A tongue-in-cheek letter to Bollywood actor Hema Malini, who is telling people to book flats in a housing project called Wollywood, promising them a Bollywood style lifestyle, in a village with sporadic electricity, water and skeletal medical facilities...
Happy New Year and Namaste! I have been meaning to write to you ever since your life-size cutouts began to pop up all over our unknown little village of Gaates Budruk in the Wada taluka of Palghar.
Brand ambassador Hema Malini during the launch of the integrated township. Pic/Atul Kamble
There it was one fine morning, your beatific well-nourished face (not to forget the gems studded designer sari you were wearing) in advertisements exhorting people to book flats in a housing project called Wollywood, the first-of-its kind luxurious integrated township equipped with world-class amenities.
The local way of life is an eye-opener
It was such a relief to know that you were the brand ambassador of this ground-breaking housing idea and that you had also booked the first apartment in the scheme, using clean payment online options. Everything seemed impressive.
Girls carry water
The tagline was: ‘Live like a film star.’ You can imagine what this does to a third generation resident of Gaates, Kunbi by caste. Of course, I agree that each one of us should live like one. But I had some doubts about how I should go about it.
A herd of cattle walk through the roads. Pics/Sameer Markande
Since, courier services are unavailable in our area and the post has a skeletal service, I decided to contact you via the pages of this paper. You know, ever since I left my law studies half-way last year, I have had little scope to speak English, which is why my Marathi letter has been translated for your kind attention.
I am the son of a primary school teacher. I am currently unemployed. That explains my close reading of the pamphlets from the housing project company that is soon going to turn my village into a Bollywood set.
None of us villagers (700-odd subsistence farmers growing moog, harbara and vaal, contract labourers or people doing odd jobs in Mumbai and Thane) expect to reside in that housing project, but I can’t help being curious of what is to come.
The other day I even made a trip to Wada, the moderately larger settlement which is over a kilometer from my residence, and holed myself up in the dingy now-there’s-light-and-now-there-isn’t internet cafe only so I could read the Wollywood e-brochure. After two hours of what millions of Indians in moffussil regions refer to as load shedding I was able to finally see the gleaming outlines of the dream model township.
After moments of staring at the screen I was conscious only of a warm happiness. My village which does not have a higher secondary school or a large enough hospital (we have learnt to rush to Thane 50 kms away at odd times of the night in the slightest medical emergency) will now have such feathers in its cap. I mean my heart skips a beat at the thought of the ‘film-themed temple’ and the Bollywood library.
Oh my god, I will finally get a chance to read English. The ad says, ‘From the moment you enter Wollywood, you know that you’re in your private Bollywood set! It is sprawled across 50 acres of greenery, 60 per cent of which is open, just like the huge gardens in our films.
Located on a serene river front (You mean Vaitarna), the township has grand manicured lawns and intricate streetlights that make for a perfect backdrop for a film scene.’ What can I say? I am lucky to be able to witness the making of this Bollywood-inspired set from scratch. Not everyone gets to be a close witness of such a revolution.
I am so thankful to you Hemaji, and the real estate agency for bringing us global attention. My mobile phone has not stopped ringing ever since the Wollywood ad hit the main pages of all major English and Marathi papers. Many of my college mates from Bhiwandi and Thane asked me if my village had been adopted by Bill Gates.
I told them that the Marathi spelling becomes Gates and has no connection with the Gates family. The village has about 100 families, mostly the Gotaranes (Kunbis) with only the alphabet G common with the Gates. Some friends point out that Wollywood, which clearly derives from Wada, is in one sense misleading, because it is actually Gaates, the proverbial poor cousin that is the actual place of the project site.
I have silenced these faultfinders by telling them a thing or two about copywriting and image building. They should appreciate the fact that Gaates, Kanchad, Gandhre, Shirishpada, Ambadi lack a global ring and it was always going to be Wada, the most marketable of the lot.
Now coming to my personal work with you! I don’t want any favour but I just want to know if I am on the right track. Having ‘sold’ water purifiers, silk saris, olive oil and other kitchenware items in several ads, you are a natural choice for someone aspiring to ‘sell his wares.’
I look upon the Wollywood concept as my chance to explore new vocations. Your ad states that film shootings will be a regular feature in the acclaimed vicinity. Since, I have done a short-term course in Bollywood dance (duly certified by an Asangaon institute) I can offer my services as an ‘extra’ in the dance sequences.
On days when the dances are suspended, I can be a helper on the sets. With so many stars in the neighbourhood, you will require an endless supply of young energetic locals who can help in the make-up department. The security of Bollywood stars will become a priority and Gaates youth will not let anyone get close to the stars.
Don’t worry. I have several unemployed friends who can play real-life bodyguards. Some of my female friends have shown talent in mehndi and tattoo drawings. I can rope them in too, of course if you appreciate the idea.
And now for some hard talk! Beware of two aspects of the Gaates experience. We are completely dependent on the Vaitarna River. If you intend to divert some of that river water for most of your amenities, the villagers are likely to suffer the consequences.
Like most Thane villages, Gaates also faces a shortage of potable tap water. So, thinking ahead I would say go easy on the rain dance sequences in your shootings. It would be nice if stars in Wollywood learnt to dance in dry open areas. That will save us from drinking tanker water.
Mosquitoes pose a great health risk to our Wollywood stars. I certainly don’t want anyone falling ill in the sincere attempt to become a film star. We need to do some advance planning for this eventuality, especially since Gaates lacks a primary health centre.
Dengue, malaria and other mosquito-transmitted diseases should have no place in Wollywood land. I think you need to stock up on repellents and sprays to shoo away the pests. Do you think I should ask my uncle (one of the few chemists in the Wada-Gaates region) to immediately plan for this? Time for him to branch out and supply lotions, creams and moisturisers required for stars while they shoot or take a stroll.
Just one last point if you ever come to Gaates to visit the site, please ask the driver to keep an extra set of tyres. The current stretch from Bhiwandi has many potholes. I am sure all these minor problems will evaporate once the housing project comes up and a superfine motorable highway awaits us.
But we need to be cautious too. I don’t want any inconvenience caused to the Dream Girl who is doing so much for transforming the lives of common people in the forgotten ‘adivasi’ corners around the city of Mumbai.
We are so fortunate to see a cohesive community initiative emerging from its idea stage. As the new inmates get ready to enjoy the fresh riverside air, it will ‘brighten up every minute’ of our day.
As they perfect their Bollywood dance moves at the club house or work on their abs in the gym, we will have a ring side view. Since, we don’t have a cinema hall, we will be the stock audience for spotting stars in the Walk of Fame!
As our new neighbours ‘script their grand Bollywood lifestyle,’ our life too will begin to emulate a full-time film project.
House No. 16,
Near Z P School,
Palghar District - 421303.
Sumedha Raikar-Mhatre is a Mumbai-based culture chronicler