The Hollywood movie capital.
By Subhashini Viswanathan
Remember the movie Casablanca starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman? This classic movie of all times was based on World War II and set to take place in the city of Casablanca. Humphrey Bogart was known as Rick in the movie and he had a restaurant in Casablanca known as Rick’s Cafe where all the action took place. For a long time, I thought Casablanca was an imaginary city and existed only in Hollywood. Only recently I was told that Casablanca is a real city in the country of Morocco.
I know Morocco exists in Africa and during our recent visit to Spain we were told that Morocco is only a 45 minutes’ ferry ride from the port city of Tarifa in Spain. Having come this far, we decided to go to Morocco. We boarded a ferry in Tarifa and within 45 minutes we reached Tangier a port city in Morocco. The sea between Tarifa and Tangier is known as the Mediterranean Sea. As we were crossing, we saw the magnificent Gibraltar Rock.
Tangier is a blend of Europe and Arabia, and is a very modern city. We boarded our tour bus along with a local Moroccan guide and the first question I asked the guide was will we be visiting Casablanca and he said, “Yes”. That made me very happy. Further, he said that, In the movie Bourne Ultimatum, the chase sequences were shot in Tangier. This was my first introduction to Morocco as a movie capital. Previously I had seen this movie but I could not relate the chase sequences in the movie to be Tangier.
The next stop was Rabat, the capital of Morocco. Morocco is ruled by a king. The king is loved by one and all and that affection and loyalty is visible everywhere. The king’s photo is everywhere and also in every house without exception.
The following day, we travelled a couple of hundred kilometres and entered Casablanca. Casablanca is a major city situated on the Atlantic coast with beautiful building, palaces and grand mosques. Casablanca is usually called Casa with a population of about one million. It’s a blend of Arabic, African, European and Jewish cultures. It has wide roads with a mad and racing traffic. Here, the Hassan II mosque rising above the Atlantic Ocean is the third largest mosque in the world. The entire city looks like a massive movie set. No wonder many movies were shot here and in particular the movie Casablanca. After a brief tour of the city our tour bus stopped in front of the famous Rick’s Cafe. In the movie, the owner of the cafe is Rick and the role is played by Humphrey Bogart. Most of the action in the movie centers around this cafe.
After our heart pumping viewing of Rick’s Cafe, the bus moved on. At this point our tour guide surprised us by saying that the movie Casablanca was never shot in the city of Casablanca but instead it was shot in Hollywood. The city of Casablanca was nothing to do with the movie! The Rick’s looks exactly the same as in the movie. This was a major shock for me and I expressed my disappointment to the tour guide.
He consoled me by saying that the recently released movie Mission Impossible – Rogue Nation starring Tom Cruise was shot in Casablanca. He further mentioned that the famous motor-cycle chase by Tom Cruise was entirely filmed in Casablanca. At that time I had not seen the movie and I wanted to watch this movie as soon as we got back home. But then, I asked the guide, “What about the Rick’s Cafe we just saw?” He replied that the present Rick’s Cafe is a fake one and an exact replica of the cafe in the movie. The present cafe was established by an American lady to cash in on the popularity of the movie cafe and she is doing well moneywise!
Our next destination was Marrakech. Marrakech Medina or the central market is world famous for its million laneways with people in their jellabas which are flowing long cloaks with a hood walking alone with donkeys carrying various merchandise. This scenario must have inspired Alfred Hitchcock for a scene in his movie The Man who Knew too Much, produced in the mid-50s. In this movie, I remember very well where one of the victims wearing a jellaba running along the laneways in the Medina was being chased by one of the bad guys and who finally stabs him. It is an unforgettable scene. As we walked alone the laneways, I could just imagine the victim running desperately in the movie.
Marrakech is also famous for medicinal herbs. One entire section of Medina is set aside for shops selling herbs. Our tour guide took us to one of the big shops selling herbs. The shop looked very respectable. A young lady welcomed us and said that there are herbs for a variety of ailments. There are herbs for migraine, diabetes, arthritis, constipation etc, etc and finally she said that they have a special herb known as Moroccan Viagra.
While saying this, she had a mischievous smile on her face. She said that all one needs is a tablet. “If you take the tablet wait for 10 minutes,” and then she just paused. At this moment everyone in the group especially women were finding it uncomfortable and were looking at each other. The lady continued, “You take one tablet and wait for 10 minutes and then …she paused again and then said “wait for 10 minutes and then… Whoopie!” She screamed. At this point everyone simply laughed. I am not sure if anyone bought this tablet.
Marrakech central market area just looks like a massive movie set. There are snake charmers, jugglers, and millions of shops selling everything under the sun. As we walked along the central area we became instant celebrities with people shouting almost hysterically, “Shah Rukh Khan, Amitabh Bachan, Hema Malini” etc. After some time I got sick of this screaming. It’s a proof that our movies and our stars have well and truly conquered the world.
Next stop was the city of Fes, Fes is not a big city. It has a population of about one million and what makes Fez special is that it’s a blend of old and new. By old I mean its really ancient markets with intricate alleyways and mosques, dated back several centuries. The new are multi-lane freeways, spatial and stunning palaces. Several chase sequences in Bond movies were shot here. Looking at the skyline of Fes city, it seemed ideal for the chase sequences. Fes is also knows for belly dancing. For the first time I realised that belly dancing is not just moving one’s belly but intricate movements like bending and twisting. Some of the movements these dancers go through are simply stunning.
After returning home, I watched the movie Mission Impossible – Rogue Nation. The backdrop of the stunning chase sequences shot in Casablanca add to the overall effect of the fast action. Watching the movie added a new dimension to several locations in Casablanca.
Morocco is not only a movie capital but also a dream capital. It is unique because of an intoxicating blend of ancient culture with ultra-modern roads and buildings.
Moroccan people are very special. Where else in the world can one see Jews and Arabs living side by side in complete harmony for centuries? Morocco is indeed a special country with special people. No wonder movie-makers flock to Morocco for their movie locations!