Color and ChaosStory and photos by Dennis Argenzia and Grace Cayosa
Director: I need an exotic location—think forts, temples, palaces with hidden women, the occasional painted elephant, etc.—that’s popular in visually stimulating films with mixed reviews.
Location Scout: Yep, got it: Northwest India.
When India isn’t stripping down to Eastern European glory in Goa, ripping hamstrings in yoga-saturated Mysore or shaking its thing in Bollywood, it’s starring in foreign films. Outside of the mega-soundstage called Mumbai, the most popular locations are in the northwestern state of Rajasthan, where wistfully romantic filmmakers can choose a colorful and chaotic backdrop from one of the state’s pigment-themed cities: the Pink City (Jaipur), the Blue City (Jodhpur) and the White City (Udaipur).
Jaipur is the capital of Rajasthan and the largest city in the entire state. Nicknamed the “Pink City” for its salmon-colored walls, Jaipur is famous for its textile and gem bazaars. More intriguing to location scouts are Jaipur’s various architectural sights: two palaces (Jal Mahal, anchored in the middle of Man Sagar lake, and City Palace, near city center); one palace attachment (the Hawa Mahal, a five-story screened structure where the lovely-but-sequestered royal ladies could view “regular” city life without catcalls); three fortresses (of which the Amber/Amer fort, with its painted pachyderm transports, is hands-down the most impressive); temples (including a cheeky Monkey Temple); and the Jantar Mantar observatory (a UNESCO World Heritage site).
The entire city has been featured in films, most recently in John Madden’s The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel where a group of mature British folks attempt to make the best out of a situation clearly born from the “health and medical tourism” movement. Much less recently, but more breathtaking, were the scenes in Tarsem Singh’s The Fall, especially one where a distraught wife takes a perfect 10 leap off one of the Jantar Mantar’s giant sundial observation decks.
Also featured in The Fall was the second, decidedly more recognizable city of Jodhpur, or the “Blue City,” a name derived from the bright blue paint on many of its structures. In addition to a bustling handicrafts market and restaurants selling the local dessert makhaniya lassi (a delectably creamy lemon lassi that requires a spoon and self-control), Jodhpur is home to the magnificent Mehrangarh Fort, the largest fortress in the state and the most deserving of the word “awesome” without the Valley Girl accent.
So impressive is Mehrangarh that it was featured in Christopher Nolan’s Batman: The Dark Knight Rises as a warning: if you dare to piss off a man who wears a metal tarantula on his face, you will end up HERE. This massive hilltop fort literally towers over the city. It houses several [party] halls—the Moti (Pearl), Sheesha (Mirror) and Phool (Flower) Mahals—plus a hide-your-women zone (the Zenana Deodi, guarded by trusty eunuchs), a museum and opium paraphernalia displays with staff members smoking, yes, real opium.
Here would be a good place to mention that, in addition to opium, green is also available all over Rajasthan. Technically, the leaves of the marijuana plant are legal in the state of Rajasthan; there are even licensed shops that sell bhang lassi, the medicated form of India’s yogurt-based drink. Discretion is still advised, as the potent flowers are illegal. Also, just like in the rest of India, locals don’t usually smoke marijuana straight: it is normally mixed with tobacco. Lastly, hookah (water pipe) shops are aplenty in this region, but travelers debate the merits of mixing marijuana with shisha.
We end our cinema color tour in Udaipur, the “White City” or more aptly, the “City of Lakes.” As indicated in the name, Udaipur sits atop what can only be called giant puddles: outside of monsoon season, Udaipur’s three lakes—Lake Pichola, Fateh Sagar Lake and Swaroop Sagar Lake—are muddy beds. Once the rains hit, however, Udaipur is transformed into a waterside city, awash in twinkle lights, white paint and romance, giving it its third moniker, “Venice of the East.”
It is in Udaipur that James Bond (Roger, not Sean) was held captive in the hilltop Monsoon Palace, and it is where, inside the heritage Lake Palace Hotel on Lake Pichola, Bond meets the woman for whom the film is named, and whose name can now be seen on every one of the city’s “special movie night” posters: Octopussy.