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Unspooling the days of celluloid glory

How a youngster discovered the nuances of filming in the town of Palampur

In times of trouble, reliving nostalgic moments provide comfort. At a time when going to theatre was a rarity, I had the privilege of watching a film every week as my father was tasked with running the cantonment theatre in Palampur town in the lap of the majestic Dhauladhar mountains.

I learned the supply chain of film distribution and screening as aluminium cans carrying film spools arrived by road from the railhead at Pathankot. Four such spools were glued in a sequence to run the film in four segments, with three intermissions, on a towering Westrex projector.

A message on now-obsolete telex machines would convey the film title in advance, helping in drawing the screening schedule for the troops. Once, nobody could figure out the title, and the onerous task of decoding the scrambled message fell on me. Playing around with words, I confidently pronounced the title as “Banke Bihari”. Embarrassingly, the first screening revealed it to be the 1969 film Bank Robbery. I had to live with this indignity for long.

Palampur had turned out to be the poor filmmakers’ Kashmir. Jugal Kishore from a nearby village had captured the scenic beauty of the place in most of his two-dozen low-budget films. An award-winning producer, he would descend every other spring with newcomers for outdoor shooting. I would bunk classes to throng the location, but it would turn out to be boring as a perfect shot would take days to complete.

But it didn’t deter newcomers like Shatrughan Sinha, Anil Dhawan and Yogita Bali from throwing star tantrums. This compelled Jugal to make serious compromises with the script. He repeated his motorcycle daredevil sequence from Lal Bangla in Munimji.

He had local support, which too carried some intangible costs. I recall one sequence in which a villain pushed the hero into a small pool. The pampered lad of the local MLA insisted on being in the pool, and after long deliberations, was let in with instructions to swim at a distance. After the film’s release, the boy became the laugh of the town.

Open talk

For me, conversing with supporting actors was more meaningful. Relaxing in an easy chair under a garden umbrella for his shot was actor Chandrasekhar, and I expressed surprise that he was playing the role of a police inspector in Sabak after having played the lead in many films including Street Singer.

Towards the end of the 1970s, Chetan Anand descended with his Heer Ranjha troupe to Palampur to shoot just a line from Kaifi Azmi’s lyrics on a Madan Mohan composition to be rendered on screen by the iconic Raaj Kumar — Ae parbat rasta de mujhe, ae kaanto daman chhod do. It took no less than a week to shoot the small portion of a memorable song sequence. That was perhaps the last major outdoor shooting schedule around Palampur.

The town is not a favourite location of present-day filmmakers. But those years had shaped my sensibilities a great deal, letting my interest in studying various aspects of film-making flourish no end. As I relive those moments during the ongoing lockdown, I find my past connected to the present through aspects of film appreciation.

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Printable version | Jun 6, 2020 11:26:27 PM |

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