A more than a century-old castle in Dhanyakuria, which was once a state welfare home for girls and is in urgent need of restoration, is on its way to get a heritage tag. The 30-acre area that houses this Indo-English castle and other mansions, which was the shooting venue of Guru Dutt’s ‘Saheb Bibi Ghulam’, Hugh Grant’s ‘La Nuit Bengali’ and Uttam Kumar’s ‘Suryatapa’, could also be declared a heritage village.
West Bengal Heritage Commission (WBHC) Officer on special duty Basudev Mallik paid a visit to the castle on July 12. Word has it that the families of Dhanyakuria were very loyal to the British. To please the British, even the architecture of the buildings had a distinct colonial flavour. Once a British officer had mooted the idea of wanting to create a summer retreat at one of the castles of Dhanyakuria.
“The owner handed over the property to East India Company immediately after the request was made. This property was transferred to our government in 1960. The Dhanyakuria Girls State Welfare Home was housed there. But it stopped operation from there in 2018 because it needed repair. The then district magistrate decided to shift the home from there,” Mallik said.
WBHC chairperson Shuvaprasanna told TOI that another team will be visiting the village this week. “At our last meeting, we saw the photos clicked by our team. They were so impressive that a bigger team involving a heritage architect will be visiting later this week to explore if that area can be given a heritage village tag,” he said.
Author Monjit Gaine, who also teaches at Rajballavpur High School, is excited with the proposal of a heritage village coming up around the mansions of Dhanyakuria that were originally developed by his ancestors. The Gaines, who made a fortune trading in jute, worked in partnership with two other families — the Sawoos and the Ballavs. In the late 19th century, Monjit’s great grandfather, Mahendranath Gaine, had built this castle. “Seeing the gate of this castle showing two European youth killing lions, Sunil Gangopadhyay had once likened it to a French santo. He had said that in France, people pay to see a santo while here in Bengal it is lying in neglect. Tagore, too, had written about our village,” he said.
The rajbari, where he now lives, was once the venue for Guru Dutt, Waheeda Rahmen and Meena Kumari’s shooting in the 1960s. In 1988, Hugh Grant had come to shoot an Indo-French film there. “He shot there close to a month and I even have his autograph with me. Rituparno Ghosh had come to shoot his last film, ‘Satyanweshi’, in our house. A juxtaposition of turrets and spires along with oriental-styled architecture including a nahabatkhana gives our mansion an interesting look. The money earned from allowing shooting at our mansion is used for its maintenance,” he added.
Another attraction of the village is the double century-old three-day-long Ras Mela held during the month of Baishakh. “Our rituals are very pro-women. At midnight, women of all age groups take centerstage in the celebration. Dancing to the tune of kirtans, they take four idols of Radha to the Rasmancha. The four idols of Krishna then follow but there is no shobhayatra in that case. In this whole event, men hardly have any role to play. We will appreciate if the Heritage commission comes up with a museum that showcases the history and culture of our village,” Gaine said.