The beauty of India is, every state has something unique to offer to the visitors and historians. Karnataka has temples with intrinsically carved sculptures. I have mentioned about this in my blog Romancing the RX-100 – A Southern Odyssey -1993. Part -1. Tamil Nadu has some of the biggest temples in India, (Big Temple in Tanjore, the Meenakshi Amman Temple); the sheer size of the gopuram (towers) will mesmerise you.
In Patadkal, a World Heritage Site, you can find the prototypes of temples built more than 12 centuries ago. You can see the influence of this prototype as far away in Orissa on the eastern side of the country and other states. I believe the manic temple building must have started in Karnataka and spread across the country and beyond – Bali in Indonesia, Angkor Wat in Cambodia to just name a few.
However Maharashtra which is close to Karnataka has bucked the trend. You don’t get to see big temples here; they used their skills to build forts, no less engineering or architectural achievement. Their fort building quest culminated in building some of the best forts in India during Maratha Empire.
A number of these forts are built in most difficult terrain in the western ghats and the adjoining Arabian Sea. Chris Tarrant, in his documentary ‘Extreme Railway Journeys’ has an episode about Konkan Railway. In the documentary, the engineers who built the Konkan Railway, talk about the difficulties in laying a railway line through the western ghats and how the Metro Man of India, Mr. Sreedharan motivated his team to overcome this problem. This was in 20th century with all the modern technologies available to mankind. Now rewind 400 years back and you can imagine how did they build these forts without heavy lifting equipment, tunnel digging machines and modern transportation to move men and machine.
And then the monsoon. For about 3 months, these ranges get a deluge of relentless rains. You can read about my experience in riding through these rains in my blog My brother goes to College – again! How did they overcome these challenges to build these magnificent edifices, is as mysterious as the other earliest marvels of the world from Pyramids to Mayan Temples.
Though the forts are spread across Maharashtra, I will list my personal favourites here.
The Pratapgad and Raigad Forts:
Pratapgad (L) and Raigad (R) Forts in Maharashtra.
Pratapgad Fort (valour fort) has historical significance. Constructed by Chatrapathi Shivaji Maharaj, the battle of Pratapgar was fought under the rampant of this fort. Built on a spur at about 3000 feet above MSL, the fort is close to Mahabaleswar, a popular tourist destination and provides visitors with breathtaking views of Sayadri mountain range, part of western ghats.
Raigad Fort is near the city of Mahad, again at about 2750 above MSL. You need to climb 1750 steps to get there; don’t despair yet. There is a ropeway now which can take you there in 5 minutes. The fort was built by Shivaji Maharaj and he was crowned in the Fort in 1674.
Murud – Janjira:
Built towards end of the 17th Century by Mallik Ambar, the fort is accessible by boat from Murud town. The significant feature of the fort is intact in most of the places and can provide a glimpse to the past; the firing cannons and the arches.
The Fort lies in the Konkan region of Maharashtra and again built by Chatrapathi Shivaji Maharaj, in 1664 on an island off Malvan coast. The main purpose was to arrest the invading naval forces of the French, the English, the Dutch and the Portuguese. The significant features of the fort are the high walls (30 feet high and 12 feet thickness) and the 2 mile rampart.
Originally built Raja Bola in the 12th Century, the fort was captured by Chatrapathi Shivaji Maharaj from Adil Shah and rebuilt in the 1650s. The fort provides a tremendous location advantage as it’s surrounded by water on all sides with a small road connecting to mainland and has a natural port near by. The ships which are anchored are not easily visible to visiting naval forces and thus gave an advantage to the Maratha forces to carry out stealth attacks. The fort lies in Sindudurg district of Maharashtra.
All these forts are great attractions for the itinerant travellers to historians to casual tourists. But what makes them one of the most beautiful sights is perhaps the oldest weather phenomenon which has been studied for the last four centuries, the Southwest Monsoon.
The western ghats older than even the Himalayas, is a continuous mountain range that sprawls from Songad in Gujarat to Kanyakumari in Tamil Nadu, about 1900 KMs or 1200 miles in length. The Ghats lies closer to the western coast and divides the hinterland from the Arabian sea. The southwest monsoon which lashes the western parts for about 3 months turn most of the sahyadri range from a dry brown to magical green during the monsoon. A 1200 mile green blanket covers the entire range which makes it an stupendous spectacle for the visitor.
The sahyadri range in Maharastra unlike the mountains down south is not perennially green. The mountains near southern coast is green throughout the year probably because of higher altitude the shola forests and of course the millions of acres of tea gardens which make the mountains look green. Sahyadri on the other hand, slowly turns into brown after about a month after end of monsoon, looks parched and bone dry in summer and within 2 weeks of onset of monsoon slowly turns green again. And thus a magic gets created every year.
If you travel by road or by train (Konkan Railway) or fly overland during monsoon, you can see this 1200 mile green blanket one of the most spectacular visuals in India.
The Western Ghats in summer and during monsoon. Pic Courtesy Arne Hückelheim
And the above mentioned forts which lie in this range turn green as well. The forts which are anyway magnificent sights, adorn a green blanket over them which make them look magical. Just look at Sindhudurg fort during summer and in monsoon and you will realise the monsoon magic. Y B Rao’s classic ‘Southwest Monsoon and Alexander Frater who followed the monsoon in the early nineties and wrote a book ‘Chasing the Monsoon’ seemed to have missed the effect of monsoon on these forts.
The Sindhudurg Rampart during summer and after the onset of monsoon.
Why forts in films in a single blog? I will come to that in a bit.
Parallel Cinema and Modern Theatre evolved side by side throughout the world after the WW II. The avant garden theatre drew worldwide attention through plays from Eugene Inosco (Rhinoceros 1959) and others. In India the experimental theatre became very popular in 3 regional languages; Badal Sircar in Bengali, Girish Karnad in Kannada and Vijay Tendulkar in Marathi. Koothu-p-pattarai from Muthusamy introduced this art from in Tamil but did not become as popular, probably due to historical dramas and slapstick comedies were ruling the roost in Tamil those days. The great actors of that era did their sabbatical in Theatre before moving to celluloids.
And in the parallel cinema, Satyajit Ray and Mrinal Sen in Bengali and Girish Karnad in Kannada were making intentionally acclaimed movies. In Tamil, some serious attempt was made to make good movies (Aval Appadithaan – She is like that, Agraharathi Kazhuthai – donkey in the brahmin ghetto). But Marathi movie industry seemed to have no interest in this. What’s surprising is, the very first feature film in India, Raja Harichandra was made by Dadhasaheb Phalke, a silent film with Marathi subtitles. But the industry itself did not grow as one would expect given their background in excellent theatre. I suspect the main reason for this is, Hindi film industry (Bollywood as they call it now) is based in Bombay (Mumbai) the capital of Maharashtra. The Hindi movies had a national reach and to make a good financially viable regional language film from Bombay was not easy. Also the famous actors from Maharashtra from Smita Patil to Amol Palekar to Nana Patekar opted for Hindi movies; probably it would have given them more name, fame and moolah.
Even in Pune, the cultural capital of Maharastra, the city I migrated to in the early eighties, I did not hear much about Marathi movies except the Dada Kondke ones which were famous for double entendre dialogues and primitive film making techniques.
The good Marathi theatre led to good soap operas (serials as they are called) when Television became accessible to everyone across the country and just not the state capitals and big cities. Vikram and Mohan Gokhale acted in some of the best soaps and became household names. Even today, without understanding a single word of Marathi, you can watch a soap in any of the Marathi channels. The subdued acting, excellent dialogue delivery and simplicity of the theme can keep a viewer engrossed. No vulgar display of wealth and garish make-up of Hindi soaps and not the eardrum splitting dialogues of Tamil serials. I believe even if you keep the TV volume in Mute, you would feel Tamil serial actors are shouting into your ears. On the contrary, just try watching Tujhyat Jeev Rangala, a popular Marathi serial in YouTube for few minutes and you can see the difference in Marathi serials which came out of Good Theatre.
The no good movie in Marathi has changed in the last decade and half. Today some of the best movies produced in India are made in Marathi and few of them have gone on to represent as India’s official entry at Oscar Awards.
One such movie is Killa (Fort); at last the connection between the fort and the film. Made in 2015 and directed by Avinash Arun, the story revolves around a 11 year old child, who is coping up the death of his father and shifting to a small village in Ratnagiri from Pune, a mega city. The movie won the Crystal Bear award in the 64th Berlin Film Festival.
The story is simple, the acting superb and the cinematography excellent. Camerawork makes it a poetry in celluloid. I have talked about the monsoon and the magic it brings on to the coastal towns near the western ghats. The movie is shot entirely during the monsoon and Avinash (the director) who is also the cinematographer has shot every single frame with passion. The children take a ride to Sindhudurg fort (a bicycle race) and you will be mesmerised with the images of the fort and the rampart. I recommend this movie as 101 for watching Marathi Cinema. You can watch this movie in Netflix.
My personal favourite is ‘Harishchandrachi Factory.’ As mentioned earlier Raja Harichandra is the first feature film in India. This movie is about Dadasaheb Palke’s struggle in making the first feature film. Imagine making people to work in front of a camera more than a hundred years ago when most of the people in India would not have seen a camera. An amazing story retold for today’s generation. A must watch. You will also realise why the highest honour in the movie industry is named after dadasaheb Palke.
‘Shwaas’ is another good film you should not miss. The story is about a man from the village who brings his 8 year old grandson to city to visit a hospital, as the child is suffering from retinal cancer. The movie, produced in 2004 made a turnaround for Marathi Cinema and became India’s official entry at the 77th Academy Awards. The final minutes of the movie will leave you spellbound; the young actor Ashwin Chitale has given a sterling performance.
And then there is ‘Natsamrat’ for all Nana Patekar (one of the best actors in India) fans. His sublime performance of a fallen theatre actor who in his prime brought Shakespeare plays to life is sheer magic.
we are coming to the end of scorching Indian summer (well at least most of India); the monsoon is already set in Andaman and Nicobar Islands and will proceed toward the western coast in the coming days. In about four weeks time, the green carpeting of the mountains will start and it’s the best time for the readers to plan a trip. You can follow it by road and the more adventurous kind can mount their bike and chase the monsoon.
If you are still not convinced, look at the following stunning visuals from Chetan Karkhanis. I am sure you will pack your bags and mount your panniers to see one of the nature’s stunning spectacles. And when you are done your travel for the day, you can unwind over a beer or hot cup of chai and watch ‘Killa.’
Raigad in Western Ghats during monsoon – pic courtesy Chetan Karkanis.