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Jaunts abroad with a purpose



Chiranjeevi and Rajnikanth with Ramji.

HE STARTED off as an actor. Shifted to travel trade and later became a director of a company which handles travel work. He concentrated on something he knew all about — shooting films abroad. It will not be an exaggeration to say that his company has undertaken more foreign jaunts for films than any other company in the country. Ramji of Travel Masters has to his credit 500 films for which he has arranged shooting in locations abroad. When Ramji was young (in 1979) his intention was to become a film star. He got some good breaks from films such as a ``Oru Varisu Uruvagirathu" in Tamil, "Swapna" in Kannada and "Jakandalu" in Telugu. He acted in 40 films but he thought that he was not getting the right offers to make it big. He wished to go abroad but that was not easy. He joined the Travel Corporation of India (TCI) as an executive in 1985. Then he moved to Cathay Pacific. He would work at the airport for their night flights and look after travel business in the morning.

When he got an offer to shoot for a Telugu film, "Ruthranethra," in a foreign country he opted to do it on his own. "It was a blessing in disguise. I got the experience and also was able to see the other side of shooting. As I was an actor the job was given to me. It was a success and that gave me immense confidence."

Travel Masters was started on April 14, 1991, with the help of the late Subbirama Reddy. "It was their company and I was only an executive director. On the first day of the new company I did the shooting for the Telugu film, `Bobbili Raja,' in a foreign country and it went off well." And there was no looking back.

Ramji is happy to acknowledge that it is because of the heroes, directors and producers that Travel Masters has worked for 500 films in a span of 12 years.

"We have arranged film shooting abroad for all the South Indian films and also Hindi. Leading heroes in all the languages have come with us. "Kahona Pyar Hai" and "Company" are some of the Hindi films we have worked for.

In India it is only our company that specialises in all the nitty and gritty concentrating on gives importance to the minute details while arranging shooting abroad. We arrange local permission, foreign exchange permission, airline that is most economical, excess baggage clearance, permission to shoot at the airport, transport at the door step, hotel accommodation, junior artistes, boat, helicopter, train and dancers and whatever the director or the producer asks to enhance the value of the film."

It was Ramji who did the shooting arrangements in Switzerland for "Baba." They took a big banyan tree weighing 1,600 kg. It was planted by the technicians in the middle of a vast land where the hero Rajnikanth meets Babaji.

The shooting for the ``Ichutha" song was held at Sparenmoose, which is three hours drive from Zurich. For "Panchathantiram," a set was erected along with a plane in Toronto, Canada.

In "Kushi" it was the Bungy jump at Queens town, New Zealand, which Vijai did to win accolades. According to Ramji it is less expensive to shoot in a foreign country than in India. How?

"In India if one is going to shoot a scene or a song the hero or the heroine will give dates to two different companies — for day and night. But in a foreign country, especially Europe, they will shoot continuously from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., if it is summer. If snow is required they can shoot till late in the night. No sweat, distance is not a big deal, permission is granted immediately and the place is pollution free. There will be no crowd to see the shooting and the artistes can go on their own anywhere. Travel Masters has done shooting in all parts of Europe, South Africa, Canada, Far-East, Arabian countries, Dubai, Egypt, Syria, Australia, New Zealand and Russia."

``For AVM's `Gemini' we filmed a sequence at the highest point in Europe, Jung Frau Joch in Switzerland. It was memorable experience for all of us. I have made it a practice to be with the production team throughout the assignment. This helps in meeting with last minute requirements. I was associated with the Star Night programme held in Malaysia and Singapore for the benefit of South Indian Artistes Association. Now we are making the arrangements for the trip of the artistes and technicians to Dubai and London in May.

S. R. ASHOK KUMAR

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