Money is where Anna Naik lives
An unassuming Konkan village's rise on the tourist map is all thanks to a Marathi scare show that is piquing curiosity levels all the way from Japan to America
Akeri, Sawantwadi: It's population is 1,959. But Akeri, a small village that sits 525 km from Mumbai in coastal Konkan, today sees nearly 1,000 tourists a month, who stop to take pictures, eat and chat with the locals. This is thanks to the popular thriller series, Ratris Khel Chale, which is being shot at Shetkar Wada, a bungalow located at the entry of the village, a kilometre from the highway.
Once sleepy—most villagers are into farming or take on odd jobs as contract labour—Akeri made it to the map of popular imagination when the serial, which centres on paranormal activity in the bungalow, started airing on Zee Marathi in 2016. So, popular is the show that even on Google Maps, the 150-year-old Shetkar bungalow, appears in its screen name of Naikancha Wada. The bungalow is named after the show's protagonist, Anna Naik.
Crew member Hridaynath Jadhav (left) says the production team turns to the local villagers for their meal orders and, since food is required for 70 people at a time, more than one household pitches in to prepare it
Directed by Marathi actor-director-writer Pralhad Kudtarkar, who plays the role of Pandu, the second season of the show stars Madhav Abhyankar, Apurva Nemlekar, Suhas Shirsat and Sanjiveeni Patil. Ratris Khel Chale is the story of the Naik family from Konkan in Maharashtra. While the previous season centred on a series of paranormal occurrences in the house after the death of Anna Naik, the family patriarch, the ongoing season is a prequel and focuses on the affair between Naik and Shevanta.
The series had opened with the death of Naik. The family lawyer informs the survivors that as per his will, the property has been divided among six people. The sixth inheritor is Sushma, daughter to Shevanta, who committed suicide by hanging on a tree outside Naik's house. Shevanta and Anna had an affair. Now, Anna's family believes that the strange occurrences in the house are caused by Shevanta's spirit.
Directed by Pralhad Kudtarkar, the show first aired in 2016 and its current season is the prequel and focuses on the affair between Naik and Shevanta
Sunday mid-day met a group of bikers from Shirwal in Satara district, who stopped at Akeri while on a trip around the Konkan coast. Parag Nikam said they were there to see the place where the hit show was being shot. "We don't watch the serial. But, our families do. They get so engrossed that they don't like receiving even a telephone call while the serial is on air," he added. Curious to know more, the friends decided to ride to the bungalow fringed by a huge compound and a well.
Sulbha Bhagwe, a senior citizen who lives a stone's throw from the bungalow, said, "Our area has become popular because of the serial. In a month, we get close to 1,000 tourists. All of them come just for a glimpse of the bungalow."
Madhav Abhyankar, who plays the dead patriarch Anna Naik, says he regularly gets calls from Marathi viewers from across the world inquiring about what's going to happen next on the show
A tour operator from Malwan, Akshay Tawde, said that he was receiving inquiries about the spot where the serial was shot. "Until now, the inquiries pertained to transport, water sports and accommodation. Now, tourists want to know the location of the bungalow where the shooting happens and how far it is from spots like Malvan, Goa and the beaches of Sindhudurg."
The shooting, and the tourists—who often stay long enough to have a meal at the homes of locals—has given a boost to revenue. Hridaynath Jadhav, a crew member, said, every day all meals are organised for a team of 70 in the village. "Since it is a small town, one person cannot fulfill the requirements of the entire crew. So, the catering order is distributed among a few families who live near the bungalow."
A single shooting schedule usually lasts 45 days, and is followed by a break of 30 days. Jadhav said, on an average, the villagers get business from the crew for at least six months of the year.
Over time, the actors and crew have struck individual relationships with the villagers. While the crew stays back at the homes of locals, the stars put up at hotels nearby.
Post the Pulwama attack, Abhyankar decided to raise funds for the Indian Army using selfies as a barter chip. He called it the "selfie for self respect" drive.
"Those who asked for a picture with me had to voluntarily contribute to the cause. I was overwhelmed with the response to my idea and the support I received. The money we collect will eventually be donated to the Army Welfare Fund," Abhyankar said, adding that they were looking for a worthy platform like a defence function or a meeting at the Chief Minister's Office to decide how they should proceed.
The show may portray his character as evil, but it has only helped increase his fan base. "I get calls from Maharashtrians living in America, Japan and Dubai. They want to know more about the latest episode [what happens next], locations and characters," he shared.
And the villagers have been only supportive. When a section of villagers tried to oppose the serial for showcasing Konkan in poor light, others stood by the crew and ensured production went on without a hitch. "The conflict was diffused by another set of villagers since they understand how important the shooting of the serial is for the village," said Sanjeevani Patil, who portrays Vacchi, an important character.
Chinmayi Bhagwe, six, who lives in the house next to the Shetkar Wada bungalow. Her grandmother said, "Earlier, she'd be scared to step out after sunset. But, when the shoot is on, she walks right down to the set and hangs even beyond sundown. The hustle and bustle in the vicinity had helped rid her of the fear of dark."
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