A scene from Salman Khan-starrer Bajrangi Bhaijaan, which was shot in Madawa

Away from fancy foreign locales, this small but culturally rich town in Rajasthan is attracting Bollywood filmmakers with its rustic essence, quaint surroundings, havelis exuding old-world charm and intriguing maze-like bylanes. For Salman Khan’s Bajrangi Bhaijaan, parts of Mandawa were used to give a “look” of Pakistan.

The movie is about how a man discovers love during his journey from India to Pakistan, and to add to its visual appeal, director Kabir Khan panned his cameras in the Kashmir Valley, Delhi and Mandawa.

Remember the Shah Rukh Khan-starrer Paheli, the journey song Hum jo chalne lage hai from Jab We Met and the Tharki chokro track from PK? Those were also filmed in the little town, which is part of the Shekhawati region and is dotted with forts, havelis and museums.

It is this bucolic essence of life in Mandawa, 270km from the national capital, which is making filmmakers ditch fancy foreign locations.

Sandeep Singh, who helps filmmakers scout locations and arrange shootings in Mandawa, said: “Mandawa is becoming popular among directors for its natural locale, cheap production cost, no star-struck crowd, calm life with people emphasising on their day-to-day work rather than crowding around vanity vans.”

The town’s beauty — which lies in appealing elements such as golden yellow mustard fields, long winding roads, and gentle wind whistling in the ears — mesmerised the Dabangg star too.

“I was shooting in Mandawa ... it is such a beautiful city. When we were shooting there and wanted to watch a movie, Arbaaz’s (Khan) movie Dolly Ki Doli, the entire unit had to travel for 1 hour and 15 minutes because there was just one theatre,” said Salman, who attracted fans galore outside the theatre when he went there.

Salman’s Bajrangi Bhaijaan co-star Nawazuddin Siddiqui also feels Rajasthan is full of “shooting-friendly destinations”, as the “locales are very beautiful and good”.

For the film, one of the village’s havelis became a Pakistani jail to lodge Salman’s character and an open field with long grass turned into the Indo-Pak border area. Sand dunes also added to the film’s visual background.

Mandawa, however, is not a newfound shooting destination for Bollywood filmmakers. Movies such as Zed Plus, Sooper Se Ooper, Kachche Dhaage, Love Aaj Kal, Shuddh Desi Romance and Manorama Six Feet Under were also filmed there.

Even Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra chose Mandawa for parts of his yet-to-release Mirzya.

But, largely, the locals seemed ignorant of the stardom of Bollywood stars.

On a visit this correspondent met a tea-seller, who narrated how he had failed to recognise Aamir and his wife Kiran Rao and treated them as any other tourists, only to be stumped by the actor himself. Now he has a memory for a lifetime and a selfie with the star, hanging at his shop. And he flaunts it with pride.

Singh notes that people’s life is not hindered by the influx of stars and film crews as locals are “enjoying the spotlight”. But outsiders and fans from other places throng the area to catch a glimpse of their favourite stars.

With filmmakers increasingly looking towards the small town, it’s turning out to be profitable for villagers. “There is a boost in income for people as they get more work on the set with film crews, and even more hotels have cropped up with time,” Singh said.

He said that once he sends the photographs of the locations to the movie’s crew, the director and cameraman come for a recce. After finalising the spots, all formalities are taken care of.

“The owners of havelis and other properties are supportive, but have just one condition : that no damage should be caused,” said Singh.

Also, most shootings here are mainly held in February and March when the weather is pleasant. Otherwise, the scorching sun keeps the stars away!