maharajah of the road

Day 1

Maharajah of the road

Muscle cars


Day 1

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Thriving metropolis, maker and breaker of a thousand dreams and desires… Mumbai always was, and will forever remain India’s City of Dreams.

A city of dreamers; it is said. Some whisper that she, the city; lives off the dreams of her dreamers. That the pulsating heart of the city will beat only as long as she has dreams to feed her. That is the secret of her chaotic charm. That is what makes her so irresistible. Dream-dust.

A city that is built on a foundation of illusions, doesn’t disregard them easily. So it comes as no surprise, when we see that Mumbai city; held together with the plaster of illusions and the tape of dreams has earned itself the adage of – Maximum City. A city that never tells you to stop. A city of excesses. A city that lives life to the fullest. Every day.

A fabled El Dorado in the face of a newly independent India. Mythical in its magic. In its singular ability to make legends out of common men. Alchemy. If chosen, the city would do her magic on you, and she could really turn dust to gold… Into this fable; an India of independence was just awakening. Awakening with her eyes filled with dreams of hopes & desires; and for once, a chance to realize these dreams. In such a mercurial environment Mumbai bought the common man’s hopes, dreams and desires to arm’s reach. She created the Temples of Desire. Mumbai gave birth to Bollywood.

What is Bollywood?

It is the term informally used to refer to the Hindi (national colloquial language of India) Film industry based in Mumbai. The name is a portmanteau of Bombay (the former name for Mumbai) and Hollywood (the center of the American film industry). However, unlike Hollywood, Bollywood does not exist as a physical place, adding to its dreamlike, ephemeral image. The fodder for over a million dreams.

Friday 16th January 2009

All timings according to Indian Standard Time – IST

So it is in this fantastic and dreamlike setting we find ourselves, with 10 Ford Mustangs in town, driving around the sinuous by-lanes of Mumbai city. The unreal feeling never quite leaves a 1st timer in the city. The stark dichotomy of caste, creed, economics, tradition, modernity; in other words; life is always in your face. Never fading into the background. Demanding to be heard, to be seen, to be touched; to be experienced. A city, whose lifeblood is dreams, can tend to have dramatic overtones. And Mumbai city is all about Drama.

From the moment we all arrived here, each from our own diverse destinations; the pulse of the city captivated us. The throbbing, beating, pulsating heart of the city. You could literally feel it beating! So trying to come to terms with all these new and novel feelings, trying desperately to keep with the convoy, yet at the same time the greedy urge not to miss out on even one facet of this experience, we drive. Straight into the heart of Dreamland. We are going to Bollywood.

Oh my god… What a sight! The set is something like the lovechild of an Incan temple and an Egyptian palace… An authentic Bollywood Set. The maxim of excesses follows us here to Tinseltown, and all around us whatever we see is over the top! Everything is extravagant, with vivid colors, fabrics, and costumes. It’s like having entered the halls of Cleopatra...

We are filming the opening ceremony of the Maharajah’s Road adventure here. The true duality in the many faces of India will shine through this adventure. We begin at the heart of the illusion, and drive on into the reality of extravagance. However, we seem to have a few minutes on our hands as the camera crew makes some last minute preparations for the filming of the ceremony; so let’s walk around, and try and glean some interesting tidbits about Bollywood. Who doesn’t enjoy a little local flavor to spice up an adventure? And what better source of information, than someone who has worked in Bollywood, albeit on the sidelines, for decades? I think we have found our selves a guide. Meet Rao Pradhan. Proud gate keeper, and security guard to this set and studio for over 55 years. Let’s hear what Mr. Pradhan can recollect for us about life in Filmcity.

History of Bollywood

The very first silent feature film to be made in India was, Raja Harishchandra, made in 1913 by the legendary Dadasaheb Phalke says Pradhan. He seems to be quite a film buff, and a valuable source of information for us today! What luck! He goes on to tell us that its modest beginnings notwithstanding, by the 1930s the industry was producing over 200 films each year. Wow. Imagine that… The first Indian sound film (called a Talkie) was Ardeshir Irani's 1931 commercial classic Alam Ara. Seeing that there was clearly a huge market for talkies and musicals; Bollywood and all the regional film industries quickly switched to sound filming. However, Pradhan is quick to add that the 1930s and 1940s were tumultuous times too. India was buffeted by the Great Depression, World War II, the Indian independence movement, and the violence of the Partition. Bollywood provided a scarred population with the delicate commodity of ‘escape’. Most Bollywood films were unabashedly escapist, but there were also a number of filmmakers who tackled tough social issues, or used the struggle for Indian independence as a backdrop for their plots. By 1937, Ardeshir Irani, now a pioneer of the fledgling film industry, made the first commercial color film, Kisan Kanya. The next year, he made another color film, the legendary biopic Mother India which went on to becoming a cult classic, still revered by film students, and movie buffs alike. However, color films did not really catch on till the late 1950s. At this time, lavish romantic musicals and melodramas were the staple fare at the cinema. Pradhan remembers the glitz and the quiet elegance of the stars of the yester years. Of successful actors like Dev Anand, Dilip Kumar and Raj Kapoor driving in through these very gates in their swanky imported cars. He has a wistful look as he remembers actresses like the stalwart Nargis, Meena Kumari, Nutan and Madhubala, revered like goddesses by their adoring fans. This hero worship seems to be the only trend that this varied and ever evolving film industry has carried with it till today.

On being asked, what is his favorite film, and character, Pradhan doesn’t miss a beat before answering – Sholay. No surprises there! Director Ramesh Sippy’s Indian Hindi Western film, and the biggest hit in the history of Bollywood. Arguably Bollywood’s most recognizable film till date. And which character? Why Basanti and Dhanno! The lovable yet feisty young woman Basanti, who makes her living driving a horse-cart, her horse is called Dhanno.

Oh looks like we are ready to go in for the shot. We have to say goodbye to Mr. Pradhan now, and run back to where the action is!

The ceremony

Tom, who will be driving the Red ’66 Mustang Convertible into the ceremony with the girls, is waiting on the other side of the entryway for his entry cue. On sneaking back into the set, the sight that meets our eyes can be, at best described as dramatic! As Nicole D’Silva, one of our anchorwomen on the trip announces the beginning of the ceremony at the entryway, Tom drives in with the lovely Mia Uyeda, our other anchorwoman, and Ms. Simran Kaur Mundi, the winner of the Miss India Pageant ’08. Simultaneously, a stunning riot of colors assaults our sense, as a barrage of brightly clad women stream out of one of the wings, and begins their lively and graceful welcome dance. The atmosphere is almost carnival like here, as fire eaters, flame throwers, snake charmers, and many such exotic characters all around us wrestle for our attention. The wonder and fantasy of India is almost encapsulated here by this presentation!

As the dancers begin to exit the frame, we see the other cars all trooping in as well. Nicole talks to Camilo, one of our guests on this trip, about the fabulous cars all around us. Camilo then goes on to introduce each of these beautiful cars to us, and we are all quite amazed to discover their rich pedigree. We realize that just as we have celebrity guests on this trip, the real celebrities might just be the cars! Each car is an authentic piece of history, making this trip even more special for all of us.

After that very memorable opening ceremony, the rest of the trip seems even more exciting, and fantastic. As we leave from the set, the singular thought in our minds is this- Have we all just witnessed and participated in the beginning of a fairytale story?

So, from castles of celluloid tomorrow we will be seeing something really grand – mountains of diamonds! Is this a joke? Another film gimmick?? No, not at all, for tomorrow we leave for the city of Surat; home of the Diamond trade, where mountains of diamonds are an everyday thing!

Maharajah of the Road

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