A festival called Hare Rama Hare Krishna

  • In the early 70s, Dev Anand came to Kathmandu to shoot ‘Hare Rama, Hare Krishna,’ throwing the city into a celebratory frenzy. This is an account of those few weeks.

Apr 23, 2019-

A psychedelic drone pierces through ancient Kasthamandap and out into Basantapur Durbar Square. From amidst long-haired, droopy-eyed hippies swaying wildly in the haze of hashish smoke, teenaged Zeenat Aman twirls her body to the hypnotic ‘Dum Maro Dum’—an image and tune etched in the memories of generations to come.

Bollywood legend Dev Anand’s Hare Rama Hare Krishna—a story of how the hippie movement’s drug culture was destroying individuals and families—was an instant classic when it was released in 1971, with ‘Dum Maro Dum’ becoming its anthem.

In his memoir, Romancing With Life, Dev Anand says that the shooting of ‘Dum Maro Dum’ occurred as “thousands of Nepalese people, who, having drunk their local brew, swayed to the rhythm of ‘Dum Maro Dum’, with a dozen guards of the royal mounted police keeping constant vigil lest a brawl broke out in the excitement of intoxication.”

Indeed, for the entire 10 weeks Dev Anand was shooting in Kathmandu, locals were gripped with Bollywood fever as Dev Anand, Mumtaz, Zeenat Aman, Prem Chopra and other stars paraded the gallies and courtyards. The film’s shooting was, in Dev Anand’s own words, “one big celebration”.

King Mahendra’s embrace

This was 70s Kathmandu, and such a spectacle could only take place because Hare Rama Hare Krishna won the heart of none other than King Mahendra.

In his memoir, Dev Anand says that in February 1970, he was attending Crown Prince Birendra’s wedding as a royal guest when, one evening, he chanced upon an Indian girl in the midst of hippies at The Bakery, an iconic hippie commune in Swayambhu. The next day, the actor met with the girl—Jasbir turned Janice—who’d run away from her family following her parents’ divorce in Canada, and finding solace in the carefree world of hippies, followed herself in Kathmandu.

“The moment she left, the story idea and Jasbir, its central character, had formed themselves in my mind,” Dev Anand recollects in the memoir. The film would be shot almost entirely in Kathmandu’s core historical sites. But to accomplish a shooting of such gigantic scale would’ve been impossible without the approval of the highest authority—the king.

Receiving Dev Anand in the visiting room of the Narayanhiti Royal Palace, King Mahendra not only approved of the new film concept graciously, but took a strong personal interest to see it develop instantly by inviting the actor to complete the script in Pokhara. Dev Anand recreates the conversation in his memoir:

‘Would you like to extend your stay and visit it [Pokhara]? It is very quiet and peaceful there, good for your type of work.’

‘I’d love that,’ I said.

“There is a very stylish hotel there, owned by my younger brother, Prince Basundhara, called The Fish Tail, against the backdrop of the majestic snow-capped Annapurna range. It will be ideal for your writing,’ King Mahendra said. “I shall give you an inspector of police as your bodyguard and guide, a real Gurkha. He will know where to take you, and when.”

According to the memoir, Dev Anand returned to Bombay with the script, and came back to Kathmandu with an 84-member shooting crew. King Mahendra had a cabinet minister partake in the film’s mahurat ceremony organised at Hotel Soaltee, writes Anand in his memoir. Energised by the king’s backing, Dev Anand, surrounded by hordes of Kathmandu locals, would work for the next 10 weeks creating magic.

Bollywood magic in Kathmandu air

Author Peter J Karthak was 27 and working at Hotel Soaltee’s Casino Nepal when he first saw a film crew arrive on giant buses with camera sets, stands, generators, lighting equipment and large boxes containing other shooting equipment. Over the next few days, Karthak saw the cameramen, cast and crew going about as, Dev Anand, speaking a mix of Hindi and English, hollered instructions, waving his hand, his head tilted, a bright silk scarf tied around his neck, with a cap at a rakish angle—all in his iconic style.

“They really came like an expeditionary force,” says Karthak, now 75-years-old. “Just imagine the sizes of the equipment brought and the scale of logistics and challenges involved in transporting them from Bombay, whether they brought them by air or land. It was a colossal project. It was indeed magic unfolding for the people of Kathmandu.”

Nineteen-year-old Om Kaji Tamrakar, now 67, watched with awe from his home at Maru Tole as this grandeur of the Bollywood films he bunked classes to watch at Ranjana Hall descended upon the courtyards of Maru Tole and Jhochhen, transforming them into live stages for Bollywood’s biggest stars.

Hindi films had captured Kathmandu’s imagination ever since Janasewa Cinema Hall opened in New Road in 1949. It was followed by Ranjana Cinema Hall in 1956, and later Jai Nepal Hall and Bishwo Jyoti Hall in Kathmandu and Ashok Cinema in Patan. Just as these movie theatres initiated Kathmandu folks to Hindi films, Dev Anand was rising to stardom in Bollywood.

And so, by the time Dev Anand’s team arrived in Kathmandu, locals were familiar with his smile, his iconic movements and his trademark scarf and cap, says Tamrakar. Everyone had also heard, he says, that the actor had been banned from wearing black because his female fans were prone to fits of hysteria.

On the screens of Kathmandu’s cinema halls, locals had seen Bollywood dancing queen Mumtaz move her aquiline body in hit songs, like ‘Aajkal Tere Mere Pyar Ke Charche’; they knew Prem Chopra’s compelling villainous acting in films like Teesri Manzil and Woh Kaun Thi?, and Zeenat Aman from her films Hungama and Hulchul. Rajendra Nath and Junior Mehmood too were household names for their comic roles. So when these stars descended on Maru Tole, for Tamrakar and his community folks, it was as if a piece of Bombay itself had been plucked up and placed right there in their alleys.

“It was an unbelievable experience to see the stars in the flesh, and so many of them all at the same time. I saw Dev Anand, Junior Mehmood, Mumtaz, Zeenat Aman, Prem Chopra, Rajendra Nath and Iftekhar, it was dreamlike, it was magical,” says Tamrakar.

But away from the shooting, Kathmandu was also witnessing another side of the superstars. Karthak vividly recollects an intriguing private side to Dev Anand. “Every evening after shootings for the day were over, the moment the clock struck seven, Dev Anand would lean by the reception counter at Hotel Soaltee and dial a trunk call to India, to someone at Mehboob Studios in Bombay,” says Karthak.

Mehboob Studio, founded by director Mehboob Khan, was where Dev Anand shot large portions of his most acclaimed films, including Guide.

“He talked so loudly as he detailed what he’d accomplished that day. ‘Do you hear me?’ he’d shout, and then detail he did this and that,” Karthak recalls. An awestruck crowd of hotel staff and locals who’d managed to enter the premises would’ve formed around Dev Anand as he made that phone call.

“Kathmandu locals entered an euphoric mode of ‘Dev Anand is in town’, ‘let’s go see Dev Anand’ and wherever he went thither they followed,” says P Kharel, a film enthusiast who would later join The Rising Nepal English daily as its entertainment and sports reporter, and rise to become its chief editor. “Tea shops and bhattis, chowks and gallis, womenfolk in households, students in schools, everywhere, everybody had a story to tell about the events that transpired in the shooting spots.”

Apart from the celebrity presence in Kathmandu, what augmented this sense of celebration was that Kathmandu locals found themselves in a dream opportunity to be a part of the Bollywood screen, says Kharel.

Locals on the set

Indrachowk locals Ram Krishna Sijapati ‘Toofan’ and his brother Shyam Krishna Sijapati ‘Tarzan’ had long had acting ambitions and were even associated with the Rastriya Naachghar in Jamal.  

“With their dandy looks and long, thick sidelocks which, much like Elvis Presley’s, fell all the way down to their chins, the brothers were both heroes of their toles,” says Karthak, who is the siblings’ brother-in-law. “Girls were always falling for their charms.”  

Veteran actor Basundhara Bhusal too remembers the excitement at the Naachghar ever since word spread that Dev Anand was seeking extras from among Naachghar actors.

“There was an immense sense of excitement and competition among the actors to get selected,” she says. “Both Tarzan and Toofan, and everyone else selected were elated to be acting alongside the biggest Bollywood stars.”

Meena Singh, another famous Nepali extra, was selected by Dev Anand himself, who convinced her parents to allow her to play a role over dinner at the Soaltee Hotel.

“I often participated in musical and stage performances,” says Singh. “A while before Dev Anand came, I had led my alma mater Padma Kanya Campus at a grand inter-college opera competition at the Rastriya Naachghar. Our team emerged the winner and I was awarded medals and other prizes by the King and Queen in a grand ceremony. This made me really popular at Padma Kanya and a favourite of our principal Angur Baba Joshi. Perhaps this was why she mentioned me when Dev Anand asked her for recommendations.”

In the film, Toofan plays Dronacharya’s (Prem Chopra) aide, and Tarzan the manager of Dronacharya’s carpet factory. Singh, along with other local extras Prashant Rana, Deepak Rana, Rabi Shah, and Gerda Anita Weise, a Swiss national who grew up in Kathmandu, would be Jasbir’s [Zeenat Aman] hippie friends. Other extras included actor-director Prakash Thapa, Narayan Krishna Shrestha, and several others in the film’s dance sequences.

For these extras, not only was it a lifetime opportunity to work with Bollywood stars, but also to bond with them, something they would cherish not only during the shooting period but would carry memories of for the rest of their lives.

Singh says that although she was never interested in acting in films, and her performance in Hare Rama Hare Krishna and in a few other Nepali films happened by chance, being on the sets alongside Dev Anand and interacting with them was a lifetime opportunity for her and other extras.

“All of us rejoiced being on the sets with the stars.  Moreover, the local actors and the stars developed a strong bond,” she says. “Dev Anand and Zeenat Aman were both very friendly. Dev always called everyone by their names, and the Nepalis and Zeenat Aman talked for hours behind the sets.”

Another extra, Gerda Anita Weise recalls being touched by how compassionate Dev Anand was: “I had a great time shooting and Dev Anand was the most wonderful human being you could imagine,” she says. “A great loving person with a big heart, just someone so special. All others were great and fun, but Dev really was special.”

This relationship between the locals and Dev Anand was seemingly cemented when Anand decided to adopt some of their names for the film’s lead characters.

“Dev Anand took the name Prashant for his character because he loved the name of one of the extras, Prashant Rana. Also, Gautam Sarin’s character took his name from Deepak Rana, and Rajendra Nath’s character is called Toofan,” Singh says.

[This is the first part of Gautam’s account of Kathmandu in the 70s during the shooting of the Bollywood film ‘Hare Rama, Hare Krishna’. Read the second and final part on tomorrow’s Kathmandu Post. ]

Published: 23-04-2019 11:05

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