The making of Sholay helped the local people get employment and food at a time when the country was facing a famine.
In the eerie silence, on top of Bollywood’s most famous rock, you can hear yourself asking, “Kitne aadmi the?”
Yes! It was here that Gabbar Singh (Amjad Khan) camped (Sholay, 1975). When his henchmen returned empty handed, conceding defeat to Thakur Baldev Singh’s (Sanjeev Kumar) boys—Jai (Amitabh Bachchan) and Veeru (Dharmendra)—Gabbar lost his cool and asked, “Kitne aadmi the?”
Four decades after the hugely popular movie was shot here, “Ramgarh” (Ramanagara) continues to be Gabbar territory. Tucked in the foothills of Ramadevara Betta, some 44km from Bengaluru (off Bengaluru-Mysuru highway), it is almost a holy ground for Sholay-lovers.
On weekends, crowds hit the Gabbar trail, tramping through dense shrubs and creepers, squeezing through gaps between boulders, crossing lakes and walking up the slopes. They reach Gabbar’s hideout, and like every Sholay-loyal, celebrate the moment.
The scenic rocky terrain was chosen to be “Ramgarh” after a massive hunt across south India. It was transformed into Sippy Nagara, a make-believe village, where most portions of the film were shot over two and a half years. “Sippy Nagara, with houses, five temples and a water tank, was built here. Most importantly, the film unit built the tarred road connecting the hillock to the Bengaluru-Mysuru highway and put up a telephone line that transformed our lives,” said Ramesh, 46, a resident of the village.
The making of Sholay helped the local people get employment and food at a time when the country was facing a famine. “Anyone who walked in hungry was provided a good meal by the film crew,” said Eeranna, 55, a parking attendant. Eeranna relives the Sholay days every time a tourist inquires about the film. His eyes widen and his nonstop storytelling takes you on a nostalgic journey. Sippy Nagara was demolished by the crew after the shooting. The remnants were reused by the people of Konkani Doddi, a nearby village. The villagers used to work as cooking assistants, gardeners, cleaners, maids and junior artistes during the shooting.
The lotus pond seen in the movie is in full bloom today. The place where Sippy Nagara stood is dotted with dilapidated houses belonging to 17 families of the Iruliga tribe. They were settled there by the government. In 2010, there was a proposal to start a Sholay-themed resort here, but it was abandoned in the face of opposition from environmentalists.The romantic film Bobby (1973) was shot here even before Sholay and David Lean’s A Passage to India (1984) later. But, it was Sholay that immortalised Ramanagara. Elevated to a district, Ramanagara is now spinning a different tale. The land price is Rs 1crore an acre. It has one of Asia’s largest cocoon markets; 40 tonnes of cocoon are transacted at the Ramanagara centre daily.
The rocky terrain is a breeding ground for the globally endangered long-billed vultures (Gyps indicus) and Indian white-rumped vultures (Gyps bengalensis). In 2012, the government declared 856 acres a vulture sanctuary. With the construction boom, quarrying for granite and gravel has reached a peak, threatening the boulders. However, the sanctuary tag has shielded the Sholay rock.
Ramanagara is the epicentre of Vokkaliga politics, and three chief ministers—Kengal Hanumanthaiah (1952), Ramakrishna Hedge (1983) and H.D. Kumaraswamy (2006)—have represented the constituency. But, this has not reflected in its development. “Nearly 27,000 families doing sericulture [across 50,000 hectares] are struggling [despite the huge cocoon market]. Six lakh litres of milk produced daily and a bumper mango crop have failed to generate the potential revenue because of the lack of proper cold storage and market linkage,” said Gangadhar Byregowda, a local journalist.
“Tera kya hoga, Kaalia?” continues to echo in Gabbar land.