Today, we visited the Universal City of Bollywood, Ramoji Film City. Being one of the highlights of Hyderabad, Swathi came here with Melony via a bus tour just a week ago and wanted to show it to me. We had to get an early start because of the long drive to the film city. Our breakfast was appam and potato stew which was delicious.
We were taking the Nano again, Swathi's mom and dad sat in the front and we sat in the back. Mohan loaded the car with a 5 liter container of water and we left to go fill the fuel tank with petrol. I took a minute to photograph the service station workers who were more than happy to pose.
Once we were loaded and had set off in the general direction, Swathi checked the GPS on her phone and discovered we were heading in the wrong direction. This was the beginning of another adventure, courtesy of the shortest route directions provided by Google Maps on Android.
It quickly became clear to us that this was not the route commonly taken to go to Ramoji Film City. We had wandered onto seldom-traveled roads which connected rural villages on the outskirts of Hyderabad. The roads were in extreme disrepair and we had to travel at speeds less than 50 kph for most of the way to avoid the potholes, people and cattle which were everywhere.
To make matters worse, the battery charge on Swathi's cell phone dwindled quickly under the draining load of the constant GPS use. We were in the middle of nowhere, following turn after turn on the instructions of a device which would soon abandon us with no knowledge of the way back or forward. On the positive side, I was able to see what the outskirts and villages of Hyderabad look like. The roads had no name or distance markers. There were no standardized directional signposts, no service stations or shops. It was mostly huts, rice fields, the occasional Hindu temple, and people who worked hard to do whatever it is they do to survive. If we had stopped and asked someone for directions, it was unlikely that they would be able to help us. People out here use feet, either their own or an animal's, to get around. Traveling great distances was as alien to them as navigating these streets was to us. It was an interesting sensation to realize the benefits and disadvantages of using technology. There was a brief moment of wondering if I would die out here. I put my camera down and helped Swathi find a pen and paper so that we could write down the rest of the directions (for roads which had no name) while we still had charge. Just as we finished, the phone died. Using our low-tech directions, we managed to get back on to the main highway and found our way to Ramoji Film City.
We found a parking spot, purchased tickets and entered the complex. Charlie Chaplin, Batman, Spiderman, and the Terminator, and a few others were all there in painted fiberglass renditions to greet us as we entered the main gate. Dancers were dancing in Bollywood fashion under a tent. We walked to the nearest attraction and stood in a queue. Once in, we were placed in front of a green screen and our picture was taken, we were then loaded into an open-roof train for a tour of the world, not unlike the "It's a Small World" ride at Disney Land. We saw figurines waving at us and representations of famous landmarks from different countries. America is represented with New York's shopping and Oklahoma's tornadoes. When it was done, we looked at the resulting image of the green screen photo and Mohan purchased a copy which I will scan and upload. Next up was the "Movie Magic" attraction where we would observe the creation of a scene. We waited in the first quadrant of a four-chambered, circular building and waited while a volunteer was chosen from the crowd to be be the star talent and we entered the second quadrant of the quadruplex. As we waited for the volunteer talent to come onto the stage, we watched an introductory video of Mr. Ramoji himself as he explained the origins of his love of film and what we could expect to see. We were recreating a famous Bollywood scene of a horse-drawn carriage being chased by men on horses. The talent, now dressed in costume, came out onto the stage and sat down on the rig, which was in front of a green screen, and tried following the instructions she was given on how to move to make it look more like she was driving. The effect might have been more convincing if she could stop grinning and focus more on whipping the imaginary horse.
After the camera had recorded a sample of the action, we moved to the next quadrant to observe the process for creating sound effects. The sound stage had various instruments used to make noises like wind, rain, thunder, horse hooves, and jingling harnesses. Once the audio samples were taken, we moved to the last chamber to watch the final rendition of the scene which mixed together the audio, video, and other scenes to make it look like our volunteer really was trying to evade the horsemen.
It was time for lunch, so we ate in the only restaurant in the complex which had air conditioning. It was a Hollywood themed cafe which served a buffet of Indian food. I put whatever I could recognize on my plate and happily munched away, enjoying the respite from the heat and delicious food. For dessert, we were served weird spongy milk balls, submerged in a sugary syrup called "rasmalai", yellow sweet twisty "jalebi", and ice cream.
Once fed, we wanted to watch a stunt show in the western-themed area, but had just missed the last performance, so we went to a "Spirit of India" dance which was just starting, and saw a performer lay on her back while she tried to maneuver a series of pole-mounted platforms using her legs in order to get a ball to a basket at the top. She dropped the ball a few times (both literally and figuratively), but eventually succeeded, with the reward of applause. After the ball lady, we watched a dance which stayed true to the Bollywood spirit in being flashy and elaborate. The costumes were in the colors of the Indian flag: orange, white, and green.
We then took a bus tour of the various sets which had been used in films. There was little expense spared in creating the various settings. It was all here: a fake airport, the streets of London, fake government building, fake train station, leg garden. The complex was vast and the number and kinds of sets created were astounding. I wondered how many or which movies used these items. Judging by the sheer number of buildings, it seemed possible that they might construct a whole building or town for the sake of a single scene in a film.
It was 45º C (113º F) outside, so we cooled off with sprite and water before going back to the car. The journey home was almost as adventurous as the one which took us to Film City. We decided to try using the TomTom which was in the trunk of the car. After we had set the destination, it led us through more sparsely populated stretches of land and bad roads. In choosing the path, Swathi and I both thought that we had selected the one which the tour buses usually take, but it was difficult to tell on the screen which roads were the highways and which were the rural routes. It turned out fine in the end, and we were able to see some beautiful scenery.
After some time, the TomTom took us at an empty plot on the wrong side of Hyderabad and announced that we have arrived at our destination. "You have reached your destination" must mean something different for the people at TomTom than what is commonly understood. After asking for directions, we finally did reach our destination. Once settled, we feasted on a starter that was made by Jyothi which was breaded fried egg with onion rings over a bed of cilantro salad, the remaining leftover pizza that Swathi and I could not finish previously, and some delicious chapatis made by Swathi's mom.
Having been thoroughly entertained and stuffed with food, I will fall asleep tonight with ease and dream of my own Bollywood movie, complete with a float of dancers among streets lined with freshly-constructed houses and shops.