(One more Kapoor has gone, sadly. The Kapoors have had a long association with the Nilgiri Mountains. The shooting vans of the R.K. Productions were a permanent feature on the streets of Ooty in the 1950s to 70s.)
The legendary Prithivi Raj Kapoor had no occasion to visit the Nilgiris but his illustrious son Raj Kapoor was in love with the hills. Once in the 1950s my father interviewed him for Sports and Pastime. When asked why he is choosing Nilgiris for his locales instead of Kashmir which is nearer to Bombay, Raj Kapoor replied, “You cannot get these locales anywhere. That is why I do not mind the cost”. He made some of his memorable movies like ‘Jis Desh Men Ganga Bahti Hai’ (1959) and ‘Mera Nam Joker’(1973) on the hills.
But the most memorable of them all was Sangam in 1964. It was Raj Kapoor’s first colour film. The film was shot in many places in the district but notably at the Government Botanical Gardens.
My late brother Thiagu in his book ‘Misty Memoirs’ says, “When Raj Kapoor was asked about the hit number ‘Yeh mera ha prem pathr padhkar’, at the famous and sprawling McIvor’s lawn, he revealed that when the lyricist Shailendar penned this meaningful song, he (Raj Kapoor) had the Botanical garden in mind for its locale”.
According to a critic, Raj Kapoor was always fond of fall colors. He says, ‘If you are watching the movie, just wait for last shot of the Prem Patra song. When Lata start humming and singing last mukhda of the song and long shot of Rajendra Kumar and Vyjayantimala walking holding each other behind the trees is breathtaking’. Vyjayanthimala also recalled in her memoirs, ‘RK certainly had an ear for music. Playing Radha in Sangam was the ultimate role in sophistication with a modern theme’.
Vijayatthimala also recalled that RK created all those lighter moments in the other hit song, ‘Oh mehbooba’ shot in Ooty Boat House. Years later RK studious, when it was wound up, donated the boat used in the shooting to the Film Heritage Foundation.
Sangam broke new grounds in technique and technology. The multicolour smoke that was used for the background of the songs was a novel experience for onlookers. But RK took extreme care not to harm the gardens. As my brother recalled. ‘During the picturization of the songs Raj Kapoor himself will clear up debris from the shooting spot after completing every shoot. Curious onlookers applauded very warmly this rare gesture. Accepting the appreciation with folded hands, Raj Kapoor, told the crowd that clearing the garbage was his duty’.
However, when the same Raj Kapoor was asked later why he did not have Ooty in mind for Bobby (1973) he replied with regret, ‘Where is Ooty, its charm had gone’.
In closing, I was also one among the huge crowed which gathered at the gardens to watch the shooting every day. While the shootings were on we used to be amused, on the sides, at a bunch of plumpy youngsters (around twelveish, as I was then) who used to madly drive small car like things up and down the walkways.
Years later when I had to see Bobby after it completed 100 days my friend recalled that the lead actor, Rishi Kapoor, was one of the plumpy boys whom we had seen in 1964 in the gardens.
Nilgiri Documentation Centre