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Bollywood’s favourite villages where films brought prosperity

Films are bringing much-needed infusions of cash into this largely tribal region of Wai Malshej. Films like Swadesh, Gangajal (2004), Omkara (2006), Taare Zameen Par (2007), Ishqiya (2010) and Chennai Express (2013) have been shot here.

more lifestyle Updated: Jan 24, 2016 13:43 IST
Riddhi Doshi
Bollywood
An old home in Wai, in central Maharashtra, where scenes from Swades were shot.(Pratham Gokhale/HT photo )

riddhi.doshi@hindustantimes.com

“Here, right here,” says Madhukar Chaudhari, hurrying towards a giant, spreading tree on wobbly legs. “This is where they shot the panchayat scene of [the Shah Rukh Khan starrer] Swades in 2004 and the famous song ‘Yeh taara woh taara’. They were here for seven months!” It’s been over a decade, but the people of Wai — a temple town in western Maharashtra — still remember that shoot with affection. “My brother, mother and I worked as extras for about a week and earned `11,000 in all,” says Chaudhari, who worked at a teacher’s training institute.

The money the family made helped Chaudhari, now 43, realise his dream of setting up an English-medium school in their village of Menavli, in 2006. It now accommodates 270 children.

With money he earned as an extra, Madhukar Chaudhari has set up an English-medium school in his village. (HT photo )

“The production unit also built toilets in the existing village school,” says sarpanch Vijay Harchand. “Not just that; almost everybody in the village got work. Some were security guards or extras in crowd scenes. Others prepared food for the unit, or assisted on the sets.”

Most of all, Swades introduced Wai to Bollywood. Before this, a film was shot here perhaps once a decade. The villagers remember, for instance, the cast and crew of the Madhuri-Dixit starrer Mrityudand (1997) making an appearance.

Since 2004, big-ticket Bollywood films such as Gangajal (2004), Omkara (2006), Taare Zameen Par (2007), Ishqiya (2010) and Chennai Express (2013) and TV serials such as Kaala Tikka and Chhoti Bahu have turned to this scenic region for its valley views, dam and backwaters; its lush fields are reminiscent of Punjab; its ghats that can pass for Varanasi; its old houses and temples.

“There is so much work now that we often forget the names of past projects,” says Santosh Jamdade, 40, a farmer who now moonlights as an assistant line producer.

“Even permissions are easier to come by as the municipality, police, even local farmers realise how the shoot are offering people much-needed employment,” adds line producer Surendra Sathe, 59, who worked on Swades, Omkara and Taare Zameen Par.

As the popular hill station locales of Panchgani and Mahabaleshwar became ever more overcrowded with tourists — their hills overrun with ugly lodges and concrete ‘villas’ and their picturesque points crowded with people — they became more expensive for shoots and less worth the effort. That’s when areas like Wai and Malshej, a mountain pass in the Western Ghats, emerged as alternatives. What made them attractive was that they were still undiscovered by tourists, and were yet becoming better equipped to handle the demands of a film shoot.

These locales are also now relatively closer to Mumbai than Panchgani and Mahabaleshwar — new highways have shrunk the drive to Malshej to 2.5 hours, and it takes five hours to get to Wai, as opposed to almost 6 hours to get to the twin hill stations.

As the first shoots got underway, locals also began to set up additional infrastructure in the hopes that more would follow. So, in Wai, for instance, the number of hotels has shot up from 4 about six years ago to 22 today. “The entire crew can now live right here in Wai,” says Sathe.

This delights autorickshaw driver Sachin Bhuvad, 36, who has been doubling as a set caterer for five years. “My mother used to supply food for birthday parties of local politicians and for weddings, but we never earned as much as we now do, catering to 100 people several times a day for weeks on end,” he says. “With some of the profits, I have even bought a buffet.”

He has also shifted his two children from a municipal school to a private one.

In Malshej…

Films are bringing much-needed infusions of cash into this largely tribal region. Over the past six years, big-ticket films shot here have included Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi (2008), Raavan (2010), Tees Maar Khan (2010), the song ‘Oh bekhbaar’ from Action Replayy (2010) and Santosh Sivan’s Malayalam film Urumi (2011).

Ad films and Marathi films are shot here too, against the scenic waterfalls, lush green hills and green valleys 700 metres above sea level.

“The location is absolutely pristine,” says Sharada Trilok, producer of Raavan. “Crowd control is easy too, permissions were easy and the people cooperative. It worked wonderfully well for us.”

Locals roped in as extras earn `350-400 a day; as in Wai, others earn by catering, helping out on the sets or offering homestay or lodge accommodation.

Among these is Ravi Maskare, 31. A farmer’s son, he got into the catering business 10 years ago, to supplement the family income.

“Earlier I just catered to political events and weddings. Once the shoots began, my services were hired to feed 200 people at a time,” he says. Over the past three years, he has used the profits to open four restaurants, employing 120 people. He has also enrolled his daughter in a private school.