Institute to Rancho’s School. But even before the movie, this school had a lot of accolades to its credit. It was the first earthquake-proof building in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. The school runs entirely on solar energy, and it has won the best screen building and best Asian building in the world architecture award. The structure represents the concept of a Buddhist Mandala, and all the materials used to build the school were sourced locally. 3 idiots have brought fame to this extraordinary school in Shay village in Ladakh and have put this gem in the spotlight.
Happy seventies -The age of the angry young man. A new king steps in the ring; ladies and gentlemen please welcome Amitabh Bachchan.
Location #2 Nandi Hills, Karanataka
The stunning performance of Amitabh Bachchan, the King of Bollywood, in the film Coolie has turned the film into another landmark of Indian cinema, but there is even more stunning fact that every Indian knows about this film. While filming a fight sequence in the movie, Amitabh was knocked down by the film’s villain Puneet Issar, due to bad timing, seriously injuring him. In the accident, Amitabh was nearly killed. It’s impossible to imagine Bollywood without Amitabh Bachchan. In the spirit of the incident, we have chosen the location from the movie where the song Accident ho Gaya (accident has happened) that was shot in beautiful Nandi Hills near Bangalore.
The scenic hill station Nandi Hills is the birthplace of the Arkavathi and Palar rivers, 60 km from Bangalore. Forests, ancient forts, and temples are all part of this beautiful Bangalore getaway.
Location #3 Ramanagara, Karnataka 55 km from Bangalore
Another major role Bachchan played is in the film Sholay, regarded by many to be the first major blockbuster of Bollywood. In it, Amitabh Bachchan plays a is notorious criminal alongside Dharmendra. Sholay has gone beyond being just a film, and today it is part of a culture, a collective memory, a reference point. Even to this day, the film is still referenced in other films, and even in advertising. It has provided a metaphor which is used everywhere. Phrases from the movie have even popped up in political speeches and in conversations amongst young people who were not even born when Sholay was made. This is a Bollywood classic. Ramanagara is surrounded by rocky terrain – an ideal location for the “Wild West” genre, but it is also a great place for one-day treks in nature and loads of rock climbing adventures are available.
Location #4 Nani Taal (Lake) Uttarkhand
Movie: Kati Patang
But it was not only Amitabh Bachchan who had conquered the hearts of the Indians. Rajesh Khanna another pillar of Bollywood has made his entrance to the show biz industry and will always be remembered as the “original superstar” forever. The 1970 movie Kati Patang, based on Cornell Woolrich’s novel ‘I Married a Dead Man’ has become one of Bollywood’s cornerstones.
The 70s not only marked changes of the content and themes of films, but also the entrance of mega female superstars such as Asha Parekh, who had played alongside with Rajesh Khanna in Kati Patang. Here we’ll head to Nani Tal (lake) in Uttarkhand where the beautiful song ‘Jis Gali me’ was filmed. The best time to visit Nani Taal would be during the festivals, which are taking place in Nani Taal. Escape Festival of Art and Music is a real gem so if you are in the area while the festival is about to begin you should defiantly include it in your plans.
Location #5 Dargah Sharif, Ajmer Rajasthan
Movie: Jodhaa Akbar
This time we head off to the 16th century’s epic tale of the marriage between the great Mughal Emperor Akbar to a Rajput princess, Jodhaa. The controversial epic story has become a Bollywood blockbuster starring Hrithik Roshan and the gorgeous Aishwarya Rai. We take you now to the place where Akbar, played by Hrithik Roshan, made one of his toughest decisions as an emperor of the Muslim empire – to marry a non-Muslim wife. The filming took place in a Sufi Shrine called Dargah Sharif in Ajmer Rajasthan. The shrine belongs to the 13th century’s most famous Sufi saint who had introduced the Chishti’s Sufi order to the subcontinent. The best time to visit the Dargah is when the Urs festivals are taking place between May to June. This is an annual festival which commemorates the death anniversary of Muiddain Chishti. During Urs, in honour of the saint Urs, Qawwali concerts are held reciting Chishti’s works and those of other saints.
It attracts a large number of devotees to the shrine. The dargah, which is visited by Muslim pilgrims as well as Hindus, Sikhs is as a symbol of intercommunal harmony. This is why the Jodhaa Akbar’s movie production chose this place for the filming location for Akbar’s courageous decision.
Location # 6 Pangong Lake, Ladakh
Despite its failure in the box office, the film Dil Se won accolades from many critics, and just as many awards. This controversial film (some call it poetry) is a masterpiece! Shah Rukh Khan, one of Bollywood’s mega superstars is in the lead role. The lake is at an altitude of 4,350 m and 134 km long. 60% of the lake is considered to be under Tibetan territory, whereas the rest of it belongs to India. It is 5 hours drive from Leh but you’ll have to obtain a special permit (Inner line permit) to visit the lake. Any travel agent in Leh will be able to get it for you. On the shore of the Pangong lake was the filming location one of the famous songs ‘Satrangi Re ’ (seven colours). The film is said to be a journey through the 7 shades of love that are mentioned as a principal in ancient Arabic literature. Those shades are defined as attraction, infatuation, love, reverence, worship, obsession and death. The choreography of the song ‘7 colours’ on the Pangong bank brings the whole 7 emotions to the extreme.
Location #7 Wai, Maharashtra
Dabangg (Audacious) is a 2010 Indian action film, directed by the talented Abhinav Kashyap starring Salman Khan. If you don’t know who Salman Khan is, don’t tell this to any Indian you meet! Dabangg is in the Bollywood’s top 5 highest-grossing Bollywood films list and Salman Khan is the most popular Bollywood star. The small village of Wai has a complex of more than 100 temples this is why Wai is called ‘Dakshin Kashi’. It is located on the banks of Krishna River and has 7 famous Ghats (A series of steps leading down to a body of water, particularly a holy river) down to the water. Because of the pastoral atmosphere and the relatively short distance from Mumbai Wai has become a very popular filming location for many Bollywood films.
Location # 8 Lodi Gardens, Delhi
Amir Khan, whom you’ve already met above in the first movie 3 Idiots, is now in the key role of a much smaller film as a Delhi tour guide who falls in love with a blind girl, Kasmiri, who is Muslim. The movie had raised some difficult political issues concerning Hindu Muslim relationships in India. It is a beautiful film that you should watch. The relationship between the two characters is woven into the background of Delhi and takes you on a magical journey. Following those moments in the movie, we’ll be going to the vast Lodhi gardens inside the busy metro ado is a perfect escape to bring some sanity back.
The 15th and 16th century’s gardens have been beautifully maintained and preserved. There are some various medieval monuments as tombs and mosques, belong to the Lodhi dynasty that gives the gardens a mystical charm. Apart from the historical structures, Lodhi gardens are environmental like impressive. The gardens have a variety of plants and trees some huge Neem, Deodar and Chir trees, as well as herbal plants. The beauty is that Lodhi gardens are just 10 minutes walk from Khan Market where you can grab a cup of coffee and disappear in the greenish gardens.
So we have been visiting some of Bollywood’s most beautiful filming locations and some of Bollywood’s legends who entered India’s hall of fame. Now you should watch those movies maybe it will open your appetite to discover more of the 35 mm Indian adventure.
Everywhere cinema is part of the culture. In India however, the cinema experience is somewhat different. Although It tends to be rather unfamiliar for the westerner’s eyes and feel this unfamiliarity could be a challenge which invites you to dig deeper.