Sharpe's Challenge - Press Archive - Passage to India

Source: The National Veterans Fencing Association
January 2006 Newsletter

Passage to India
Richard Bonehill
(Reprinted with the permission of the author and Picture Palace)
On the afternoon of the 21st December my flight made its final descent to
Heathrow Airport. The spectacular sights of central London lit up in all
their Christmas glory was a fitting end to a magical journey. The nine
hour flight from Delhi had taken me over the barren deserts of Northern
India, the spectacular mountains of Afghanistan, the frozen wastes of
Turkmenistan, Ukraine, Belorussia and the leaden skies of Eastern Europe.
Quite a shock as I had not seen a single cloud in six weeks.
I had been working in Rajasthan as Sword Master on Sharpe's Challenge,
two 90 minute films, starring Sean Bean as the rebellious rifleman of the
95th Regiment in Wellington's Army.


 Truro Fencing Club Sabre Team (Indian Branch)

Fans of the original television series filmed between 1993- 1997 will remember
Sharpe's exciting adventures and the two new films promise to be more
spectacular and certainly more swashbuckling than ever. The new production
set in India after Waterloo stars Sean Bean as Sharpe and Toby Stephens
(son of Sir Robert Stephens and Dame Maggie Smith) as the cruel William
Dodd. A rogue British Officer in the pay of the Maharaja of Ferraghur.
As I am sworn to secrecy that is the entire plot I can reveal at the moment!
My job as Sword Master involved choreographing eleven fights and
working alongside the Stunt Co-ordinator Gareth Milne in the staging
of a number of spectacular battle sequences.


Sean Bean is Sharpe

The main two locations in Rajasthan were the awe inspiring Jaigarh Fort in
Jaipur and the breathtaking Mehrangarh Fort in Jodhpur. Both forts were
started in the 15th centuries and added to by successive rulers. Their size,
complexity and location (both set on top of almost vertical 150 meter high
cliffs) makes it no surprise that neither were ever conquered.
One giant gateway after another, complete with iron spikes on the gates to
stop war elephants pushing them down, lead to successive courtyards which
would become impassable killing fields. One cannot imagine any army
conquering these magnificent fortifications without modern day air support
or nuclear weapons. Their sheer size is overwhelming.
Our 'fighting teams' consisted of 10 Russian Stuntmen (veterans of the
original series, excellent performers, hard men and hard drinkers!) 20 Indian
stuntmen and up to 350 Indian extras. Add to this happy band horses,
elephants, camels, goats, pigs, donkeys and some idea of the complexity of
the shooting can be imagined.

Days - and also a week of night shoots- were spent in temperatures in the
80's fighting and dying. It is a great testament to the professionalism to
all those involved that over the nine action-packed weeks of shooting no
injuries were sustained.
Many of the crew did succumb to illness such as Delhi-Belly but a certain
proportion of these must be put down to self-inflicted injuries! The party
schedule was taken as seriously as the shooting schedule. Working an
eleven hour day, six day week meant that 'down time' was made the most of.


Two new recruits to Truro Fencing Club
Sean Bean & Toby Stephens

Evenings were spent having dinner under the stars, usually by the pool and
the one day a week off spent sunbathing and relaxing. One such day I visited
the Holy City of Pushka to witness the biggest camel and horse fair in India.
A fascinating experience which I will never forget which culminated in
watching the sun set over the sacred lake. For a change no gin and tonic
in hand as Pushka is a sacred city and no alcohol is available.


Russian Soldiers Waiting to Die

To be a swordsman in Rajasthan is regarded as a venerated position and I
was treated with the greatest courtesy and respect by all I met. One of my
most treasured memories of the trip will be the evening I spent with His
Highness The Maharaja of Jaipur as his honoured guest for dinner in his
Magnificent Diggi Palace. The Maharaja (or Nicco to his friends!) had
loaned some of his polo ponies to the production and his graciousness
and that of his family was overwhelming.
It is impossible in such a short article to convey the beauty of such a
wonderful country. It is a continent of extremes. Poverty of biblical
proportions exists along side extreme wealth.


Sunset over the sacred lake at Pushka

There is great beauty and unspeakable ugliness but my abiding memory of
my trip will be the friendliness and warmth of the Indian people. If you ever
get the chance to visit this fascinating continent grab it with both hands,
but remember to have all the necessary injections!


Mehrangara Fort

Richard Bonehill is a fighting double, Sword Master and Fight Director
who has worked in the film industry for 25 years. Sharpe's Challenge (and
The Making of Sharpe) will be shown on British television in 2006.


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