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A die hard Sholay fan’s pilgrimage to ‘Ramgarh’

Lakshmana Venkat Kuchi, Senior Journalist @kvlakshman Call it perfect timing or passion at its highest – that I managed to climb up a steep hillock in the rocky terrain that nestled the den of Gabbar Singh (Amjad Khan), arguably one of the most successful of all ‘villains’ of the Hindi film industry. It is my […]

Edited By : Prateek Gautam | Updated: Jul 22, 2022 09:35 IST
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Ramgarh Sholey

Lakshmana Venkat Kuchi, Senior Journalist
@kvlakshman

Call it perfect timing or passion at its highest – that I managed to climb up a steep hillock in the rocky terrain that nestled the den of Gabbar Singh (Amjad Khan), arguably one of the most successful of all ‘villains’ of the Hindi film industry. It is my good fortune that I could manage to walk on the same boulders, walking on which Gabbar Singh entered the minds, and hearts, of the Hindi filmgoers.

Who can forget his gait, the clanging of the metal of his leather belt on the boulder, and the cruelly angry scowl that Gabbar Singh wore on his face as he makes his entry into the film Sholay with his ever popular opening line “Kitney Aadmi They” (how many people were there) delivered in a style that made him the most popular of all the top stars in the movie. In fact, the debate on who was the ‘man of the match’ of the film continues, forty years after it was released.

For me, it was a pilgrimage when I entered Gabbar’s den after a 45 minute climb through thorny, bushy and slippery at few places pathway that opened into a small clearing surrounded by huge boulder and hillocks, making it the perfect natural hideaway for Gabbar and his band of robbers. In the year 2008, when I visited the den for the first, and only time, I was in Karnataka to cover the Assembly elections. But today, it is impossible to enter Gabbar’s den again.

For, when I visited Bangalore again a couple of years later, after driving the 50 km distance to Ramanagaram – that hosts the Sholay village of Ramgarh (fictitious village, built specially for the film and the entire set dismantled after the shooting was over in two years) – pathway to the Gabbar’s den was closed as a private company bought up rights to construct a resort and it fenced up the entire property.

But unfortunately for the company, environmentalists put a spoke in the wheel of the company which plans to turn the country’s only sanctuary of vultures into a touristy resort. For over the past 10 years or so, the matter is in the court as environmentalists and the developers fight it out. Besides, there are a number of rock climbing enthusiasts who oppose the decision to commercialise the area, whose potential is immense given the brand value Ramanagaram has got as the Sholay village due to the monumental success of the film.

At present, one can drive up to a temple – Lord Rama shrine — located in the area where the film Sholay was made. One can park the vehicle and walk around the spots where the make-shift village and different incidents in the film were set up.

For example, from the huge plain flat surface on a flat hillock one can see most of the area where the village stood, and the curvy, rocky, twisted path way that led to a tiny water body over which a wooden bridge was placed. It is the same place where the climax of the film was short, locals would point out the spot.

But some portions of the area where the film was shot has been now lost due to development that is taking place. An eight-lane express way between Bangalore and Mysore cuts through the Sholay site, and skirts it in few places, but most of the other significant spots still remain – but you would need a local knowledgeable guide who can point them out. I was fortunate that I managed to get hold of Gone Siddhaiah, who as a 17-year-old used to hang around the set and do the odd jobs for few paise per day. His parents too were playing teeny weeny roles, and also helped in construction of the film set, like most of the villagers. They made a few bucks in day.

Most of them and even film experts are convinced that “Sholay was a very happy accident. No one can make another Sholay again” is the considered verdict of the villagers, who continue to celebrate their association with the film – by watching the film together and feasting. A film with cross generational appeal, even today’s generation finds the film as gripping as its appeal appears to be timeless.

But copies and remakes of Sholay bombed, the most ‘famous for failing among them” being Ram Gopal Verma’s interpretation of Sholay, casting Amithabh Bachan as an ageing Gabbar Singh.

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And many of the villagers have reasons for celebrating original Sholay – as it changed their lives. Few have had gone to Mumbai and settled down into the film world, doing odd jobs and set constructions and the like. The strong association, of close to three years, with the film makers and film technicians, and film logistics persons, has given them an entry ticket into the world of Bolllywood. Some became entrepreneurs and are into regular trading with Mumbai markets – all thanks to Sholay and Ramesh Sippy.

For me personally, it was a day well spent, having had my Mecca moment – of a sense of ultimate achievement of the ‘Sholay pilgrim’ in me.

(Lakshmana Venkat Kuchi is a senior journalist tracking social, economic, and political issues and takes a keen interest in sports as well. He has worked with Press Trust of India, The Hindu, Sunday Observer, and Hindustan Times.)

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First published on: Jul 22, 2022 09:35 AM IST

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