Bollywood discovers the charm of Old Delhi,lines up shoots on its narrow,buzzing lanes
Two years ago,Tara Hotel,a two-star hotel tucked away in a nondescript Old Delhi alley,would easily have been overlooked by any traveller. But not any more.
Ever since Akshay Kumars film was shot on the hotels roof,the 300-room,three-storey property has become a kind of a tourist attraction. Same is the tale of many other areas of the Walled City,thanks to 16 other Bollywood films being shot in Old Delhi in the past two years,claims Ravi Sarin,line-producer for most projects shot in the Capital and widely held as the man responsible for getting Bollywood to Delhi.
Today,Tara Hotels owner Vijender Nagar,44,cant thank Sarin enough. Just three years ago Nagar was sceptical of setting up his maiden star property in Old Delhi,uncertain of getting favourable clientele. But his business is now thriving with 80-90 per cent occupancy rates up from a meagre 40 in the first year,Nagar claims.
One positive outcome of filming of Chandni Chowk to China has been the popularity of Gali Jainiyan (the alley housing his hotel), Nagar says. Otherwise no one would be able to locate this hotel.
In December 2007,director Nikhil Advani converted the hotels roof into a set for a 10-day shoot. The roof was one of the biggest available in the area, says Sarin,who chose the location. Significant portions at the start of the film,with Jama Masjid as the backdrop,were shot here.
Hotel employee Dilip Kumar Pandit says all local residents would halt their regular routine and camp on rooftops for a glimpse of the stars. I would tell my colleagues to fill in for me whenever Akshay Kumar shot his action scenes, he recalls.
Stars on earth
The atmosphere,say locals,was inclusive and cordial. As Vinod Kumar,51,a file cover-maker from the alley,recalls: I was sitting outside my building when a crew member approached me to be a part of a climax scene. They needed an old man with an unkempt look and I apparently fit the part with my thick white beard and hair.
He has a 15-second scene with Akshay Kumar.
The area also served as the shooting location for Subhash Ghais Black and White in 2006,and parts of Rakesh Omprakash Mehras Delhi-6 the following year.
Walk towards Fatehpuri Masjid,and an old,run down building stands out. This was Bharat Hotel earlier; its been lying abandoned for years, Sarin says. He selected it for one of the chase sequences in Ajay Devgan and Arshad Warsi-starrer Sunday. Reason: the buildings wide roof top with panoramic views of Old Delhi made it the perfect spot.
Adjacent to it,the roof of two-star Crown Hotel was the location for the dulha scene in Chandni Chowk to China. And the residents,four brothers from West Bengal who sell sarees,got a ringside view. Akshay Kumar looks better on screen. Off it,he is like any one of us, grins Sapan Das,eldest of the four brothers,anxious for the next shooting. But they were ecstatic upon meeting Mithun-da. He spoke to us in Bangla and posed for photographs with us, Das says.
The rooftop was also used for a few scenes from Ahista Ahista,starring Abhay Deol and Soha Ali Khan,and Anurag Kashyaps Dev D last year.
Chawri Bazaar and Nai Sarak were the scene of activity from September to November last year when shooting for Delhi Belly,Its My Life,and Delhi-6 were done in close succession. I missed the chance to meet Abhishek Bachchan when he was at an arms length. He was dressed casually in a jumpsuit and I could not recognise him, says Arun Gupta,owner of a sweet shop on Nai Sarak intersection.
A couple of intersections lies the Chawri Bazaar Metro square,where a two or three-day shoot was held for Delhi 6. There were tongas lined up along with vintage cars. I wasnt bothered about meeting any star but I attracted many customers those days, says Jeet Lal,a paanwalah who saw the shooting outside Chawri Bazaar Metro Station.
Bollywood might just be beginning to find Chandni Chowk for its charm and mystery but for the residents it comes with a mixed response. Sarin admits that most residents like to maintain their privacy. We once asked the owner of Haji Hotel,near Jama Masjid,to let us use his hotel for a Delhi-6 shoot but he sought Rs 2 lakh per day, he says. So we shot at another location.
Most shoots require elaborate arrangements and are usually done on holidays or early mornings to avoid the rush of people,Sarin says.
In the bustling streets of Urdu Bazaar stands Jawahar Hotel,where Sunday and Delhi-6 were shot for two days. Abhishek Bachchan ran up the street wearing a jumpsuit, say Imraan,who runs a currency shop on the hotels steps,but we could not approach him since he was surrounded by security guards.