Sunday, June 19, 2011

Purab Aur Paschim

Sixty per cent of Bollywood's upcoming blockbusters are being shot on foreign locales. The pre liberalization Hindi film industry made occasional films with a foreign peg. Movies like An Evening in Paris and Purab aur Pashchim stood out in good measure because audiences could look forward to ‘seeing' exotic places. Today no one blinks an eyelid when Kajol keeps the karva chauth in London (Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham) or Sunny Deol does the balle balle in Toronto (Yamla Pagla Deewana).
It is a phenomenon explained in part by the winds of globalization that are sending increasing numbers of Indians to live abroad. On the face of it this would justify the telling of immigrant stories. However film scholar Madulika Sengupta delves deeper and says, “The 20 million strong Indian diaspora, with an estimated combined wealth of over US $300 billion has made the overseas territory a factor in all considerations. Bollywood financiers are more interested in Indians buying (relatively expensive) tickets in dollars and pounds than in creatively exploring their lives.”
This assertion is borne out by several examples of Hindi film characters without any mooring to their geographical context. For instance, the bubble like world of New York Punjabis in Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna could easily have been transported to London or Melbourne with no impact on the narrative. In this film and many like it there is virtually no meaningful reference to living in the U.S. or interaction with American born characters.
At another level shooting overseas also fits in snugly with Bollywood's traditional role as a peddler of dreams. India with its pockets of beauty cannot match the eye candy aspect of vast western expanses. Sengupta adds, “Smaller budget (less formulaic) films are shot in India but the blockbuster producers usually make a beeline for the West. A generation that seeks the antiseptic world of a shopping mall for leisure doesn't usually like to see the clutter of the average Indian street on screen.”


That would seem like an overly pessimistic critique to Sabbas Joseph of Wizcraft International. As director of a leading event management company he has successfully assisted linkages between Indian film producers and foreign city administrations. Wizcraft is also helping mount the upcoming International Indian Film Academy (IIFA) awards in Toronto as part of a drive to project the city as a destination for Hindi film projects. Joseph says, “Shooting Bollywood films abroad is a mutually beneficial relationship. Apart from providing multiple scenic landscapes, they offer all the facilities of a modern global city.” Jim Nickel, the Deputy High Commissioner of Canada in India who was present at the recently held IIFA press conference spoke persuasively on the theme. “Canada welcomes the Indian film industry with open arms. We promise to provide a cinema-friendly environment with all manner of technical assistance,” he said. Actor Anil Kapoor who was also present on the occasion seconded this emotion by saying, “I have been very impressed by the warmth of the Canadian people. There is a high level of production values and scale of project the country provides.”
There are other benefits to both — overseas exhibition and shooting. The income earned abroad is tax-free, since export earnings of cinema and television programmes are tax-exempt. (Incidentally, 30 per cent of the overseas revenue of Indian films comes from North America.) In terms of shooting, producers are relieved to have single window clearance and not grapple with the endless bureaucracy that is a staple scourge in India. The incentive of luxurious recreation (and a reprieve from the Indian summer) can ensure that elusive stars agree to bulk shooting dates. Travel and production costs are sometimes cheaper given the tight schedules at international locations.


The trend has a pay off for the host nation as well. Apart from the revenue, they appreciate the fact that the locations used tend to become popular tourist destinations for Indian travellers. Switzerland was one of the first countries to experience an increased flow of Indian tourist traffic due to exposure in Hindi movies — the Swiss Alps being a popular film location. Following Switzerland's experience, other countries such as the U.K., Australia, Singapore, Thailand, the UAE (Dubai), Austria, South Africa and Egypt joined the bandwagon. Today Canada looks set to lead the pack. Apart from various other incentives, it recently named a street after the iconic Indian showman, Raj Kapoor. It has also enrolled actor Akshay Kumar as its tourist brand ambassador.
Creative collaboration or relationship of convenience, call it what you will. With both sides wooing each other, this story seems to have all the makings of a Bollywood style “happy ending”.

No comments:

Post a Comment