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Bhojpuri plot

By Uday Mahurkar, India Today, November 14, 2008

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A cinematic revolution of sorts has taken root in the Satpura ranges of southern Gujarat. The language is Bhojpuri, and the budgets are low, but Rajpipla, the shooting star of this new wonderland, couldn’t be a happier place.

Scenic Rajpipla, not too far from the Narmada dam, has a charm that reflects its good old days of royalty. But now, Rajpipla’s latest avatar of desi Switzerland for outdoor and indoor shoots of low-budget Bhojpuri and Gujarati films as well as TV serials is giving its residents reasons to smile.

Harji Vasava, 32, a poor farm labourer from a village near Rajpipla, used to struggle to survive earlier but now makes up to Rs 150 a day for eight months in a year working as an extra in film shoots. Bhikhabhai Rathod is one step higher in the low-budget film food chain: he makes up to Rs 500 a day as an organiser for film units. Earlier, he would do part-time jobs with local businessmen.

Rajpipla’s grocery stores are no less pleased by this celluloid harvest that has seen their sales go up in the past few years. Private vehicle owners in the town too are raking it in during these times. Five years ago, the number of private vehicles being hired for a day’s use was 20; it’s almost 90 now. The urge to make money has become stronger than ever. Rathod was surprised a couple of years ago when people from Vavdi village near Rajpipla demanded Rs 2,500 a day from film units for shooting in the village.

For low-budget filmmakers, shooting in Rajpipla is about 40 per cent cheaper than in and around Mumbai. It’s just 60 km from Bharuch, a mainline railway station on the Delhi-Mumbai line. By road, it’s seven hours from Mumbai. A Bhojpuri or a Gujarati film costs anything between Rs 50 lakh and Rs 1.50 crore. For such films, there can’t be a better location.

There are three waterfalls in the area—Jerwani, Junaghata and Ninai —and the two river systems of Narmada and Karjan besides two wildlife sanctuaries. The Sardar Sarovar project or the Narmada dam, which is one of the most exciting locales, is just 35 km from Rajpipla while the Karjan dam is just next door.

There are several beautiful temples along the banks of the two rivers. The princely town also boasts of three palaces for shooting. In the Rajvant Palace Hotel of the maharaja of Rajpipla, Raghuvirsinhji Gohil, film units have a cheap and a good place to stay. The 30-room palace, spread over seven lush green acres on the banks of the Karjan, is also a shooting location for film units.

Rajpipla’s tryst with films began in 1990s with shooting of the DD 1 serial Sirajudaullah. But it was the shooting of the successful Gujarati film, Uncha Khoda Ni Khandani, that made Rajpipla the object of attraction. Says Rajvant Palace manager, Shrikant Mahato, “Ever since Mohan Prasad came here to shoot his first Bhojpuri film, Ganga Jaisa Maayi Hamaar in 2001, Rajpipla hasn’t looked back.”

Among the producers whose Bhojpuri films have been shot here are Udit Narayan and veteran actors Dilip Kumar and Saira Banu apart from well-known Bhojpuri film and TV serial producers and directors like Mohan Prasad, Sunil Agnihotri and Ajay Sinha. Manoj Tiwari and Ravi Kishen, the superstars of Bhojpuri films who now talk about moving the Rs 200-crore Bhojpuri film industry out of Mumbai following the anti-Bihari campaign of Raj Thackeray, have also shot for a number of films in Rajpipla.

Around 100 Bhojpuri films have been shot at Rajpipla, plus another 100 Gujarati films and scores of serials. Says Sunil Prasad, who has directed four Bhojpuri films in Rajpipla, “For a producer, Rajpipla is a charming and an affordable locale. It has breathtaking natural beauty and palaces necessary for films based on the theme of kings and Thakurs.”

Producer and director Sunil Agnihotri, who has directed a number of serials including Chandrakanta and Chandramukhi, besides a couple of films, says: “Producers prefer multi-location shooting spots where a variety of locales are within close distance. Rajpipla offers that.” Recently, a Hindi serial based on the Jallianwala Bagh tragedy titled Mohe Rang De was shot here. The popular serial Chandramukhi (Doordarshan) and Hum Ladkiyan (Sony) is also being shot here. Hindi was once a foreign language for the people of Rajpipla. They haven’t picked up Bhojpuri yet but speak comprehensible Hindi. Rajpipla is changing and its residents don’t want the curtain to fall on their town’s new calling.

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