SHIMLA, Shimla’ites always knew, was beautiful: picturesque and quaint. Bollywood, however, seems to have rediscovered the charms of Shimla only recently again.
It, perhaps, started with Love in Shimla starring Sadhna and Joy Mukherjee in the late ’60s. More followed — Muqadar Ka Sikandar, Dev Anand’s Lootmaar, Bade Dilwala, Baadal, Shyam-Ghanshyam, Chori-Chori, Raju Chacha. But then came the lull as Bollywood moved to the pristine environs of the Kashmir Valley. In the late ‘90s, Switzerland was the destination. But Shimla seems to be back in favour now — look at the spate of film shootings and star-power that has left residents gasping for more.
What started as a trickle with Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s magnum opus Black has seen Bollywood queue up like never before — even now, Chanchal, starring Gracy Singh and Kulbhushan Kharbanda, is being shot in town. In between, Sushmita Sen and Ajay Devgan were the cynosure of all eyes, when they shot extensively for a Harry Baweja film.
Besides the postcard-pretty locales of the town, the Raj-style bungalows have been an added attraction for movie-makers. Over the years, the idyllic Woodville Palace, a heritage hotel since 1977, has played a gracious host to over 30 Bollywood directors, including Black.
Others which have been zeroed in on by movie-makers include Wildflower Hall, previously the summer resort of Lord Kitchner, while Hotel Oberoi’s Clarke’s has had its rendezvous with fame when it played host to Yeh Dillagi, Shabnam Tere Ghar Key Samaney and Badaltey Rishtey.
Hey, Shimla’s railway station has also found space on 70 mm - in the Shah Rukh Khan-starrer Maya Memsaab!
It was a rosy start for Shimla. Then all action shifted to Kashmir and Switzerland. “But then,” points out an old-timer, “there was no place left to shoot also.” While Oberoi Cecil was closed down for renovation (it reopened in ’90s) HPTDC-owned Wildflower Hall was devastated by fire. “Even if movie-makers wanted to shoot, where were they supposed to stay?” Raman Khanna, general manager, Oberoi Group, demands to know.
Things looked up. Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s Kareeb brought the town’s beauty on the large screen; as did Yukta Mookhey’s debut film, Pyaasa.
However, Black has put Shimla in the big league again.
Arman Shababi, a Shimla-based retired engineer, who has scripted about half-a-dozen Bollywood movies, believes “Shimla has immense potential for filmmaking. But the government needs to take some concrete steps to woo filmmakers to the Queen of the Hills by providing them with proper infrastructure. The least the government can do is put up a studio equipped with latest technology, which filmmakers otherwise have to lug from Mumbai”.
A studio is a must. Inderjeet, director of Chanchal, agrees. “Shimla makes for a perfect setting — but once you have a studio, it will make movie-making a much easier process. It will also drastically cut down the production time and cost.” Chanchal’s producers, interestingly, are spending about Rs. 1.5 lakh daily on shooting.
Recently, Ekta Kapoor-produced TV soap KavyaAnjali was also shot extensively, while Millee’s shooting is expected to start any day now.
While the government is still to take some concrete steps to welcome Bollywood, locals have taken the initiative. They’ve not only opened their beautiful houses for shooting but also their hearts. “Inderjeet fell in love with my house when he visited over a year ago — there was no way I could say no to shooting,” says Inderjeet Kalra, a local businessman who offered his house for shooting. Gratis.
Ramesh Thakur, a builder, is yet another Shimla resident whose house will be immortalised on 70 mm. “It’s at Nangal Devi, about 23 km from Shimla.”
As of now, the unit of Mera Jeevan Kora Kagaz, based on the story of Dhananjoy Chatterjee, is also being shot in Shimla.