JAISALMER: A Bollywood film is always a likely break from tedium, and so it is on this border in Rajasthan – but in a different way. The film industry – Bollywood, Tollywood, Kollywood and every other kind of wood – loves the desert and as winter approaches, a week won’t go by without a film-maker waiting to shoot amid the sand dunes.
For the Border Security Force (BSF) officers it’s an opportunity to Shanghai some of the stars into putting in an appearance in the barracks to shore up morale, and for the soldiers, it is a diversion from endlessly gazing over the dunes.
The desert near Jaisalmer is a hotspot for film shootings; the sensuous folds of sand are a cinematographer’s delight, and the bleak landscape is an opportunity for a choreographer to orchestrate some colourful song sequences. No wonder BSF officers are flooded with requests for permission to shoot near the border.
Registan movies are not new to Bollywood but it was the war film Border (1997), about the battle of Longewala in the war of 1971, that triggered a fresh wave of location hunting off Jaisalmer and Jodhpur.
“We have had a host of Bollywood stars descending here: Akshay Kumar, John Abraham, Ajay Devgn, Esha Gupta, Emraan Hashmi. Not just Bollywood, Telugu, Tamil and Malayalam movies are shot here,” says BSF DIG Amit Lodha. Rumour has it that the Ajay Devgn starrer Gangajal is on the life of Lodha, a Bihar cadre IPS officer on deputation to the BSF.
Since this is a border, it’s the BSF that gives permissions to shoot. No shooting is allowed on the border per se, or even close to it, or anywhere near sensitive and vital installations.
When permission is sought from BSF, the General Intelligence unit of the force is asked to vet the project and assess its implications for national security. Normally, film units are happy enough to stay within the BSF’s restrictions and locations are changed or adjusted enthusiastically.
The latest movie project being vetted by the BSF is a John Abraham starrer. The actor has been scouting Pokhran to shoot a movie titled Parmanu: The Story of Pokhran.
It’s in winter that film makers begin shooting and wind up well before the summer, which here is not too good for the leading lady’s complexion.
One BSF veteran guessed that close to 200 movies and TV serials have been in the deserts off Jaisalmer during his time in the force.
Film stars are always enthusiastic about taking time off from the shoot to meet the faujis and feel a bit patriotic themselves.
“We request actors to visit our soldiers. I took Akshay Kumar and Ajay Devgn to our barracks to give them a first-hand feel of what a soldier’s life is on this border. The jawans clicked selfies and interacted with the stars. It was a welcome change for our men,'' said Lodha.
While the desert is a cinematographer’s delight, it’s an ideal locale too for the actors for five-star luxuries and been-there-done-that places are not too far away. There are breathtaking palaces, placid lakes and awe-inspiring forts-turned heritage hotels in Jaisalmer, Jodhpur, Udaipur and Jaipur.
According to him, it is not only the Indian film industry that has shot movies in Jaisalmer, even movie makers from abroad had shot movies here.
“Innumerable TV serials have also been shot here. While in the border areas, it is the BSF that has to give permission, elsewhere it is the state administration that gives clearances,'' adds the official.