Krishna Shah's Shalimar most expensive movie ever made in When a caper film with gags and all the usual gadgetry, chase sequences and standard action shots, music by R.D. Burman and an Aruna Irani dance that cost Rs 11 lakhs calls itself an "all time first", it is time to become sceptical.But Krishna Shah's Shalimar, despite the inescapable fact that it is built around a standard commercial formula, is convincingly first in many ways. This Indo-US colossus is in fact the most expensive movie ever made in India. It is also the first co-production to be made on an unashamedly commercial basis.James Ivory and Ismail Merchant have made a series of financially disastrous movies in India, most of which even failed to redeem themselves on the grounds of artistic achievement. But Shalimar's chief claim to fame lies not in its results but in the method of its making.In the chaotic context of the Indian film industry it was unimaginable that a film should be shot in 12 weeks, with most films taking at least twice as many months. The film was, in fact, shot separately in English and Hindi - each shot was taken first in English and then in Hindi - all in three months.The three-month shooting schedule of Shalimar was characterized by a daily regimen that would have made a sergeant-major proud. No hangers-on and chamchas allowed on location; a strict ban on using the telephone during working hours; an hour-and-a-half of rehearsals every morning attended by all the actors; long speech-training sessions for Dharmendra in English and for Sylvia Miles in Hindi; and, most important in the Indian context, an I-will-brook-no-disobedience attitude to filming schedules and reporting times by the director.Movie-making, to Shah, is a purely commercial enterprise to be run on proper business principles. He spent over a year on researching his subject and planning the film; detailed blueprint for the entire film was drawn up with almost 3,500 frame-by-frame sketches of camera and actor position. It was only after the blueprinting was complete that he went on to select and hire the action and begin the shooting. "Shalimar" claims Shah "is a caper film to end all caper films." It involves a retired arch criminal, Sir John (played by Rex Harrison), possessor of the world's largest ruby; four professional crooks invited by Sir John to his island in the Indian Ocean to try to steal the ruby from him (Sir John has reached the stage where he is looking for an heir); and a rank amateur, Dharmendra, who horns in on the proceedings (and, since Shalimar is good, strong, wholesome, all Indian escapism, he beats all the others to the ruby). Zeenat Aman who plays Sheila has, according to Shah, "a very emancipated feminist role in this film. She is on a par with the men."But this does not let Aman off the hook; she has to go through the mushy love scenes with Dharmendra and give the audience their money's worth. Sylvia Miles plays a Danish countess, John Saxon is a mute American-Vietnamese, Shammi Kapoor is a doctor of religion from the Middle East, O.P. Ralhan plays the Sinhalese crook, and Prem Nath and Dr Shreeram Lagoo are India's representatives to this united nations crooks' convention.Although the English and Hindi versions were filmed almost simultaneously there are subtle differences in the acting and direction for the two. "Look, you have to differentiate between your markets," stated Shah emphatically, "There is a lot of bullshit on the Indian screen that wouldn't be accepted for a moment by audiences in the West."Zeenat Amam - 'on par with the men'The four songs in the movie, by Kishore Kumar, Mohammad Rafi, Lata Mangeshkar and Usha Iyer, are used in the Indian version only. A mildly sexy scene has been left out of the Hindi version although there is a kissing scene which Shah hopes to get past the prudish censors.Shah insists that his film is erotic, but not in the way that most Indian movies are. Shalimar does not, however, cash in on Aman's newly-found sex-symbol status. "It's just a question of having a strong enough story line," explained Shah. "I have worked seven years to develop a very strong plot. Besides I have lots of masala to make up for the lack of sex."To put Shalimar together in the way he did, what Krishna Shah needed was money, and lots of it. "To keep to our production schedules," explained Ranvir Singh, the executive producer from Hollywood, "we didn't just need money; we needed it at the right time."And Suresh Shah of Raymond House, who was the sole Indian financier (half the financing was Indian), made this possible by depositing the entire amount and obtaining bankers' guarantees for the producers. Judson Productions of New York was financed by a number of people in England and America. This enabled Shah to hire the Panavision cameras and technicians he used. All the foreign stars of the film, the stunt coordinators and special-effects men he brought over from Hollywood were paid abroad."It was a fantastic thing to get your pay cheque at the end of every week," enthused Shammi Kapoor, "For some odd reason no producer in Bombay has ever succeeded in this kind of organization. Well! I mean the money spent in India was all Indian money. Why can't our people tap somebody like Suresh Shah?"In keeping with his "big-business attitude to film-making, Krishna Shah had the entire movie and the stars insured in New York. In fact, this is one reason why the film had to be completed on a crash schedule, since the insurance companies had a film completion bond which laid down the precise period in which the film was to be shot. Another reason is that all foreign stars and technicians were paid abroad, and to avoid paying Indian taxes they had to leave the country within 90 days.Living in the same hotel for the duration of their acting-stint was, to most of the stars, a very important aspect of all that went into the movie. Zeenat Aman ecstatically called it "the most intense experience" of her life. "It was just fantastic," she said. "I could really live and be Sheila, and I picked up so much by being close to these incredible Hollywood actors."This feeling, however, was not shared by Shammi Kapoor, the only member of the unit who stayed in another hotel. He said: "Well, you're getting into each other's pockets and stamping on each other's corns all day; so why carry it into the night. That was the wisest decision I made."Shah, like most of the stars, insisted that ego problem and artistic rivalry were a minimum, and wrote any problems off as "minor differences of opinion". One of these "minor differences", however, resulted in Gina Lollobrigida walking off in a huff.Lollobrigida, who was to have had Sylvia Miles's part, revoked her contract because she felt it would be demeaning for a onetime Hollywood queen to act in a film in which "Zees punky Indian Zeenat" was starring.Amitabh Bachchan, originally cast for the leading role, left at the outset because of problems which Shah refused to divulge. David Niven, Peter O'toole, Peter Ustinov, and James Mason had all been considered before Rex Harrison landed his role.But the question that remained unanswered after Shalimar was complete was that of motivation. Why did Dharmendra stay up till 2.30 every morning brushing his English. Why did he report for work at 7 every morning when he would not do this for any other director? Shammi Kapoor had a simple but plausible answer - "Hollywood!" In fact, Shalimar was, besides the Ivory-Merchant disasters and Conrad Rooke's Siddhartha, Bombay's first real contract with Hollywood.But to Dharmendra, whom Shah visualizes as the Omar Shariff of the future; and Aman, whose acting ability has been in question for a long time, a break into Hollywood could mean a whole new career.Whether Shalimar will eventually be successful or not (it will not be released before May), and if successful - whether in the international or the Indian market - is open to question. But Krishna Shah insists it has all the right ingredients for success."I have put mirchi-masala and hangama into the Hindi version. I have written a very strong plot. I have thrown in gimmicks like floors opening up and fountains that spew fire; there is this fantastic shot where an 80-ft tower explodes and collapses when Dharam is being chased by some crooks."The special-effects man from Hollywood and the British stunt coordinator were obviously kept very busy. One whole production unit was employed purely for stunt and action sequences, while another worked on a battery of video monitors to give that extra special, straight-from-Hollywood effect. In the ultimate analysis Shalimar differs from a stock Bombay film more in the techniques employed than in the final result.Meanwhile, the makers of Shalimar have signed a deal with Narendra Kumar, managing director of Vikas Publishing House in New Delhi, for the publication of two books based on the film.The first is a novel by Manohar Mulgaonkar, author of A Bend in the Ganges, scheduled to be out in February. The second, scheduled for release in May, is The Inside Story on the making of Shalimar by two prominent journalists, Bunny Reuben and Anil Grover. Kumar flew specially to Bangalore, where Shalimar was being shot, to sign the book deal with Laxmi Productions. He said: "We expect it to be the most exciting novel in India's publishing history based on what we consider to be the most exciting film in cinema history."In the regional languages, particularly Hindi, books have been written on films, but major publishing houses in the English language have scarcely touched this area - partly because, I think, readers want to view a film, not read it," said Kumar.
In 1991, an Italian film, L' Avvoltoio può attendere (Gian Peitro Calasso) was released, It was based on Shalimar .Starring Donald Pleasance as Kahlenberg, the main protagonist of the story. Other actors included Valeria D'Obici, Massimo Serato and Sasha C. Darko.
Bunny Reubun wrote a book titled " The Shalimar Adventure" released in 1979. The book was a behind the scenes look at the making of tbe film. But the real controversy was an entire chapter devoted to "Zeenat Aman's huge black eye " that she had one morning on the films sets. Bunny Reubun reported that the black eye was courtesy of Zeenat's millionaire playboy boyfriend (Not Sanjay Khan). Zeenat Aman had a friend named Dilshad Pandey who was her best friend at the time. She was a aspiring director .The word out was that Dilshad was the one who gave the story to Bunny . Another version was that director Krishna Shah conned Dilshad to make a statement for the book. Dilshad stated she was in the hotel room when Zeenat and her boyfriend got into a heated argument. Dilshad left the room immediately. It is also believed that Krishna Shah was the one who gave Bunny most of his information for the black eye chapter.