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Dangal village packs a punch
By Our Correspondent

Ludhiana , 11 Jan, 2017 :: Barely a fortnight after the release of the Aamir Khan starrer Dangal, which evoked rave reviews for its strong message of gender equality, life for a few residents of villages in Pakhowal Tehsil has taken a major turn. They were part of the movie's production on or off the screen during its two month long shoot last year. Most of them may not even find a mention in acknowledgments and the star cast, but their association with the movie, however brief it may have been, has made them mini celebrities. The film revolves around the life of Haryana' former wrestling champion Mahavir Singh Phogat.

TOI revisited the places and local residents to find out how it changed their life.

Welcome to Dangal house

Octagenarian Hardeep Singh, an NRI from Toronto, frequently visits his native village to look after his sprawling double storey house every year in the winter. But his visits are different now that he has shot to fame.

Every other day, people from nearby areas knock at his door, requesting a dekko in side the premises, which Singh has proudly renamed, `Dangal house.' He takes pride in guiding visitors around the palatial house and describing how his almost century old ancestral house was given a makeover for a complete rural look to match the lifestyle of Haryana's for mer wrestling champion Ma havir Singh Phogat. Actor Aamir Khan played the role of the wrestler in the film.

"My wife and I have been coming here every year to stay in the winter. But this time, it has been a different experience. Almost every day after the release, we have had visitors who want to see the house where the movie was shot," says Hardeep Singh, who has installed a small board at the entrance in Punjabi, describing the premises as Dangal house.

Satwant Kaur, the caretaker of the house, had rented out the adjacent house to crew members during the two month long shoot. She is equally enthusiastic and gives a vivid description of the prepara tions done before the shoot.

Guiding visitors to the staircase leading to the terrace where senior Phogat is shown giving wrestling lessons to his daughters Geeta and Babita, she points out at the small open air bathroom under the stair. "Aamir Khan is shown taking a bath here. A handpump had to be installed after replacing the water tap to give the house a rural look. The doors of the entrance too were replaced with older ones and the house that has 12 rooms in two storeys was painted differently to give it an old look," she says.

The entire family, including Hardeep Singh, went to watch "Dangal" to see how their house looked like in the movie. Singh has been receiving calls from his NRI relatives and acquaintances who watched the film and grew nostalgic on seeing the village and his house even though it looked like a village from Haryana.

The celebrity shoe-seller

Outside one of the entrances of the house, which opens into a small lane, sits Harkeet Singh, a Punjabi jutti (shoe) shop owner. Amid well-designed Punjabi juttis in black, red and yellow, hangs his picture with Aamir Khan. It catches the attention of visitors to his shop. "During breaks in shoots, he would come out of the house and sit by my side. We would have a brief exchange of pleasantries and he was always the first to ask, "Aur kaise hain?" (How are you?).He never made me realize that he was such a star and even made queries about the designs of Punjabi juttis. A day before they were leaving after the shoot, he bought the costliest pair, and paid me Rs 12,000," he recalls while showing the design of shoes displayed on the walls of his shop. For the next few weeks, his business picked up and the sale of shoes which he would sell for Rs 500 to Rs 600 per pair rose. But he says while the number of curious onlookers rose after the film, it made no impact on his business.He blames demonetization for this.

Meet the Bollywood aspirants

Afew kms away in Ahmedgarh village, 23-year old Rajan Ghai is unable to get over his sudden shot to fame moments. The owner of electronic and security gadgets shop, Ghai has been flooded with friendship requests on Facebook, ever since his three second video clip from the movie in which he is seen backing up Geeta Phogat in a wrestling match, standing behind Aamir went viral on social media. "Even if brief, it was a glorious moment for me. People knew me because of my social work in the village earlier but now even those from outside have started recognizing me," says a beaming Ghai, who now doubles up as a stand-up comedian during Ramleela in the village before Dussehra.

"I worked with the film unit for two days and I was paid Rs 3,000. It was my first earning from Bollywood and it made me feel proud," says Ghai while flipping the mobile screen and showing his profile pictures in differ ent looks, which he plans to send to Bollywood directors.

The artist mechanic who took Aamir for a 'ride'

Barely one km away from Dan gal house, on the main road connecting Gujjarwal village to Ahmedgarh, one comes across a small auto garage, Balbir Auto Service Guj jarwal. One also sees a 70s make Chetak scooter parked with other twowheelers which are to be repaired outside the shop. The man in his early 30s, Balbir Singh, with his stubble and close-cropped hair, reminds one of Mahavir Singh Phogat. He draws attention towards the pictures with Aamir Khan in Mahavir Phogat's get up and a few others, which show him riding a 70-make rickety scooter with a Haryana registra tion number.

"I remodelled the scooter which Aamir Sir rides in the movie. It was a 98 model Chetak scooter and I was told to give it a 70's looks. I had to repair it to make it run. I changed the headlight and also painted it again.

Every day I used to take the scooter to the shooting spot and see Aamir sir. He used to smile at me and once also shook hands with me, says Balbir, who still treasures the I-card for crew member, which was issued to him by the film unit.

Balbir, who has earlier re-modelled and painted bikes and twowheelers in the Salman Khan starrer, 'Sultan' and a few other movies, maintains giving old make to vehicles required both mechanical and artistic skills.

Balbir says it's only during the shoot of movies that he gets a chance to do such creative work and regrets there is no other way for him to use his skills in the village. He has to earn most of the year by doing auto repair and service work.

`The film unit simply walked away after the shooting'

Locals mention that more than 50 artists from around the vil lages of Gujjarwal, Kilaraipur and Narangwal were chosen for shoots for various roles of extras after a thorough audition.

"We were told that the final selection would be made by Aamir sir. The unit in-charge also promised us during the shoot that before the completion of shooting, all those who have been part of the movie in whichever way from villages will get a chance to interact with and have dinner with Aamir sir. But once the shooting got over, the unit packed off and simply went off. Not getting a chance to interact with the super star is a much bigger regret for me than finding my dialogue having been removed from the movie. We are still hopeful that after this big success he will fulfill his promise and join us for a dinner bash," says Raju.He has played almost every character in the village Ramleela which he has been organising every year for last over two decades in the village.

He missed his magic moments

Raju Dhuri (43) is another Bollywood aspirant from Ahmedgarh who is basking in the glory of his you blink and miss appearance in which he is seen driving a 70s make scooter in the backdrop, while an announcement is being made about the wrestling contest in the village.

"A kid in the neighbourhood came rushing to me and told me that he has seen me in the movie.I have done small roles in other movies earlier. But this one was close to my heart. My only regret is that I could not say a dialogue in the movie and share screen with Aamir Sir," says Raju Ahmedgarh who has been actively involved in promoting artists and theatre in the area.

Other neighbours too in the locality now recognise Raju, who has a long cherished dream of making his own movie, for which the script is ready. "Some of the local businessmen including politicians have promised to finance our project. Our script is ready. We hope to start work on our project soon. Once the movie is complete, we plan to request Aamir Sir to promote our movie and help us," says Raju.

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