"So Kaaki, would you like to see the sights? Charminar, the Old City, Golconda maybe... ” Five years ago, I was offering my grand aunt a look around Hyderabad. She was interested but it was the polite kind of interest. She waited to hear out my list of treats, which mostly veered to heritage and charm, and then said, “But what about this Ramoji Film City? They tell me it’s a MUST-visit.” And then with some disapprobation, she asked, “How come you, a Hyderabadi, have never been?” Put like that, it seemed like a grievous oversight: it may be the kitschiest show in town but I must claim acquaintance with it if I am to belong to this city.
Ramoji Film City (RFC) was carved out in 1996 over 1,666 acres of land in Hayathnagar, on the outskirts of Hyderabad. Its tagline says: ‘Walk in with a script and walk out with a canned film.’ Everything you would need in between — equipment, floors, space, sets, facilities for stay, post production and graphics — is available at this sprawling one-stop shop for film-making, the biggest of its kind anywhere in the world. About two thousand film and television units have visited this complex, and parts of the recent Bollywood hits Cocktail, Sarkaar Raj and Dirty Picture were shot here.
However, RFC also shrewdly positioned itself to attract tourists. In a film-crazed country, a chance to see where Ra One was shot, or perhaps even a glancing opportunity of running into Hrithik Roshan... the hordes came and never stopped coming. On average, RFC receives five thousand visitors every day. You’d think that they would baulk before venturing outdoors on blistering Deccan summer afternoons, but officials assure me they see a rise in visitor count during the holidays.
So to repair the omission, I went off with my aunt to see Ramoji Film City all those years ago. I blinked at the massive name heralding the entrance, goggled at the masses of people milling about enjoying themselves to the hilt, stared with fascination at buildings, façades and sets that wore every colour in the painter’s shade card. I bought popcorn (as you must, when you’re doing anything connected with the movies) and felt the aesthetic confusion yield to pure fun. Which, at the bottom of it all, RFC is. Tremendous fun.
With memories of the old visit still vivid, I went again last week. It seemed to me to be not merely a place where movies were made, but a place where movies are celebrated. The make-believe nature of it all, where one side of a building could show you an airport hangar and the other a hospital. Where the railway station bears the names of three different Indian towns on different surfaces, all waiting to be painted over with any name that the next script demands. Princess Street, with its array of houses in various styles and hues, to offer the art director a range of balcony choices for his Juliet.
A variety of gardens are available for the use of Indian filmi song-and-dance. Undulating landscapes, with sculptures strewn across them. Here a pair of thighs emerge from the lawns, elsewhere a queue of animals saunter to a waterhole... in the central area, there are food stalls, Ferris wheels and several stomach-churning rides.
Not everything, however, blasts colour at you. The Mughal Gardens, which we were informed was the location for many scenes from the movie Jodhaa Akbar, is sedately white, with beautifully filigreed walls and domes. Then there is the Hawa Mahal to bring in the Rajasthani touch and a structure called the MP Building — MP being the acronym, we found, for multi-purpose. This could be an old haveli, or a college, or a court or anything you choose: so different does it look from each aspect. Among the plethora of entertainment, there are a few shows you must take in. The thirty-minute Action Studio introduces the viewer to the craft of film-making and Ramoji Tower is a free falling ride with a bit of disaster thrown in.
My visit on this occasion was well timed; RFC was having its annual Summer Carnival. Day visitors were allowed to stay on till 8pm instead of 5.30, and the line-up involved live shows with typical filmi song and dance, a parade that blazes colour and a chance to see the Film City lit up — adornment that sets it off to spectacular advantage. In the evening, the parade went past us, with floats, music, dancers and hoopla. We followed the pageant for a good while, passing by cool fountains and various gardens, soaking in the colour and the revelry. As we wound the evening down with a fine dinner, we raised a toast to the movies.
Where: Ramoji Film City is 35km/1.5hrs from Hyderabad at Hayathnagar.
Accomodation: Rates start from Rs 4,399 per person for one night at their economy hotel Tara, and Rs 5,499 at the luxury hotel Sitara. However, various 2D and 3D packages offer substantial discounts on the tariff.
Contact: 08415-246555, ramojifilmcity.com