(Note: This is a story I did that ran in India Abroad in the December 14, 2007 issue. On the day that I was in Brooklyn to take pictures of the bridge, this tour bus swung around the corner, paused for a minute, then lumbered on.)
Shah Rukh Khan, clad in white, standing against a cloudless blue sky sings: “Har ghadi badal raha hai roop zindagi, chaav hai kahhi hai dhoop zindagi.” The camera pulls back and he’s now leaning against a lightpost on a bridge, and he continues: “Har pal yahan, jee bhar jiyo jo hai sama, kal ho naa ho.” The year was 2003 and the King Khan and John Augustus Roebling’s Brooklyn Bridge, two icons, both seen in countless films, were joined onscreen in an Indian Valentine to New York City, Kal Ho Naa Ho.
As you may have noticed in recent years, Hindi movies (and Tamil too) have used New York City and its environs as the setting for their stories. For some (like Kuch Naa Kaho and Shakalaka Boom Boom) it’s just a passing, blink-and-you’d-miss-it thing, but for several others, New York is the place to be. Most famously and recently, the entire cast and crew of Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna took up residence in Manhattan in the autumn of 2005 to film the story of the two unhappily married couples. This was double the time that Nikhil Advani’s Kal Ho Naa Ho team stayed in 2003.
The next time you’ve got friends or family visiting you in the U.S., and your travels take you to New York City, here’s a handy guide you can use if you’d like to visit the famous landmarks while also tracing the footsteps of Indian film stars who have shot on location in and around Manhattan.
There are a couple of “must-sees”, the most often used locations, and here they are:
1. Times Square
Seen in: Jaan-e-mann, Jo Bole So Nihaal, Kal Ho Naa Ho, Love at Times Square, Out of Control, Tara Rum Pum, Vettaiyadu Villaiyadu
This bustling, neon-drenched crossroads of the city, and the home of theater district, has become de rigeur in any movie set in New York. If you’ve seen one or more of the movies listed above, you’ll recognize the tall red flashing letters of the Virgin Megastore instantly, as well as the patch of cement in the middle of the avenue directly opposite. It’s on that bit of land, and around the metal railing decorated with red tube designs that Salman, Akshay, Preity, Saif, Rani, Kamalhasan and Jyothika have lip-synced and danced for our viewing pleasure.
Times Square refers to the stretch of West 42nd to 49th streets between Broadway and Seventh Avenue. The name comes from The New York Times and its 1904 home at the south end of the square in the Times Tower, where the newspaper was based for a decade.
Today, no matter what time of day, you’ll find yourself surrounded by throngs of visitors, as well as an assortment of colorful characters like the Naked Cowboy (not totally nanga, he actually wears a cowboy hat, cowboy boots, underwear, and a guitar), preachers warning about the approaching end of the world, various musicians and breakdancers, and models dressed up like the Statue of Liberty who stand immobile and who will pose with you for photos.
Just south of the Virgin Megastore, at the corner of 45th street and Broadway, you may also recognize the SWATCH Megastore. In addition to appearing in the background of song picturizations like Kuch To Hua Hai in Kal Ho Naa Ho, it’s also the place where Ritesh Deshmukh’s polygamous character in Out of Control, was taken by his American wife, Sally, to buy his birthday present, while his Indian wife was waiting for him elsewhere.
One interesting note, as told to me by Prashant Shah, the U.S. line producer for Tara Rum Pum, director Siddharth Anand wanted a scene filmed in Times Square with Saif Ali Khan and Rani Mukherjee, and no one else. This meant emptying the streets of all people and cars for the shot, a very expensive prospect and having only scant minutes to get the shot right. Shah explained that other than Tom Cruise’s Vanilla Sky, this was only the second time ever in film history that Times Square was entirely emptied for a shoot.
On the other side of Broadway, across the avenue, you won’t be able to miss the Marriott Marquis Hotel, which also houses a theater. The hotel is easily identifiable by the semicircular bay of large windows of its Broadway Lounge. If you want to stop for a brief rest, this is a great place to go for a drink or snack. While you sit on the velvet seats and plot out your next stop, you can gaze down from your eighth floor perch onto the square, above the frenetic hustle of the crowds on the streets, to really appreciate the visual overload.
How to get there: Subway: the N, Q, R, S, W, 1, 2, 3, 7, or 9 trains to the Times Square stop.
2. Brooklyn Bridge and Waterfront
Seen in: Jaan-e-mann, Jo Bole So Nihaal, Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna, Kal Ho Naa Ho, Love at Times Square, Out of Control, Tara Rum Pum, Vettaiyadu Villaiyadu
Although there are several bridges which span the East River (the Queensborough, the Williamsburg, the Manhattan, to name a few), the Brooklyn Bridge is the one that has gotten the most celluloid attention in India. Shah Rukh Khan has sung on it and under it in Kal Ho Naa Ho, and Saif Ali Khan and Rani Mukherjee have danced across it with their two filmi children in Tara Rum Pum. Other films have taken advantage of the waterfront by the bridge and its beautiful views across the East River to Manhattan.
Its Gothic arches and the steel cables are instantly recognizeable and make the bridge – the entire span of it – a fantastic place to take photographs. My advice is to walk across the bridge from the Manhattan side to the Brooklyn side. You’ll be joined by pedestrians (many of them Indian), cyclists and rollerbladers. The car traffic goes via a roadway underneath you.
Once you reach Brooklyn and walk the few blocks to the waterfront, consider stopping at Patsy Grimaldi’s (19 Old Fulton St., between Front and Water Streets) for a pizza, but be prepared for a bit of a wait, as the place is legendary and lines form early. Afterward, you can continue on down Old Fulton Street toward the bridge, and pose for photos against the waterfront railing embedded with snippets of Walt Whitman’s poetry. (His Leaves of Grass was first published in Brooklyn.) I promise, you will recognize this spot immediately if you’ve seen either Kal Ho Naa Ho (Saif waltzing with himself in Kuch To Hua Hai) or Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna (the opening shot with the film title, sad music and autumn leaves swirling around).
When you’ve absorbed enough of the scenery and taken all the pictures you want, pop into the Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory, housed inside the white restored fireboat house, and get a scoop or two of their homemade ice cream to fortify you for the walk back across to Manhattan. Or you can hop on the yellow water taxi which takes you directly over to our next shooting location.
How to get there: Subway: Take the 4, 5, 6, trains to the Brooklyn Bridge – City Hall stop.
3. South Street Seaport / Pier 17
Seen in: Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna, Love at Times Square, Tara Rum Pum, Vettaiyadu Villaiyadu
If you cross the Brooklyn Bridge, as you gaze back at Manhattan, your eyes will land on the red Pier 17 building. This area is South Street Seaport. This historic section of lower Manhattan recalls a time when clipper ships, not trucks, transported goods to the metropolis. There is a museum containing a variety of New York-themed exhibits that you can visit, and the aforementioned Pier 17 actually contains a shopping mall, filled with shops like Guess?, J. Crew, Coach, Godiva and a variety of restaurants.
KANK fans will recall Shah Rukh and Rani meeting at South Street Seaport for several of their illicit assignations, and in Mitwa, this is where Rani swirls a red scarf, with the masts of various schooners behind her. Like that couple, but without the infidelity, Kamalhasan and Jyothika strolled and noshed here, when Kamla wasn’t off in pursuit of the serial killer. Not to be outdone, Akshay also romanced Preity around and under Pier 17 in the Ajnabee number of Jaan-e-mann.
In Tara Rum Pum, for the picturization of Hey Shona, Saif romances Rani on the cobblestones of Schermerhorn Row, flanked by brick mercantile buildings on either side, arriving at the intersection of Front and Fulton Streets, with the Heartland Brewery in the background. (This, by the way, is not a bad place to stop for a beer, or a soft drink, and lunch or dinner.)
How to get there: Subway: Take the 2, 3, 4, 5, J, Z, or M trains to Fulton Street stop, or the A or C trains to Broadway-Nassau stop; or the E train towards Fulton Street. Get out and walk east on Fulton Street until you reach Water Street.
4. Central Park
Seen in: Jaan-e-mann, Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna, Kal Ho Naa Ho
In spite of the 843 acres this urban microcosm contains, it’s usually the same few locations that appear on the Bollywood big screen. The most recognizable is the Bow Bridge. Preity skipped across it during Kuch To Hua Hai in Kal Ho Naa Ho. (Actually, if you watch the “Making of” feature on the DVD, you also get to see her fall on her bum at the start of one take.) According to the official Central Park website, this is one of the most oft-filmed locations in the park.
The bridge is west of Bethesda Terrace, at the midway point in the park, at the altitude of 74th street.
The elaborate Bethesda Terrace – from where the immaculately clad-in-white Shah Rukh dances forth in the title song of Kal Ho Naa Ho and down the steps to Bethesda Fountain – was originally designed in the late 1800s as a place to see and be seen. The sculpture at the top of the fountain – Angel of Waters – was designed by Emma Stebbins to celebrate the arrival of a fresh water supply to the city from the Croton Aqueduct (north in Westchester County).
Both can be found at the altitude of 72nd street.
For sustenance, do like the locals do and carry in some lunch with you from a local deli, or make your way to The Boathouse restaurant at the Loeb boathouse at 74th street and the East Drive.
How to get there: Subway: the B or C trains to the 72nd street/Central Park West stop. Note: there are many other entrances to the park, and many other trains you can take to reach them, but this stop will leave you closest if you want to find the Bow Bridge and Bethesda Terrace.
5. Park Avenue / the MetLife building
Seen in: Jo Bole So Nihaal, Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna, Tara Rum Pum
Park Avenue is the closest thing we have in New York City to a wide European boulevard. The six lanes of traffic on this avenue of offices and expensive apartment buildings are bisected by an island of seasonal trees, shrubs and plants (and white Christmas lights in December). In the opening scene of KANK where Preity screams into her cell phone at Shah Rukh “Hey! I got the job!” she does so as she makes her way along Park Avenue.
At 50th street and Park Avenue, you will see the landmark St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church, just across the street from the Waldorf Astoria Hotel. The church is also the home of the well regarded and elegant St. Bart’s Café.
During Hey Shona in Tara Rum Pum, Saif Ali Khan dances up the eastern side of the deserted avenue, while looming behind him is the most recognizable architecture on Park Avenue: the 58-storey MetLife building at 45th street. You may still hear some people refer to it as “the PanAm building,” as the now-defunct Pan American World Airways owned it at the time of opening in 1963.
It was once possible to get a helicopter from a helipad at the top of the building to JFK airport. In May 1977, a helicopter tipped over on a broken landing gear, with rotors still spinning, killing four waiting passengers, then also losing a rotor blade which flew off and killed a pedestrian on the street below. Flights were soon discontinued.
Park Avenue continues on the other side of the MetLife building, where it is known as Park Avenue South (though no one ever refers to the upper side of the avenue as “˜Park Avenue North’).
How to get there: Subway: the 6 train to the 51st street stop. Walk one block west. The MetLife building is to the south of the avenue.
On location – recent films set in New York City:
- Love at Times Square (2003)
- Out of Control (2003)
- Kal Ho Naa Ho (2003)
- Jo Bole So Nihaal (2005)
- Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna (2006)
- Jaan-e-mann (2006)
- Vettaiyadu Villaiyadu (2006) *
- Tara Rum Pum (2007)
* Tamil movie starring Kamalhasan