A proposal to build a theme park inspired by the 1975 movie is in direct conflict with attempts to protect the vultures of Ramanagara.

The location of Gabbar Singh’s entry scene in Ramanagara
The location of Gabbar Singh’s entry scene in Ramanagara © Archana Nathan

Off the highway between Bengaluru and Mysuru, a patch of land surrounded by hills comes alive when Ramesh Sippy’s Sholay is mentioned. The 1975 blockbuster was shot there and curious tourists, especially from outside Karnataka, continue to visit the area to search for markers of the vendetta drama. There are none, but there soon might be. Early this year, the state government’s tourism department proposed a Sholay inspired theme park at Ramanagara, which is depicted as Ramgarh in the movie.

The theme park will include virtual reality recreations of key moments from the movie, adventure games and a crafts hub over a 120-acre stretch. The location seems perfect: packed with giant yet scaleable boulders and hills, Ramanagara is an ideal pit stop between the cities. But the proposal has been opposed by the state Forest Department, which has pointed out that it is illegal to construct a tourist hub in a reserved forest area. The parts of Sholay that fans remember – Gabbar Singh’s lair, Thakur Baldev Singh’s house, and the sequence in which Gabbar chops off Thakur’s hands – are part of the Ramadevara Betta vulture sanctuary at Ramanagara.

The vulture sanctuary was officially set up in 2012, but the long-billed, Egyptian and white-backed vultures have been roosting in the hills of Ramanagara for several decades. These are the three species found in Ramanagara out of the nine found in India. Alarmed at the drop in the vulture population over the years – an estimated 97% of the long billed and 99% of the Egyptian vultures have disappeared – environmentalists and bird watchers campaigned to have the area declared as a sanctuary. In 2012, around 346.41 hectares was earmarked as a protected area for the vultures. It is within this patch of the map that the proposed Sholay theme park is located.

The tourism ministry claims to have found a way out. Priyank Kharge, Minister of State for Tourism, told Scroll.in that the Sholay tourist village will be outside the sanctuary but within the general area. “We are yet to make a detailed project report,” he said. “Gabbar’s den falls right inside the sanctuary and obviously, we do not want to disturb an eco-sensitive zone. However, we need to figure out a way to recreate the den outside the sanctuary’s limits. After all, he is the most popular icon from the film.”

Another government official revealed details of the current proposal on the condition of anonymity. “We are planning the theme park around 10 kilometres from the sanctuary,” he told Scroll.in. “It will be located around two kilometres from the main road. Tourists coming to the area will first stop at the cultural hub and then if they continue along the same road, they will end up in the sanctuary.”

But aren’t the shooting spots located inside the sanctuary?