Published By: Admin

Jaisalmer Desert Festival Is Here To Enchant You; Know How A Film By Satyajit Ray Revitalized Jaisalmer's Tourism

The film, 'Sonar Kella', revived Jaisalmer's tourism scene in the 20th century, taking it from ruin to renewal.

"After the release of 'Sonar Kella', Jaisalmer Fort aka Sonar Kella has become a pilgrimage center for Bengali tourists," said filmmaker Sandip Ray, son of Satyajit Ray, in an interview.

An extravagant celebration of sand, camels, and culture, the Jaisalmer Desert Festival draws travelers from far and wide to experience its allure. Set against the backdrop of Jaisalmer's majestic deserts, the festival offers us a glimpse into Rajasthan's cultural heritage and provides us with memories to cherish for a lifetime. Be it the vibrant colors of the landscape, the age-old customs and traditions, or the mesmerizing folk performances - it offers so much that you cannot get enough of it.

The Jaisalmer Desert Festival, also known as the Rajasthan Desert Festival or the Maru Mahotsav, will be held from February 22nd to 24th this year. Preparations are currently in full swing, and the theme for the festival this year is “Back to the Desert”. As we gear up to experience Jaisalmer's majesty, let's have a throwback to when the city came to the global limelight thanks to a Satyajit Ray film.

Satyajit Ray, ‘Sonar Kella’, and Jaisalmer

Established by the Bhati Rajputs in 1156 CE, Jaisalmer was once a hub of trading, as it was well-connected to Sindh, Punjab, Afghanistan, and Balochistan. However, post India's Independence from British rule, the division of India and Pakistan had a negative impact on Jaisalmer's economy. The city gradually became a forgotten gem lost in the deserts, and held little appeal to the tourists visiting Rajasthan.

However, as the darkness always gives way to the light, Jaisalmer's fortune began to shift during the 1970s, all thanks to the legendary filmmaker, Satyajit Ray. His film 'Sonar Kella', released in 1974, showcased Jaisalmer's enchanting beauty to the world, revitalizing its tourism industry completely. With no time, the city became a favorite spot among tourists, especially the Bengalis.

Ray had discovered Jaisalmer in 1968 when he was shooting his fantasy adventure film, 'Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne', in Rajasthan. The film's climax, in which the great war between Shundi and Halla takes place, was shot in Jaisalmer. In fact, the hundreds of extras and camels used in the scene were provided by the Jaisalmer royal family.

The maestro was immensely impressed by Jaisalmer's beauty - the landscapes, the yellow colors, the fort, and the people - but he thought he could not do enough justice to the city due to his budget restraints. Also, he had to shoot 'Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne' in black-and-white, and hence, failed to capture the city's yellow colors in his film.

He decided to return to Jaisalmer for another film, which led to the film, 'Sonar Kella'. Based on one of his Feluda novels, the film follows a kid who claims to have lived in a golden fort in his past life, which later turns out to be the Jaisalmer Fort. The climax scene was shot extensively in Jaisalmer, capturing everything from its landscape to the fort to the architectural marvels and more.

Upon its theatrical release, 'Sonar Kella' became a massive critical and commercial success, winning the Golden Lotus Award at the National Film Awards in 1975 for Best Direction and Best Screenplay. It then placed the city on every tourist's bucket list.

Well, it has been five decades since 'Sonar Kella' was released in theatres, and the impact of the film on Jaisalmer's tourism is still evident today. If you visit the city, you will notice photos of Ray (and posters of the film) on several walls. The tour guides here consider Ray as a God, and in fact, many of them speak Bengali.

As Sandip Roy, a writer, journalist, and radio host, wrote in one of his columns,

"'You must be so tired of this constant Sonar Kella, Sonar Kella refrain,' I finally told Lalit (the tour guide), whose family has lived inside the fort for generations. I wanted to be the cool Bengali, the one who wanted to see the real Jaisalmer, not the nostalgia-soaked filmy version from an old Ray movie.

'What are you saying, sir!' Lalit said in shock. 'Satyajit Ray invented Jaisalmer. He gave me my bread and butter. When I take his name, I touch my ears. Until that film, Jaisalmer was punishment place.' I looked at him in surprise, wondering if he was buttering my Bengali ego. He was not. 'Look at my Reeboks,' he said. 'Without Satyajit Ray, I would be wearing slippers till they fell apart.' His eyes were glinting with tears."