There once this time when Switzerland was the de facto location whenever a Bollywood film required a foreign shoot. Filmmakers presented the same pristine vistas repeatedly; and even when budgets expanded, as did themes, filmmakers were not so experimental in their choices of locations.
But over the past two years, Bollywood has expanded its directions — quite literally. If you happened to sit through just a few films from the latter half of 2015 alone — Dilwale, Dil Dhadakne Do, Tamasha, Phantom, to name a few — you would have been transported to destinations like Bulgaria, Iceland, Greece, Corsica and Beirut. The trend can perhaps be traced back to Zindagi Milegi Na Dobara, which many said was almost a tourism advertisement for Spain. Other films like Kick (Poland) and PK (Belgium) have also capitalised on the beauty of untapped foreign locations for their shoots.
So just what is drawing Bollywood to newer, unexplored territories? And is it pushing Indian travellers to visit the places they’ve seen on the big screen?
Where the South goes…
The South film industry has perhaps taken the lead when it comes to venturing to newer locations. Director Shankar explored stunning new settings for Jeans (which had Aishwarya Rai dancing against all the Seven Wonders of the world) and later, in Robot, for which Rajinikanth and Ash shot at locations such as Machu Picchu in Peru, and in Brazil.
If Rohit Shetty’s song sequence for Gerua (from Dilwale) was shot in Iceland, it was because he had previously seen the song Eno Eno Panithuli from the Suriya starrer Aadhavan, that had been filmed there. Says Rohit Shetty, “To be honest, it was Suriya’s film that was shot in Iceland (that prompted me to go there). One of our line producers told us about the location. I told Shah Rukh about it, and he said, ‘Let’s go’. So we went and shot the song there.”
Bulgaria too, had played host to the shoots of films like Bahubali and Masss (Tamil) before drawing Dilwale and Shivay to its shores.
Wooed to travel
Perhaps the key reason that new destinations are being explored by Bollywood filmmakers is because of ardent wooing by their tourism boards. Bulgaria was very keen to tap into the power of Bollywood. Stefan Ionkov, the head of the Commercial & Economic Affairs Office of Bulgaria to India, says that they have been working actively on bringing Bollywood shoots to Bulgaria, because the strategy proved to be so successful for Switzerland, Spain and Germany. It took over two years to bring the right film projects to Bulgaria — in this case, Dilwale, and Ajay Devgn’s upcoming Shivay. “Having Rohit Shetty, Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol in Bulgaria has been achieved with a lot of work, dedication… I am happy and proud that we have already built our relation of trust with Bollywood,” says Stefan.
Tourism Ireland worked closely with Yash Raj Films to bring the Ek Tha Tiger shoot to Dublin. Soon, films like David and 1: Nenokkadine had also booked their “tickets” for the island country, drawn by what the tourism board had to offer.
“Tourism Ireland works with the Irish Film Board (IFB) and Northern Ireland Screen (NSI) to support the filming of Bollywood movies in Ireland — visas, screen location facilitation etc,” says Huzan Fraser, the India representative for Tourism Ireland. “For Ek Tha Tiger, Tourism Ireland undertook a television, print and digital campaign during the release of the film in India to showcase Ireland as an attractive destination. Also, the IFB offers a range of tax incentives for filming on the island of Ireland (a new 32 per cent incentive is available since 2015), an expansion of eligible expenditure criteria and greater flexibility in the application process. We also conduct familiarisation visits for Bollywood producers to Ireland.”
In return, several filmmakers also shoot promotional videos for these destinations — SRK’s Red Chillies presented a short one called “Welcome to Bulgaria” which garnered over 4,00,000 views on YouTube says Stefan; Ajay Devgn has also featured in a promotional video for the country, while Imtiaz Ali’s video showcasing Corsica and his experiences shooting there has received millions of likes on Facebook.
Of course, while there will be filmmakers who take their shoots to destinations previously unknown, simply because they can afford to, there are others who believe their script truly demands it. In Zoya Akhtar’s films, ZNMD and Dil Dhadake Do, the locations (Spain and a cruise on the Mediterranean) were inseparable from the plot. The same can be said for Imtiaz Ali, who set his Tamasha in picturesque Corsica. Imtiaz had said that right from the time that he began writing the script, his first choice of a location had been Corsica. In fact, Deepika Padukone’s character is shown to be a huge fan of the comic Asterix in Corsica, which is how she ends up travelling there.
“(The story was about) two people meeting at a place that’s very unusual. A good place, but definitely not a ‘regular’ destination for Indians (to travel to). Corsica has a distinct, unique culture. It is not modern, it is not old-fashioned; they have kept their food and music and culture. I (was) lucky that it has not been explored cinematically, but I think that people will more and more go to Corsica (after this),” Imtiaz said, explaining why he chose it.
For director Kabir Khan, locations also speak to his love for adventure. So from shooting in Beirut for Phantom to heading off to Kabul for Kabul Express and on home ground, Sonmarg and Zoji La for Bajrangi Bhaijaan — the locations of his films attest to the director’s own personality.
Convenience counts too!
Sometimes, the logistics may drive a filmmaker to look for an out-of-the-ordinary shoot location. Kunal Kohli first ventured to shoot Fanaa in the Tatra Mountains in southern Poland, because his original location, Kashmir, presented several difficulties. Ajay Devgn had previously meant to shoot Shivay in Calgary, Canada. However, his team felt the location was not feasible for filming the high-octane action sequences in mind (it was accessible only by chopper) so they opted for the Rila Mountain in Bulgaria.
Some filmmakers may have found newer destinations a whole lot more welcoming to shoot in. As Stefan Ionkov tells us, the services of the largest film studio in the Balkans (the Nu Boyana Film Studio) are available to overseas film crews. “We have professional dancers, costume designers, shooting equipment… After Shivay, we have another 10 Indian movies being shot in Bulgaria in 2016 alone,” he says.
But not every new location offers such seamless infrastructure to film crews. Imtiaz Ali admitted that shooting in Corsica was not without its challenges. “Corsica was a very expensive location — but it was a location I wanted. Not much shooting happens in Corsica so everything had to be set by us almost for the first time. There was no steady catering and all the other services a team requires on a shoot were not established. We had to rely a lot on the smart people (around us) to help us out,” he told us.
And while Zoya Akhtar made the idea of a cruise holiday look like a dream in DDD, she has said that shooting it was “logistically insane”. The production house Excel ironed out every possible detail before starting work on the film.
Then there are certain locations that offer their own dangers — as Kabir Khan found when he went to Kabul for Kabul Express. Kabir recounts, “During the shoot, we got death threats from the Taliban.
The Indian ambassador told us that five men had been sent to attack us. We sent John and Arshad back to Mumbai. But Adi (Aditya Chopra, producer) was very supportive; he said YRF would recreate Kabul in any part of the world for me… I met intelligence and security officers and after five days, I told Adi we could continue (in Kabul). Hats off to John and Arshad for coming back. Nobody is insured in a war zone.”
Does it really help tourism?
Does Bollywood drive Indian tourists to explore the destinations it showcases? The answer, according to experts, is a resounding yes. Says Daniel D’Souza of Kuoni India, “Bollywood-inspired holidays are a huge draw. Any location featured prominently in a movie instantly become aspirational and popular with travellers. We have witnessed a surge of demand for holidays to locations where movies have been shot. Switzerland, New Zealand, Australia, Spain, Corsica have gained prominence with Indian clients after being extensively featured in Indian movies. With increasing number of Bollywood producers exploring newer destinations for their movies, we will see this trend growing in future.”
“We witnessed an uptake in queries for Corsica, after the release of Tamasha. Dil Dhadakne Do has inspired Indian families to take cruise vacations, and we are seeing unprecedented demand of over 23 per cent to short haul favourites like Dubai, Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia and Hong Kong. Similarly, movies like Dil Chahta Hai, Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, Finding Fanny have catapulted self-drive vacations to long hauls such as Spain,” adds Jatinder Paul Singh, of Thomas Cook India....