We didn't need much to intuit the origin of the decadent Welcome Heritage Royale Regency Villa in which we had settled.
We thought of the white and freckled skin, the fair or red hair of the British settlers in India and even their
u famous combative lip of stiff upper lip. As a result, there was an urgent need to take refuge from the oppressive heat that lashed the Crown Jewel for most of the year.
Organized and pragmatic, the sahibs Newly installed ones have wasted no time in providing a climatic retreat worthy of their supremacy and superb. They found Udhagamandalam at 2.240 meters above sea level, at the top of the Nilgiri Hills.
These are the highest lands in the south of the subcontinent, dominated, from 1789 until independence, by the East India Company, after great dedication by a governor of Coimbatore, John Sullivan, who had fallen in love with the place to the point of telling in a letter addressed to a counterpart that "resembled Switzerland more than any country in Europe."
When we discover it, we have difficulty identifying Udhagamandalam with anything from Helvetia. And only by effort we were able to visualize similarities with the south of England or Australia, as suggested by several travel books.
This, despite the chalets, now red, surrounded by flower gardens, the hippodrome, avenues flanked by large eucalyptus trees and stone churches.
These elements and, above all, the architecture of the buildings spiced up the old Anglophilia of the mountain station.
They weren't enough to make up for the current reality around them, dotted with rubble, disorganized and, here and there, also dirty, starting with the city's large lake that housed the sewage of almost 90.000 inhabitants but where the Tourist Cafe's entrepreneur rented, with success, dozens of boats for rides on rowing or pedals.
The less dignified aspects of the village did little to shake the postcolonial confidence of the Indian manager of the Regency Villa. “It seems to me that you gentlemen will be ready for the visit, right?” he asks us with pomp, circumstance and the mouth-full intonation typical of the English aristocracy.
No sooner had we checked into the scarlet hotel-palace from far away Varkalla (on the coast of Kerala state) when the official forced a tour of the premises for us. Even exhausted by the troubled journey and upset, we ended up saying yes. O karma de Nilgiri was soon to reward us for our open-mindedness.
The host begins by revealing to us rooms, parlors and salons that a recent restoration had restored to Victorian elegance. When the objects of the visit are repeated and to our surprise, he suggests an extension to the former palace of the Maharaja of Mysore.
We didn't know that a Maharaja had also lodged in those parts, but we were already everywhere. We climb a staircase, cross the new hall, and look out onto a half-opened porch.
From there, we notice a chromatic and creative riot taking place in the courtyard below.
We questioned the manager. "It's footage." advances us. “They come here often and it's not just Bombay producers. They arrive from all over the country. Forgive my failure, I should have given you this information."
The attraction of Indians for alpine landscapes, in particular those of Switzerland, is well known. For several decades, the relative similarity of the Kashmir and Uttar Pradesh mountain backdrops have made them the preferred filming locations for Bollywood and competing Indian “studios”.
Until the dispute with neighboring Pakistan over Kashmir escalated and military skirmishes and threats of terrorism forced them to look elsewhere.
Since then, Ooty – so the British settlers abbreviated the intractable official name of the village – has proven to be the main alternative and has illustrated hundreds of feature films.
From the moment you give us permission to be on our own, we forgive you anything and everything. We say goodbye with a thank you and see you soon diplomatic and descend to the level of action.
We cross a dark corridor that leads to rooms adapted to dressing rooms and backstage.
Once outside, we come across assistants who carry heavy sacks into an ox cart, positioned over a crosshair marked on the ground with colored powder.
We admire the patience of a Muslim shepherd who controls a flock of sheep and we follow the movements of a number of other workers and extras distributed over the ocher soil.
They all depend on the representation of Upendra, the densely capillary-looking protagonist, a national idol who became famous for his appearances in several of the approximately one hundred Kannada or Sandalwood films – as Karnataka state cinema is called – produced every year, in a context quite different from Hollywood and European cinema.
After a career hiatus of nearly two years, Uppi, as the Indian people fondly treat him, had a cross-functional role in H2O, a bilingual feature film released in Tamil and Kannada that set the trend for Indian films named after molecular compounds .
Uppi developed the argument based on a famous secular dispute over the water of the Kaveri River between the Indian states of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. He also created the dialogues and lyrics for all the songs. He also sang two of them "Language Ilde Love"and "bid bede bida Different".
We saw him, above all, performing, under the sun protection of an equestrian umbrella that some assistant held above the plane.
We took advantage of the team's distraction, played tricks and placed ourselves behind the cameras. When we realize that no one repels us, we frame and record images of the main actor with as much or more zeal than the accredited operators.
These created the lightning plans of zoom in, zoom out with which they illustrated a certain astonishment of Karnataka (the character of Upendra).
The heartthrob's ego rises with the adulation of Western outsiders. Okay, try to adorn the tight plane of her furry face with a look as magical and seductive as possible.
Determined to enhance the effect, the characterizer had given him deep blue contact lenses. But through our telephoto lenses, we can see that the ornament is irritating her eyes, which are almost redder than blue.
Enter the ox cart, the shepherd and the sheep and even a white Ambassador. The planned scene is successfully completed and the vast team takes a lunch break without ever leaving the filming location.
Right there, in the front garden, they are organized in two opposite rows – one for men, the other for women – each of the guests with their silver tray on the grass, ready to be served.
We don't want to appear rude to them, and we avoid photographing them eating. At that point, someone from the team takes us aside and surprises us:
“We've been watching you and your ethnic and figure contrast would serve wonderfully for a film we're going to shoot in two weeks' time, in Bangalore. Can we count on you?”
We don't have that much time to stay in India.
With airline tickets already purchased and no way to change dates, we are forced to reject the hypothesis of a lifetime of joining the fascinating world of Indian cinema, who knows, also a fruitful Asian stardom.
To compensate, in the last days spent in the state of Tamil Nadu. we continued to ask for posters in the movie theaters we were passing through.
After giving several dozen to family and friends, we still keep many, including four or five of the most exuberant ones on the walls and doors of the house.