Given her impressive recent cinema performances, film critics feel that Vidya Balan has the Midas touch. Every role she touches turns to gold. After Kahaani, however, this golden touch has had a far-reaching effect, and it is not just the film’s success. It has, in fact, changed the stars of the hitherto obscure Monalisa Guest House.
The tourist lodge on Sarat Bose Road in south Kolkata, which played host to a pregnant Vidya Bagchi (played by Balan) in Kahaani during Durga Puja 2010, has become an instant hit and is attracting hundreds of visitors. “Last Sunday about 300 people came and we had to hire a security guard to control the crowd. Everyday 50-60 visitors come just to catch a glimpse of room number 15, where Balan stayed,” says Adhir Sahoo, assistant manager.
Although Sahoo is untiringly attending to the “Kahaani crowd”, some of the visitors leave disheartened, as the room has hardly been unoccupied since the film released. “We have no intention of gaining commercially from the visitors. If the room is already booked, we have no option but to refuse visitors,” he says, and takes pride in adding, “Occupancy in the last few weeks has gone up from 70 per cent to 90 per cent.”
The guest house authorities are thankful to the director of Kahaani, Sujoy Ghosh, who happened to see the three-storeyed guest house through the window of a neighbouring hotel on an evening in April 2010. “The next morning, Ghosh walked into our guest house and after visiting the rooms, he chose room number 15 because it overlooks a busy road,” Sahoo recalls.
While the film was being shot, the guest house employees were told to keep quiet about the shoot. “Only shooting crew was here. They did not require much help from police, at least while they were shooting here. As everyone was busy with Durga Puja, it made our job easy,” says Sahoo.
Seeing the guest house in the movie came as a surprise to many locals. “I stay in Madox Square, which is just next door but I discovered only after watching the movie that it was shot here,” says Abhishek, a college student, who now plays guide to his friends as they visit this new tourist draw.
Contrary to its old-fashioned look in the film, all 17 rooms in the guest house are equipped with basic modern facilities like air-conditioning, an attached bathroom, generator, intercom and an elevator.
There is a computerised registration system to keep records of the visitors, unlike the “thick and torn register” shown in the movie. Also, hot running water here obviously does not mean a boy supplying hot water in a kettle, as water heaters are installed in every room. “Ghosh wanted to give the place an old-fashioned look. He replaced even the designer grills of the window in the room with old-fashioned wooden ones, and the room was also painted with some rough patches. Furniture, however, was the same apart from the wooden peacock you see in the movie,” Sahoo says.
Room number 15 is the only “suite” in the lodge with the highest per-day tariff of Rs 2,000, while for other rooms it ranges between Rs 980 and Rs 1,650 per day. But the tariff for room number 15, which Sahoo says is “high on demand”, is set to go up soon.
“We are planning to renovate the room with modern furniture and some photographs from the movie. The tariff will certainly go up in that case,” says Lekha Dey, owner of the guest house. Dey realises that Kahaani has become the USP of her guest house and plans to cash in on it in every possible way. “I do not think there is any need to advertise this Kahaani phenomenon, but yes, we can upload some shooting pictures on our website.”
The accounts record of the guest house says it received about Rs 40,000 from the Kahaani producers for shooting of the movie, which lasted 10 days. But Mona Lisa Guest House has earned a lot more since. Sujoy Ghosh isn’t the only one laughing all the way to the bank.