Ramoji Film City - The Capital of Tollywood

Trip Start Mar 29, 2007
Trip End Sep 30, 2009

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Monday, May 28, 2007

Nearly two months into my job...I finally got the chance to spend a long weekend away.  Good news...right?  Well, sort of...as it was a company off site meeting and there was plenty of work to do while we were there.  The meeting was a 3 day retreat for the leadership in my group starting on Thursday and ending on Saturday.  So where you may ask was this off-site meeting?  We actually decided to hold it in the grounds of the worlds largest film studio (as certified by the Guiness Book of World Records...seriously).  Ramoji Film Studios about 40 kilometers southwest of Hyderabad and is the home to the bustling Tollywood industry (not to be confused with Bollywood).  For those that don't know...Bollywood is the Hindi language film industry located in Mumbai/Bombay and is known globally due to the sheer number of films it has produced, it's fan base world wide and of course the lovely Aishwarya Rai  who is a former Miss World and smokin' hot.  You can read more about Bollywood by clicking here.  Tollywood on the other hand is home to the Telegu language film industry which is second only to Bollywood in terms of popularity.  Tollywood is based in Ramoji and by some accounts, it's bigger than Bollywood...you can read more about it here.  More about some Ramoji and Tollywood stars later.

Things remain a bit slow in the office and some of the people helping to put this meeting together are friends of mine from the States...so the few days before the retreat I worked with them to polish up the meeting details and develop some content for the meeting.  A small group of us (mostly expats) decided to go out on Wednesday night to avoid the 2 hour drive in the morning from Hyderabad to Ramoji.  We are all staying at the "5 star" hotel within the studio itself called Sitara...and let's just say that the rating scale for hotels in India is slightly different than the rest of the world.  Calling the Sitar a 5 star hotel is a bit like calling the steam room at a Red Roof Inn a luxury spa.  The grounds of the hotel were beautiful, the pool was nice, the dining room and lobby a bit gaudy and overdone...but the rooms were the main problem.  They each had an antiseptic/musty smell...and while the furnishings were ok, they were far from luxurious.  It's ok...I've stayed in far worse.  We had a group dinner Wednesday night in the hotel restaurant (The Galaxy) and then Melissa, Deanne and I headed to the hotel bar (Star Trek Bar) to grab a few beers before heading off to bed.  Galaxy/Star Trek Bar...yeah...even the names in the hotel were gaudy.

Thursday and Friday were full of meetings and networking with my co-workers...not much to report on the blog.  Thursday night a group of us hung out by the pool until midnight having laughs, sharing stories and drinking a few beers.  Some of my fellow Indian co-workers were enjoying movie-star watching as there were a couple movie stars hanging around the pool (more on that below).  Friday night the families of the leadership team were invited to the hotel for the night and we had a bit of a disco party complete with a DJ and fog machine.  Cheesy as all...but some good fun and laughs. 

Saturday we had some silly team building activities in the morning, but the highlight was the afternoon studio tour.  Ramoji Studios is the world's largest integrated film studio complex at nearly 1,666 acres.  It's also a major tourist destination complete with a two hour tour on an open air bus that looks like a train (think Universal Studios tours).  The complex itself is pretty amazing...but like most things in India, some of the "sights" are a bit cheesy and dated.  There are over 500 different set locations on the lot...some of which are designed to depict London, Hollywood, an airport in Bombay, a train station, a library, hospital, jail, a mini-Taj Mahal...just to name a few.  The scale of the airport set is really amazing...I'll try to include some pictures of it.  In addition there are hundreds of gardens with some very interesting sculptures that you'll see in my pics.  Over 40 Tollywood films can be in production simultaneously on the studio...we saw several film crews in action during our tour.  The tour was for our company only and we only got the chance to get off the bus a couple times...so my pics aren't that great as most of them were taken on the move.  After the tour ended, I had my driver take drive me around the studio so I could get a few more shots that I wanted to get on the tour.  We eventually got chased off by security.  "What do you mean I can't drive around an active film studio?!?!?"  The nerve!!! 

At the hotel during our stay were two fairly famous Tollywood and Bollywood movie stars who married each other a couple years ago.  Mahesh Babu is one of the most famous actors in Tollywood today...he's sort of the Tom Cruise of Tollywood at the moment.  Anyway, he was there with his wife who happens to be a semi-famous Bollywood starlette...or at least she used to be.  Namrata Shirodkar was a B-level actress in Bollywood and was Miss India 1993.  She did mainly supporting roles and has since retired to raise the new child she recently had with Mahesh.  Anyway...I ran into both of these two actors quite a few times during our long weekend at the Sitara hotel...and while I could care less about them...it was fun to watch some of the locals and the hotel employees scamper about trying to get a look and/or impress them.

Anyway...an exciting weekend in Film City...enjoy the photos.
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