Lining up for Lead Role

/ New Delhi
Lining up for Lead Role

Film tourism continues to evolve, promoting destinations through the narrative of a story

Keen to tap Indian tourists, competition rises amongst global destinations to lure Indian film studios to choose them as locations for their films.
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It is par for the course for a film to be taught as a subject in a film school, but it is quite another thing for a film to be taken up as a study material in a business school curriculum. This is precisely what has happened with Hindi film, Zoya Akhtar’s Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara (2011) that is being taught as a marketing case study in Spain. For, the film, that turned out to be a blockbuster and was the first Indian film to be largely located in Spain, has led to a 65 pc rise in number of Indian tourists visiting the southern European nation.

And the numbers have kept on rising ever since. Eager to keep the momentum growing, the Spanish tourism officials have been in contact with the Indian film studios to get more and more films signed up.

Zoya Akhtar’s Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara had ever since skyrocketed Indian tourist numbers to Spain (Photo: Cádiz ©

“Tourism Office of Spain has indeed been active in this regard, along with the Commercial Office of Spain in India. We have been participating in many events about film tourism and conducting meetings with various well-known producers in India. We discuss with them various incentives and locational advantage that Spain offers. Additionally, we also facilitate their communication with the Spanish local bodies in the audiovisual sector to help take the projects ahead,” Elisa Robles Fraga, Director, Tourism Office of Embassy of Spain in India tells India Outbound.

Elisa Robles Fraga

Spain’s efforts have borne fruit as just this year there have been two big films that were shot, at least partly, in Spain. “In terms of more recent projects, I can speak about two of the films that have had good success in India. First would be Pathaan, premiered in January of 2023 with two of its songs being shot in Mallorca and Cadiz. The other one is Tu Jhooti Main Makkar, premiered in March 2023 which was shot in at least eight different Spanish locations, especially a song with a catchy tune that happens to be repeated often in the film. These projects have definitely helped to give more visibility to these vibrant and diverse Spanish locations among wider audiences in India,” Fraga adds.

Bollywood’s age-old allure of overseas

Shooting films overseas is perhaps as old as the Indian cinema. Some reports say that the first Indian film to be shot outside India was way back in 1939 in the silent era, but broadly, S K Ojha’s Naaz (1951) is recognised as first film to be shot overseas, with extensive shooting in Egypt and parts in London. Over the next couple of decades, dozens of films were shot overseas, including big hits like Sangam (1964), Love in Tokyo (1966) or An Evening in Paris (1967) and countless others.

But while many directors tried to discover different countries to locate their films, reputed filmmaker Yash Chopra, known for his romantic films, seemed to be in love with Switzerland and he filmed a series of big hits in the Alpine country, starting with Faasle (1985) and bringing blockbusters like Chandni (1989) or Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jaayenge (1995).

The role played by these and other films shot in Switzerland over the years in boosting the number of Indian tourists visiting the country is well-documented. Many Indians may know more about the Swiss scenic landscapes and its towns like Interlaken han some Indian states.

Switzerland, too, has not shied away from acknowledging Chopra’s contribution and made him “Ambassador of Interlaken”. It also installed a statue of his in the town that he was in love with.

Befikre was the first Bollywood film shot entirely in France

Arvind Bundhun

Another country that has long been a favourite location of Indian filmmakers is the Indian Ocean island, Mauritius, which has been site of many a big hit film. “Mauritius is a destination extremely popular in Bollywood film industry, which started in the 1970s and 1980s with the shooting of Souten and among the many films shot here are the iconic ones like Agneepath, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, Josh, No Entry, FALTU, Judwa and most recently launched Kartik Aaryan’s Shehzada,’’ Arvind Bundhun, Director, Mauritius Tourism Promotion Authority, tells India Outbound.

Choosing a location

Beyond the lovely locales, which most countries can boast of, at least to some degree, there are numerous other factors that go into the decision making when a film studio is scouting for the location of its films.

Abhijeet Patil is Chairman of Mumbai-based Globe Hoppers, a company that specialises in wedding and film tourism. Patil says that currently the rebate or financial incentive plays a very big role because post-pandemic prices all over the world have increased significantly, much more content is being developed, but the resources of the studios have not increased and hence they are far more careful about the budgets.

Rebate or financial incentive plays a very big role in choosing a film location

“The other factor is obviously ease of business and some destinations score tremendously high on this factor because they are very cooperative and even can close off main avenues for shooting or giving access to some special locations like palaces. And that is really a very big deal. The third aspect is obviously, the availability of equipment and skilled manpower,” Patil tells India Outbound. He says that often studios are happy to change locations for neutral scripts, depending upon the three parametres.

Aashish Singh

Aashish Singh is CEO of Lyca Production, a Chennai-based film production house that has made, among others, the recent blockbusters PS I and PS II. Singh backs up Patil, though he maintains that the script and its requirements remain paramount in choosing a location.

“The first thing that we try to ascertain is how will the location fit as part of the script. This concern about the script is of paramount importance to us and there are times where we can shift to a particular location scriptwise. And what helps us make a decision is basically the infrastructure and hence the locations which fit the script and which have decent infrastructure, then we look at the flight connectivity, the availability of trained manpower for local talent requirements and of course the cost,’’ Singh tells India Outbound.

“And of course we are very happy if that particular location provides us with some kind of subsidy or some kind of tax rebate, that is one added incentive for us to kind of move towards the location. Sometimes looking at all these aspects, we as producers also tweak certain aspects so that we can probably go and shoot in that particular location at that point in time,’’ he adds.

Singh goes on to list the factors on which he chooses a shooting locale. “Is it a film friendly country? Do they speak English? All these things come into play at times. There have been some units that have gone to a country where English is not widely spoken and they have had bad experiences. So these are the things that we look at. And of course, how proactive they are purely from a tourism point of view or from a government point of view in terms of welcoming you because then everything else becomes easy for you,” says Singh

Changing mindsets

Singh says that the perception of Indian films and their pull over the audience and the role that they play in promoting tourism to a destination has radically altered in the past couple of decades. “May be, a few destinations had some bad experiences earlier when the film studios did not provide the credits in the film or had other issues in terms of deliverables. But now things have changed dramatically because they really welcome Indian producers. All the tourism bodies, all the film commissions actually welcome Indian films because they know the reach of the Indian films, they know the number of eyeballs we can target the impact on tourism and all of that. So things have changed drastically and we are like really I would say a superpower as far as content creation is concerned,’’ says Singh.

The more proactive destinations actually go out of their way and roll out a red carpet for the actors and work to removing all hurdles and roadblocks to make shooting an Indian film a seamless process, he adds.

With dozens of films being shot overseas in any given year and the fact that even a mildly-successful film or a cameo appearance of a location in a film, even through a song sequence, the destinations certainly realise the significance of the Indian films for promoting inbound tourism from India. This has become even more crucial for many of them in the post-pandemic period as India has clearly stepped ahead of China in terms of global tourism, at least for now.

Seductive South Africa

Keen to get a share of the much bigger pie of Indian travellers, nations are lining up to lure Indian studios. One of the countries that is pitching itself aggressively as a location for Indian films is South Africa, which says it ticks all the boxes sought by Lyca and other Indian film studios. Neliswa Nkani, Hub Head-MEISEA, South African Tourism says it is no secret that some of the world’s most iconic destinations have been put on the map by the film industry. The stunning visuals of the location coupled with grasping storylines are inspirational, especially to the Gen Z and millennial travellers. This has even given a rise to a new travel trend called ‘set-jetting’ where films, TV series inspire travel enthusiasts to experience the destination which is being displayed on-screen, Nkani says.

Neliswa Nkani

She adds that South Africa has everything that a filmmaker could be looking for and that the country has had good feedback from several Indian studios.

“To attract more footfalls to South Africa, film tourism remains a key focus area for us. In fact, in the last few months, we have seen huge interest from film production companies. There are multiple Indian film crews who can testify first hand that the destination offers versatility and ease when it comes to locations and shooting. Additionally, we have been in talks with a couple of big banners in India to launch South Africa on the silver screen, either by way of Bollywood movies, web series or advertisement shoots. We look at assisting our partners with securing easy shoot permits as well as advantageous and competitive pricing,” Nkani tells India Outbound.

“We extend support on various grounds ranging from tax rebates, availability of best quality technical support, no language barriers, easy shooting permissions, to splendid combination of professionalism combined with a dash of African warmth and hospitality. Taking these factors under consideration has made South Africa a popular shooting destination for many production houses,” she adds.

Nkani says that South Africa has other assets, beyond the pricing and ease of business. “South Africa serves as a great location to shoot cross-cultural content and showcase the destination’s rich culture on silver screen. We are always looking for opportunities to associate with content platforms to showcase our country. The power of storytelling is immense, and what is better than translating that into actual tourism influx. This coupled with South Africa’s varied landscapes, climate and variety of locations has made the country an ideal destination for commercial film and TV productions,” she says.

Increased visibility through films positively impacts the destination’s reputation, tourism prospects, and economic growth

Nkani’s keen drive to get the Indian filmmakers choose her country for their next shoot is understandable as the impact of a successful film is almost immediately felt by the destination.

“When a film is being shot in a particular destination, it often generates significant buzz and attention for that location. The presence of film production in a destination can lead to increased visibility and awareness. News about the film shoot spreads through local media, social media platforms, and word-of-mouth, generating excitement among the community and sparking conversations about the destination. An example of this is the famous Bollywood movie Cocktail. South Africa’s appearance in the film saw a surge in enquiry by 10 pc for South African Tourism within just a month of film’s release,’’ Nkani says.

She adds that the increased visibility through films positively impacts the destination’s reputation, tourism prospects and economic growth, as it becomes associated with the glamour and allure of the film industry. “Through the movies, we would like to showcase Indians in a diverse range of activities and lesser-explored locations in South Africa, extending beyond the popular destinations of Durban and Cape Town,’’ says Nkani, highlighting other benefits of the destinations that feature in films.

Tantalising Türkiye

Another country that is increasingly popular with filmmakers is Türkiye, that has been featured not only in Indian films, but some of the biggest Hollywood titles as well. Some of the more famous films shot in the country include Inferno, The Night Manager, The Water Diviner, Skyfall, The International, Armageddon, The Equalizer 2 and Taken 2. Notable Hindi films shot in the country include Tiger 3, Baby, Race 2, Once Upon a Time in Mumbai Dobara, Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani and Mission Istanbul.

Türkiye is becoming increasingly sought after as a filming location lately

Turkish Consul General in Mumbai Cüneyt Yavuzcan says that his country offers a unique and diverse filming experience with its natural and cultural beauty and is becoming increasingly sought after as a filming location.

Cüneyt Yavuzcan

He adds that the Turkish government works with the Indian production companies to promote Türkiye as a film location. “Türkiye has developed various incentives and packages to attract the Indian film industry. Türkiye offers cash rebates, cheaper shooting locations, diverse filming experiences, and joint film projects,” Yavuzcan tells India Outbound.

A huge advantage to filming in Türkiye is the price. The country is a cheaper shooting location when compared to more remote or metropolitan destinations. Talent and equipment are cheap to hire, and the logistics of film creation are also not too expensive. The country is also very well-served by air, road and rail, making it easy to travel around,” he adds.

With its rich history and heritage and geographical diversity, Türkiye offers a diverse range of filming locations, from ancient sites to beautiful beaches and mountainous regions, Yavuzcan says, adding that his country communicates and reaches out to the Indian film industry through joint film projects, familiarisation tours and attendance at film festivals.

Explaining the process, Yavuzcan says that filming in Türkiye requires permit from the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism, which usually take about two weeks. However, producers should keep in mind that regulations and permits will need to follow depending on the city of filming, he adds.

“Once the project receives a general film permit, the Indian production crew can apply for a filming visa through the Turkish Embassy in New Delhi or Turkish Consulate General in Mumbai. The visa process usually takes about one week,” he says, adding that the Consulate General and the Embassy remain ready to help the producers with more information, if needed.

Cinema is becoming a very important mediator of tourism

Joining the bandwagon

It is not just the established countries that are seeking out Indian film producers. Many other tourism boards are also keen, be it Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, or Jordan and even Peru in distant South America.

Walter Vizarreta

“We have heard a lot about Bollywood, which is really famous and you can see you have different films from India. And they are popular worldwide and in Peru, too. That’s why we want to see the possibility of inviting Indian producers to come to Peru and to use our locations. This is the best way to promote tourism and our products,” Walter Vizarreta Vilcarromero, Executive President of Promperu, the tourism promotion organisation of the Latin American country tells India Outbound.

Vilcarromero says that the most popular locations in Peru, no doubt, are Macchu Picchu and Cusco, which also featured in Transformers: The Rise of the Beast, a major Hollywood blockbuster. He says that the Peruvian government has taken steps to promote the country as a film location in a coordinated fashion.

“We have launched a specific campaign for this. We call this Film in Peru. They will facilitate everything, bring the equipment and the people needed for production of these films. Obviously we are going to see it in India and invite Indian filmmakers to consider Peru for their films,” he adds.

Another country keen to attract Indian producers is Maldives, which is banking on its close proximity and immense natural beauty to work the wonders.

With its pristine beaches, Maldives is also pitching to the Indian film industry

Tourism Minister of Maldives Abdulla Mausoom says that Maldives is also pitching to the Indian film industry and for that he has regularly been attending events where film producers and studios are present.

Abdulla Mausoom

“Maldives provides the ideal location to shoot a movie because we have got the natural beauty, we have got the ultra-luxury hotels, we have got the adventurous components and we have got nice scenery for all the songs. Technical support is also available and our local population can work as extras in the films since one cannot distinguish between the physical looks of an Indian and a Maldivian and of course many of us can speak Hindi,” he says.

Mausoom adds that he hopes to attract not just tourists from India through Indian films but also from other parts of the world, notably the United Kingdom and the United Arab Emirates and other GCC nations.

Banking on the success of high profile film Krish 2 that was partly shot in Jordan, the country’s tourism board is now keen to attract other Indian productions as well.“In fact, we work closely with Royal Film Commission in Jordan and with them, we are targetting this market. We will also work with representative in India, Think Strawberries. It is not an easy market as it is something new. But we are trying our best in this market. We had an event two months ago, and we had some film production companies and some producers that we hosted and whom we introduced as a filming destination,” says Ahmad Alhmoud, Marketing Director of Jordan Tourism Board.

Ahmad Alhmoud

Dunki puts Saudi Arabia on map

One of the countries that has found almost instantaneous success is Saudi Arabia. And as a start, it could perhaps not have gotten any bigger or better for the Kingdom. In December last year, Shah Rukh Khan, arguably the biggest star in the Indian film industry, completed shooting parts of his upcoming film Dunki in Saudi Arabia, making it the first, well-known Indian film to be shot in the Kingdom.

Over the past few years, Saudi Arabia has joined the long list of countries that are proactively seeking to attract Indian film studios to choose their destinations as locations for their films.

For they know that let alone the ‘lead role’, even a small ‘cameo appearance’ as a location in a potential blockbuster film in India is bound to send them a bevy of Indian tourists, the most sought after visitors around the world in the post-pandemic world.

Aashish Singh of Lyca says that he has seen Saudi Arabia and Argentina put in a lot of fieldwork and outreach in India in order to attract Indian studios.

On the entry of new players, Globe Hoppers’ Patil says that the old players in the market are well aware of the requirements and the new entrants are not really whizkids on the block and they can splash the greenbacks to attract Indian studios, but have not got their act together in terms of the requirements of the studios.

“Old hands like Austria, Spain, UK, Mauritius and Abu Dhabi have got their act together as to a very scientific approach that this is what we will offer you, this is your rebate, this is your ease of business with a single window clearance. And the payments for the rebates are also processed in good time,’’ says Patil.

He adds that the trend of shooting overseas has continued to expand thanks to a very substantial rebate offered by the overseas destination, which can reimburse upto 40 pc of the total cost incurred in that country, something that, he adds, even Indian states cannot match.

“Indian films and Indian weddings are now being wooed by everybody under the sun. Some have the budgets, some don’t have the budgets, Some have the brains, some don’t have the brains and some are picking around. But by and large, the big established players have figured it out. When it comes to some new players, they offer the sun and moon to the Indian studios, even though either their infrastructure is not ready or they don’t have skilled manpower. So they have to learn the ropes and be prepared on how to handle the demands of film studios,” says Patil.

India is likely to continue to register a strong growth in the foreseeable future in both the industries, tourism as well as entertainment, notably films and OTT productions. From the perspective of shooting locations, the destinations need not worry as the already large pie, of Indian content being produced overseas, is set to become even larger. But the destinations would need to be quick footed to respond to the requirements of the Indian producers, who, aware of their attraction and power, are set to be more choosy and demanding. The destinations that respond the best can expect to be in high demand for being cast in the next big production.

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