Saturday, January 31, 2009

Movie Making in Jodhpur

After the rush of big cities--Jaipur, Bangalore and Delhi-Jodhpur, a city of 1.2 million (give or take few thousand migrant families camped in front of the palace) seems positively provincial. Camel carts still stop traffic and roads in the poshest neighborhoods are cratered and chaotic with goats, donkeys and rickshaws. The majestic 16th century Mehrangarh fort sits unmolested at the serene summit of the city.

Time moves even in the parched heart of Marwar, the historic center of an ancient kingdom known as "land of death" in the local language. The middle class in Jodhpur gets their Pizza Hut fix and soon McDonald's will open (there are 3 in Jaipur). The kids in my local host family watch Indian version of So You Think You Can Dance, Indian Idol and music videos where movie legend Shah Rukh Khan shimmies with women in sequined bikini tops who are skinny even by international standards (plump heroines are longer in vogue). The family's 15 year old--like so many image-conscious American girls--is painfully underweight, refusing anything but toast and Pepsi, while their youngest has become a poster boy for childhood obesity.

The food is terrifically familiar. Chapattis, leaden and tasteless down south, are featherweight, slightly charred and plentiful, the better to mop up chili-speckled paneer (cheese) vegetable curry and spicy dahl (lentil soup) without the heavy cream base one gets in the states.

After months of searching in years past-Rajasthan is to yoga as Mississippi is to pilates--I've discovered a pair of yogis proffering sun salutations and advice about color therapy and other homeopathic remedies. Ravi Kant and his stunning wife Ruby work with a local ex-patriot couple who've built a palace of their own in the city's outskirts where they hold court with visiting furniture buyers and the filmmakers and photographers who love Jodhpur. The Darjeeling Express, I've learned, was filmed here at the desert heart of Rajasthan, instead of in the eastern Himalayas, as the title would imply. Liz Hurley's wedding was choreographed here for HELLO! at various palaces including pink topped Umaid Bhavan, where the local maharajah puts up. Most recently, Bollywood star Priyanka Chopra has touched down to shoot a commercial for a local bank, exciting a flurry of front page news coverage.

Climbing up to the fort in the morning, before the sun gets too heavy, I feel like I'm in a movie. This is the view from the red turrets in the photo above, the lowest point on this multi-tiered monument


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