|Om Puri in a Lucknow hospital on Saturday. (PTI)
Lucknow, Sept. 24: Om Puri came there and was hit by typhoid. The makers of Ishaqzaade braved the grime to shoot in the town’s dust tracks. Many saw images of the area in Dabangg.
Bollywood just can’t seem to get enough of Barabanki, spying a recipe for potboilers in its dark but riveting world of disease, drugs, gangs, politicians and lack of governance.
Puri spent much of last week in a Lucknow hospital, 50km from Barabanki, but he is fine now and isn’t leaving without finishing Rambhajan Zindabad, a political satire. Not even when he knows at least two dozen villagers were afflicted like him and two of them, including a child, died. The primary cause of typhoid was contamination of water in Barabanki’s shallow hand-pumps, underlining the lack of basics.
Atin Negi, a freelance scriptwriter in Lucknow, suggested that merchants of realistic cinema found the minefield of contradictions irresistible. “We know all this (the problems), yet shooting in Barabanki is a paradise for a director who wants a glimpse of this crucible.”
So what’s so dark and mystifying about the place? Quite a bit, it would seem. To some, Puri’s typhoid attack was like a small real-life interlude to everything seemingly filmy that happens in Barabanki.
Amitabh Bachchan would know. He purchased farmland in the district a few years ago but had to return it after a controversy over whether he could buy such a plot, meant only for farmers.
But if the superstar had trouble proving he was a farmer, the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) is having a tough time keeping a watch on some 7,000 “farmers” — those growing opium. The group is part of over 10,000 in Uttar Pradesh who have got the licence for such cultivation.
But a lot of the crop is smuggled out to make heroin, said officials of the NCB, which has a sprawling office in the town of nondescript structures. A mafia-politician nexus facilitates the illegal trade and local leaders have been among those arrested in recent years, the officials said.
Drugs are not all. According to Barabanki old-timers, a former member of Dawood’s D-Company had drawn many of his shooters from the district.
Cut to Rahramau village, where Puri had been shooting since mid-August for Rambhajan Zindabad, also featuring Kulbhushan Kharbanda.
Before the actor was down with typhoid, shooting had to be suspended for a couple of days earlier this month as torrential rains had disrupted life in rural Barabanki and made it difficult for the movie crew to shoot sequences, according to the producer of the film, Khalid Qidwai.
The disease, lawlessness and the plight of Barabanki overshadow the rich legacy of Sufi saint Mastaan Shah Ali Baba, who hailed from the district.
Puri says the film Rambhajan will serve as an eye-opener on the “systems failure”. “It is not against a particular politician,” insisted the actor, who has also recorded a song for the movie.