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Kitney aadmi aatey hai re, aajkal yahaan?

For the urban gypsy in me, it was a long awaited pilgrimage to the spot from where Gabbar Singh entered the psyche of every Indian film watcher – his den, high up in the rocky terrain of the Western Ghats in Ramanagaram, writes KV Lakshmana.
Hindustan Times | By KV Lakshmana
UPDATED ON MAY 30, 2008 11:24 PM IST

For the urban gypsy in me, it was a long awaited pilgrimage to the spot from where Gabbar Singh entered the psyche of every Indian film watcher – his den, high up in the rocky terrain of the Western Ghats in Ramanagaram (aka Ramgarh), off the Bangalore-Mysore highway in Karnataka. I was tingling with excitement as I crawled through a small opening among the bushes to step into the small open space encircled by huge boulders that served as his operational headquarters. I stepped on to the four rocks on which Gabbar walked into the consciousness of the nation with “Kitne aadmi they”.

To get there itself required an impromptu rock climbing lesson from the experts: the villagers of Ramnagaram who, even after three and a half decades of Sholay, eat, live and breathe every moment of their association with the superduperhit. And I definitely needed firm determination to reach my goal with my 48-year-old and battered body protesting every inch of elevation.

Today, the area around Gabbar’s den actually has become a rock climber’s paradise and there are groups of enthusiasts who throng the place on weekends. The trek up the path was 45 minutes of negotiating through thorny bushes and sharp rocky protrusions. Had Gabbar and his band of merry men been on the lookout, I would not have lasted a minute.

The open space encircled by huge boulders was the perfect den that only a Gabbar could have chosen.

The highest point of the area is the rock on which Samba (Macmohan) used to be perched. I was tired, but, for a person whose first adventure of bunking school for a movie was Sholay, I was definitely on a high.

The villagers are convinced that Sholay can never be made again — Ram Gopal Verma, are you listening? He is said to be thinking of yet another Sholay, as do several others who continue to scout this venue — such as someone who wants to remake it in Kannada, or GP Sippy’s grandson, who has other, grander designs.

Living the film

Just three months after the making of Sholay was over 35 years ago, the entire Ramgarh that had been built up was torn down. Not a trace remains other than the boulders and the bushes. A tree now stands at the spot where Veeru climbs the water tank for his suicide drama to win Basanti’s (Hema Malini) hand. The pond from where Basanti is waiting for her Veeru still has some water in it. Adjacent to the pond is a hillock where there was a temple in which Basanti prays for a good husband. There stands a huge boulder that witnessed it all.

Being with the real people who were a part of the making of Sholay for five long years — from helping with putting up the sets for two years, and then seeing the shooting of it for another three — gave me a chance to relive the drama and emotions.

One of them was Goni Siddhaiah, now 52, who, as a 17-year-old boy, used to earn 5 or 10 paise a day as an errand boy. Siddaiah’s parents were daily wagers on the sets on a salary of

Rs 5 a day. At least 50 villagers had helped in the making of Sholay.

Some got a steady income through the five long years. Masons Javed and Amjad got a brighter professional future when they were taken to Mumbai by the crew. For some, the networking paid off — one Srinivasa is said to have used it to set up a big mango business in Bangalore.

A brick kiln worker today, Siddhaiah is the most sought-after guide for the 10-15 tourists who come for den darshan. He points for the photographer: “There is the rock that Sambha used to sit and this is where Basanti danced on broken glass. This is where Gabbar had Thakur Baldev Singh (Sanjeev Kumar) tied up before he chopped off his hands.”

Does he charge for the darshan? “No, it’s my passion… If anyone gives me anything, I keep it.” Today, even the children who were brought up on the stories of Gabbar earn a few rupees by showing some tourists around.

Let us forget any more copies, remakes, replicas or sequels – and celebrate Sholay as it is.

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