Ritujaay Ghosh and Amitava Banerjee, HT, 15 May 2016, Kolkata: It was the summer of 69. On the meandering roads of Darjeeling, a 27-year-old gentleman was gyrating on the bonnet of a convertible jeep that was trying to keep pace with the whistle-blowing toy train. With looks that could kill, the man was syncing his lips to the song Mere sapno ki rani kab aayegi tu.
While not many could identify him then, it didn’t take long for the former hockey player to become a household name. A few months later, Shakti Samanta’s ‘Aradhana’ released and a superstar was born. His name; Rajesh Khanna.
Khanna, however, wasn’t Shakti Samanta or Aradhana’s only gift to Indian cinema. The film gave the industry a new shooting destination: Darjeeling.
In no time, the Queen of Hill Stations became a hit with filmmakers in Mumbai. And Darjeeling soon started to replace Gulmarg and Shimla as two of the most preferred shooting destinations.
The next few years saw some of the most prominent names in Bollywood camping in North Bengal at regular intervals. Since then, Darjeeling has been witness to the making of a sizeable number of classics; Aradhana, Mera Naam Joker, Anurodh, Barsaat Ki Ek Raat, Sagina, Do Anjaane, to name a few.
Interestingly, Aradhana wasn’t the first film to be shot in Darjeeling. The Hills started emerging as a shooting destination in the early 1960s with the making of Jab Pyaar Kisi Se Hota Hai. The film had a song sequence similar to that of Aradhana with Dev Anand atop a car wooing Asha Parekh seated in the toy train. However, it was Alok Dasgupta’s cinematography in Aradhana that encapsulated Darjeeling’s natural beauty in 35 mm.
The natural beauty of the town coupled with its true-blue romantic and colonial charm, made filmmakers frequent Darjeeling for the next decade-and-a half, till things started changing. From the mid-1980s, political unrest crawled up the hill station. Filmmakers started scouting for alternatives. Darjeeling was no longer in their wish list.
The bond between filmmakers and Darjeeling seems to be strengthening once again with the Hills emerging as shooting destination for many. In the last five years a number of big-budget films have been shot against the backdrop of Darjeeling and most of these became money-churners. “Darjeeling is frozen in time. It is one of the best destinations, especially for period films. I could have shot anywhere but I found a small window to accommodate Darjeeling in Jagga Jasoos. While shooting, my cameraman, Ravi Varman, kept on asking me if we would be shooting in Darjeeling. He also shot Barfi here. If I get a chance, I will definitely shoot in Darjeeling in the future,” says filmmaker, Anurag Basu, who was recently in the Hills to shoot Jagga Jasoos with Ranbir Kapoor.
Basu’s rendezvous with Darjeeling is however not as recent as the Ranbir and Priyanka Chopra starrer Barfi. “My grandmother Basuna Majumder used to live in Darjeeling and went to Maharani Girls High School,” he says. Ever since he became a filmmaker, Basu dreamt of shooting in the hill town, which he says was realised after shooting Barfi.
Darjeeling has played host to some of the biggest names in Bollywood. The 1960s saw Shammi Kapoor, Dev Anand, Manoj Kumar, Dharmendra, Meena Kumari, Sunil Dutt, Asha Parekh, Sharmila Tagore and Rajesh Khanna frequenting the Hills. The trend continued in the 70s and early 80s with the likes of Raj Kapoor, Amitabh Bachchan, Dilip Kumar, Vinod Khanna and Shabana Azmi taking the uphill trip. Post 1985, Nainital, Ooty and Kodaikanal edged out the curfewcrippled Darjeeling.
Though a few filmmakers kept going back from time to time, it was no longer a favourite with the Bollywood brigade. In 1992, Shah Rukh Khan, then a new comer and certainly not a crowd puller, shot here for one of the songs in Raju Ban Gaya Gentleman. That was the only shooting Darjeeling witnessed in the 1990s.
It was only in 2004 when Shah Rukh- who by then had established himself as one of the pillars of Bollywood- decided to shoot Main Hoon Na in Darjeeling. The town once again came under the spotlight. The film became a runaway hit and returned Darjeeling its lost glory.
Barfi proved to be the icing on the cake. Ranbir Kapoor and Priyanka Chopra’s popularity, coupled with Anurag Basu’s success as a filmmaker, created the much-required hype around Darjeeling as a shooting destination.
Ask Ranbir if Darjeeling is a lucky char m for him and he says: “Luck is an unknown thing but it is the love for Darjeeling that brings me back here. It is calm and beautiful with friendly people around. It is visually mismerising and the weather is excellent.”
Interestingly, new- age filmmakers are going the extra mile to capture some of the unexplored zones in Darjeeling. Kanchenjunga, the tea gardens and the iconic toy train aren’t the only things that are luring filmmakers to Darjeeling. Today, they are eyeing the lesser-known spots. Basu shot at the picturesque Jamuney, 15 kms from Darjeeling, for Barfi. The spot has become a hit with tourists since then. So much so, that and a bridge at Jamuney has been named Barfi Bridge.
Of late, places such as Tinchuley, Tukdah, Kalimpong and Ghum, too, are drawing the attention of director. Sujoy Ghosh recently shot Kahaani 2 with Vidya Balan in Kalimpong.
For director Anjan Dutta, who went to school in Darjeeling – or ‘Darj’as he loves to call it – the Hills are second home. Darjeeling has featured in most of his films.
Even the lakeside destination, Mirik, is steadily becoming a popular destination. “Places such as Tukdah have immense potential to emerge as film locations. We, from the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA), will continue to promote new destinations in Darjeeling. Such shoots, along with promotion of the place, boost local economy,” says Norbu G Lama, a GTA member from Tukdah.
Director Divya Khosla Kumar, who shot her debut film Yariaan in Darjeeling says: “Such is the natural beauty of Darjeeling that I feel justice cannot be done by a single film. I am planning to come here for my future films as well. The 125-year old St. Joseph’s School was the perfect location for the film. I fail to understand why do we have to hunt for locations abroad when we have such beautiful structures and locations in our own country?”
Darjeeling has bounced back for sure, that too with panache. The Hills are once again luring the Bollywood brigade. In the last few years some of the biggest directors such as Vidhu Vinod Chopra, Farah Khan, Anurag Basu, Sujoy Ghosh have set their films on Darjeeling, a destination that was slowly fading out from the collective memory of the nation.