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Hollywood's tryst with Udaipur

Bharati Motwani  |  New Delhi 

A Hollywood film unit is shooting a wacky comedy in regal Udaipur. Bharati Motwani plays spy.
If all this doesn't add up to anything you can make sense of, then that's as it's intended to be. Director Wes Anderson's signature style is of bewildering juxtapositions and inscrutable stories about likeable oddballs (The Royal Tenenbaums, The Life Aquatic, The Bottle Rocket).
The Hollywood unit has been in Udaipur all of last month to shoot for his new film The Darjeeling Ltd. The director, it turns out, breaks out in a rash at the sight of a media-wallah, and so the couple of us who were sneaked into the wrap party at the City Palace were under stern instructions to look innocuous, sashay around sipping wine and not ask too many nosy questions.
But try as they will, journalists give off a distinctive whiff that expensive Chanel cannot disguise; and actor Owen Wilson (Shanghai Noon, Zoolander) sniffed the air suspiciously with that famous misshapen nose, and turned tail. Adrien Brody (Academy Award winner for his role in The Pianist) wore a crushed and grungy poverty-stricken look that must have cost a lot.
The story, we gathered ,was about three brothers played by Wilson, Brody and Jason Schwartzman taking a train (The Darjeeling Ltd) ride through India in search of a rare albino tiger that was believed to be the reincarnation of their recently deceased father.
Angelica Huston plays their mother who lives in a convent in India. The brothers intend the trip as a spiritual journey, a search for themselves, and a chance to bond with each other. But things go wrong , they get kicked off the train, at which point they begin to learn much more about themselves and this country than they ever expected to.
At Udaipur the film crew shot at an old royal hunting lodge at Nahar Magra village, which hadn't been opened in 40 years. It was turned into a bizarre sort of convent where the brothers find their mother.
Life-sized statues of the Virgin and St Francis Assisi look appalled at having to share space with two sexy apsaras who have been there since the Sisodia princes, worshippers of Eklingji himself, used the place for weekend hunts and carousing.
The movie was also filmed at Rohet near Jodhpur . Anderson is said to be influenced by Satyajit Ray movies and has chosen locations used by Ray for his classic Sonar Kella.
"He was my inspiration for coming to India in the first place". He watched Ray's Teen Kanya when he was 15, renting it from a video-store in Houston and watching it on Betamax.
"I do not know a great deal about Hindi films," he said. "My main knowledge of Indian films is through Ray's work."
Meanwhile, at the Zenana Mahal, it's a wonderfully eccentric climax. The present-day Sisodia heir is making fine progress with the Hollywood PYT among the chocolate truffle and jalebi at the far-end of the buffet.
The part-time media coordinator turns out to be a full-time jewellery designer and proceeds to do brisk business, making contacts, fixing appointments and whipping out a blizzard of calling cards. Two of the most personable Hollywood men have brought their moms along.
The men on the dance floor are singing "Padosi ke chulhe se aag leyle" and heaving their bosoms in a way that would make even Bips cringe. The old zenana is rocking; the very drunk royal retainer is attempting Urdu couplets as he sees off some baffled guests. It's a perfect moon over Lake Pichola.
Says a very pleased Arvind Singh Mewar about the film shoot, "We want people to know that Udaipur offers such locations and facilities. The locals should value their heritage and not kill the goose that lays the golden egg." The signature presence of the goose in the movie makes it a hallmarked Anderson classic.

Movie: The Darjeeling Ltd.
Genre: Surreal
Rating: All the stars in the unpolluted Udaipur sky
Scene: A rocking wrap party to wind up a Hollywood movie-shoot.
Setting: The zenana quarters of a 400-year-old Rajput palace, where once strange men dared not enter without risk to their lives and vitals if the eunuch guards caught them
Music score: Beedi jalayle; Babuji jara dheere chalna

"" An expansively beaming maharana, Arvind Singh Mewar, whose ancestors once washed their hands with Ganga water after contact with the mleccha goras

"" A British knight and his lady: Lady and Sir Anthony Bamford, managing director and chairman of JCB , the giant multinational construction company, that till recently had the child-friendly Moninder Singh Pandher on its rolls

"" Hollywood actors Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody , Jason Schwartzman, Angelica Huston

"" A Rajput prince flirting surreptiously behind a pillar with a blonde, as he waits for the clock to strike 12, announcing his 22nd birthday.

"" A few hundred party animals. (Wes Anderson movies being generally peopled with animals "" if you will pardon the expression)

"" Indian crew of light boys, sound boys etcetera, doing some scarcely believable moves on the dance floor at the precise point where the maharanis once did their tulsi puja.

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First Published: Sat, February 03 2007. 00:00 IST