DHANAK THE FILM- ROAD TRIP TO RURAL RAJASTHAN!

Dialogue from Dhanak, the film by Nagesh Kukunoor,

“अब हम साथ में धनक देखेंगे, रात वाला धनक!”

(Now we will see the rainbow together. The rainbow which appears in the night, that is!)

There are noisy big budget Bollywood films and then there are those Bollywood films which release without making much noise, touch the lives of those who appreciate good cinema and remain etched in their memory forever. I prefer the latter.

I went to watch Dhanak with zero expectations. After a sluggish beginning, the film surprised me with its riveting narrative and stellar performances by the kids. The film turned out to be a road movie (of a different kind!)

The story line is simple. A village girl fails her exams on purpose so that she can study with her visually impaired brother. The boy is a fan of Bollywood star Salman Khan while the girl is a fan of Bollywood star Shahrukh Khan. Both are Bollywood megastars and apparently rivals. When news spreads that Shahrukh Khan is shooting in nearby Jaisalmer, the girl gets excited. The excitement is less of a fan girl excitement but of the hope that the megastar may help her cure her brother. Earlier in film, she sees him promoting eye donation on posters.

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Watch Dhanak, the film, directed by Nagesh Kukunoor on DVD. (Pic Credit: Drishyam Films)

What ensues is an epic road journey from the nondescript village (Dhani) near Jaitaran to the touristy Jaisalmer and beyond. Dhani (Remember Chowki Dhani?) are the cluster of huts in rural Rajasthan, the residents of which either belong to same caste or family tree or both. The opening sequences slowly revealed the life in a hut in distant Rajasthan through its characters. Sleeping under stars in desert (The quintessential Rajasthan Package for the urban) is an everyday reality here. I wanted to jump into the screen as the wicked aunt cooks Bajra Roti on a wood fired mud oven and the uncle smokes a hukkah.

The kids are rebellious and confidently embark on the journey in the ‘veerana’ (uninhabited lands) all by themselves. What happens next is very relatable to me as a traveler. I have always found the rural Rajasthan more charming than the Rajasthan one sees in brochures. The hospitality, the food, the people in Rajasthan just win your heart. I have found the roads in the hinterlands of Rajasthan to be baby bottom smooth as was also evident in the movie.

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Khichan in Rajasthan was the most memorable part of my road trip to Rural Rajasthan

Having exhausted all their water, the kid bump into a truck driver and ask him for water. Amused by their banter and boy’s dramatic “I am going to die soon.” (he repeats that almost every half an hour), the driver interrupts his siesta and offers them a ride till Garnia naka. He also offers them Amdavadi farsaan (Gujarat shares border with Rajasthan and the influences overlap). The scene was totally believable as I have experienced such goodness on the roads of Rajasthan.

Music and food are important to me when I travel. As they waited for a bus, a ‘saadi ka tractor’ (Tractor carrying wedding attendees) stops. The drunk man in tractor and the little boy indulge in magical jugalbandi. The silence of the desert was broken with the echoes of their mehendi rang lago’ It was melodious and smelt of Rajasthani soil.

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Pushkar Fair, Rajasthan. Why I love rural Rajasthan!

The man offers them a ride, food and an overnight stay. The next day, they leave for Jodhpur sitting atop a jeep. I remember hanging on to the rear of such jeeps in rural Gujarat and feared for my dear life. They end up in a God women ‘Mamtamayi’ Sheera mata’s darbar. The enticing smell of sheera (aka halwa) and poori (fried bread) tempts the boy and they end up missing the bus since they queued up for the food. I have missed some buses in rural and remote areas only so that I could eat more. At other times, I have almost missed my trains and buses because I tend to walk a bit far in search of interesting food during breaks.

TRAVEL GONE WRONG: WHEN I WAS STRANDED IN RURAL GUJARAT IN PITCH DARK

While walking from Lohawat to Jodhpur, they bump into an American. When the American starts singing “All I am saying is, let’s give love a chance” the kid spices it up with a rustic version of ‘damadar mast kalandar’.  It was one of my favourite moment of the film. The jugalbandi ended with the echo of a peacock in the background. In my road trip to rural Rajasthan, I was amused to see hundreds of peacocks on either sides of the road, sometimes even sitting on the paan shops.

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Camels at Pushkar Fair, Rajasthan

The kids meanwhile get kidnapped and then rescued by a ‘banjara’ (nomad) women. Good opportunity to weave in a kalbelia dance performance! The kidnap and rescue was a bit simplistic and so was Shah Rukh Khan rescuing the dehydrated duo later from the desert and sponsoring the boy’s eye operation.

The film ends with the boy getting his vision back and with this heart warming song :

ख्वाबों में अपने तू,

घुल कर खो जा रे

पलकों पे सपने

मल कर सो जा रे

होगी फिर महक तेरे हाथो में

और देखेगा धनक तू रातों में!

 (Get lost in your dreams,

Rub the dreams on your eyelids and go to sleep.

You will discover sweet smell in your hands then,

And you will see a rainbow in the night!)

 

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My picture of Om Banna Temple in rural Rajasthan. They worship motorcycle here! It was shown in the film Dhanak, directed by Nagesh Kukunoor.

Ecstatic to see the sand falling from his hand the boy says, “isn’t it all beautiful?” The sister says, “Yes, everything is beautiful!”

I have noted down the names of the village so that I can make a journey or maybe even follow their trail. The visuals in the film for sure made me want to take this road trip.

Their route (From what I could construct) was:

A dhani near Jaitaran – Lohawat – Jemla Bus Stop – Om Banna Temple – Jodhpur – Jaisalmer.

 

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Dhanak, the film is directed by Nagesh Kukunoor (Pic credit: Drishyam Films)

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When I visited the Bishnoi Village Where Superstar Salman Khan Allegedly Killed The Endangered Blackbucks!

India was awaiting justice for past 18 years for the endangered black bucks which Salman Khan allegedly slaughtered in Bishnoi Village. Predictably, Salman was acquitted of his charges today, just like his previous crimes. I am not saying I was physically present at each of his crime scenes. But when so many things go wrong (Beating women, run and hit, destroying people’s career, talking loosely about rape survivors and much more) you know there must be a reason for it. He can’t be a so-called ‘soft target’ all the time.

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The Bishnoi Women perform Pooja at the Temple built in memory of martyrs of Khejarli Massacre (Circa 1731). They sacrificed their lives to protect trees. This inspired Chipko Aandolan

I visited the Bishnoi village in Rajasthan in January, 2014. My guide showed me the exact place where Salman Khan killed the blackbucks. It was a deserted area with no humans in sight. The blackbucks and other antelopes and many migratory birds such as demoiselle cranes roam this area fearlessly. They know they are safe because no one dares harm them, thanks to the fierce protection by the Bishnoi people.

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Animals are a part of life in this area. I met a Rabari family in their home, behind Bishnoi colony. It is not easy to gain access to a Bishnoi family’s home

Bishnois are the community who can sacrifice their lives and even kill the culprit if even a single animal or tree is harmed. My guide told me “Salman came here on a jeep with a clear agenda of hunting the blackbucks. He did shoot two of them. Even though it was a deserted area, the sound of gunshots reached a lone ‘chaiwala tapri’ (Makeshift tea shop). Perhaps Salman did not see it coming, the chaiwalla was instantly alerted and came rushing towards the direction of the gunshot. One blackbuck was killed on the spot. Sensing trouble, Salman’s driver rushed the jeep through the jungle and not the single straight road for the fear of being spotted. The blackbuck, I am imagining ran away from him in the similar fashion to save his life.

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The Exact Place Where the Blackbuck and Chinkara was killed by Superstar Salman Khan. As told to me by the driver.

 

It was possible that if the Bishnois got hold of him, they would have given their justice on the spot, Salman or no Salman. Thankfully, I was told, the Bishnois did see Salman’s face. I was told the other deer who was half injured was soon rushed to the animal hospital by the Bishnois (who are poor and not that privileged to afford treatment of animals). My guide said the Bishnois have still not forgiven Salman Khan and would want to give him the strictest punishment possible. I did not have to try hard to sense the immense love and affection for the nature in Bishnois. Salman’s fans dismiss it with their lame excuses such as “It was just a deer” “He has been framed for being a celebrity” “Much ado about nothing” “So many people hunt” etc.

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The Guide told me this was the road which Salman took to run away. Being chased by villagers, he avoided the main road and passed through mud on the left to avoid being trapped. The ‘Crime Scene’ was on the right side. See pic above!

 

What they fail to see is the context. Even if it was not a celebrity involved, they would have fought for it. I was told about an incident happened in nearby Nokha village in Rajasthan. The Bishnois killed a hunter for killing a wild hare. This resulted in a riot and a 2 day ‘Bandh’ in the region. They take animal and plant conservation that seriously.

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I shot (with a camera) this blackbuck at the Tal Chappar Sanctuary in Rajasthan

After all, these are the same people, 363 of whom, who sacrificed their lives in order to save the trees in 1730.. Centuries later it inspired the ChipkoAndolan (More on that in a separate blog) The blind fans fail to understand the perspective sitting from their comfortable living rooms

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The whole village is a heaven for animals and birds. Guda lake nearby attracts migratory demoiselle cranes, blackbucks, chinkara etc. They know they are safe here. Tourists are not allowed access to the lake but can view from a distance. Thank God for the little mercies!

Here’s what I learnt from my visit to this amazing village

  1. Respect the region you are travelling to.
  2. Learn from the people of the region you are travelling to. May such local conservationists thrive and may the culprits be punished!
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The jeep I hired for the trip. At the crime scene.

People like Salman will continue to rise. The problem is not him but we who put him on a pedestal and fail to see his flaws because we are so attached and attracted to his on screen persona. The dichotomy of our society lies in the fact that we will talk about ‘culture’ and ‘values’ and will turn a socially dangerous person into a Demi God.

The view from my #SoulWindow is frustrating!

HERE IS A SMALL VIDEO I MADE ON BISHNOI WOMEN. CLICK HERE

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Me breaking papad with a local Bishnoi family in their home.

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