A Beautiful India

With a canvas as diverse and captivating as India, it’s sad that local governments make it so very difficult for filmmakers to shoot their films. Perhaps if we got together and raised our voice, this could change

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Saare jahan se achcha, Hindustan hamara is what we learnt in school and we all know that India is one of the most beautiful countries in this world. Over the years, filmmakers have shot in various parts of India. It is often said that we filmmakers have not yet done justice to our country and haven’t showcased all that India has to offer.

However, there’s a catch. Most filmmakers shy away from shooting in India and prefer to shoot abroad. The question is, why do they want to flee when we have such a large and diverse canvas to explore? It is often argued that it’s very easy to shoot in other countries. Another argument is that each state government should recognise filmmaking as a serious business, which is how it is viewed abroad. Since it is regarded as any other business, the authorities provide facilities to a filmmaker who decides to shoot in their country. Things are much more organised on foreign shores than they are back home.

Some filmmakers have used their creativity to get around the problems on home ground. For instance, Rohit Shetty has used Goa as a backdrop for many of his films but every time you watch a film of his, you see a new Goa. Even though he’s made several movies and many other filmmakers have frequently shot in Goa, Shetty has proved that there’s so much more of Goa left to be shown. And that’s only one of the many states we have in India.

On the other hand, there’s Sanjay Leela Bhansali, who is known to create really large sets. One wonders whether he would change that if shooting permissions and facilities were to improve in India. Would he prefer to shoot at actual locations instead? For his next film Padmavati, he’s booked the biggest ground available at Film City, for almost a year. It suggests that one of our biggest filmmakers doesn’t want to go through any trauma and would rather shoot on a set so that he can work in peace.

Another reason filmmakers shoot overseas are for the rebates offered. It’s a bait to lure filmmakers to showcase their country through their films, which in turn would boost tourism. We have states in our country like Uttar Pradesh, Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh, which have understood the power of tourism. Likewise, if we had more states coming forward, it would be a win-win situation for filmmakers and states too.

Apart from apathetic state governments, there are other problems that film units encounter while shooting in India. It’s a constant struggle for an executive producer, who handles the movie. He is constantly running from pillar to post for permissions. In contrast, abroad, there are simple rules, transparent producers and single-window clearance, which is not the case in India.

For our seventh anniversary issue, in this section, Box Office India has given a platform to the professionals who make a filmmaker’s vision come true. They are the people who arrange everything for a shoot, from scouting locations, to getting permissions. If we work towards the issues discussed in these pages, perhaps there’s a chance we could make shooting in India more pleasure and less pain.

Let’s hope better sense prevails and we show the world Saare jahaan se achcha Hindustan hamara. Read on:

vivek-b-agrawal-2Vivek Agarwal,Head of Operations, Phantom Films Pvt Ltd

Wondering how easy or tough it is to shoot in India compared to overseas is a no-brainer. It is far simpler to set up a shoot in, say, London or New York while sitting in Mumbai than in, say, Rajasthan! This is primarily due to the clear-cut rules and regulations that are laid out by local authorities in other countries. They are easy to follow and simple to execute. Very little is left ambiguous when applying for permissions to public locations abroad, whereas in India, even after taking all the necessary permissions, we are constantly worried that some authority will stop our shoot for not complying with ‘ambiguous’ rules that we were not aware of.

To solve this problem, standard and clear processes should be laid out in each state – similar to each other – so that producers don’t have to re-orient themselves to every state. Local government bodies should have a standard system for permissions across the country so that producers are well acquainted with the process to follow and are not fleeced unknowingly.

For instance, to shoot at the Gateway of India in Mumbai, producers have to take permission from the following authorities:

1.Police

2.RTO

3.BMC

4.Port Authorities

All these have a cheque and cash component – which is ridiculous! We don’t know to whom the final cash goes to but there is a cash component. Also, once on location, one has to make provisions to pay cash to any authority that lands up, throwing some more regulations at the production!

There needs to be a one-window process for all this as all four bodies are government agencies. It’s the same all over the country. It is getting more and more expensive to shoot in bigger cities whereas smaller towns come with their own set of problems – lack of clear-cut guidelines.

Mumbai and Delhi entail far more expensive on-location costs than London and New York. For example, there is zero location cost to shoot anywhere on the streets of New York! We have to follow a simple process of applying for permission to the relevant local body a few days in advance with details of the exact streets you want to shoot on. The local body blocks off the relevant streets for you, to make it convenient for you to shoot, and diverts traffic to other streets to avoid any kind of traffic or other issues.

The only cost to the producer is the cost of the official police who are stationed to supervise/protect your shoot from any disturbance. And this cost is the official hourly rate that a policeman is paid by the government of USA. There are no hidden costs.

Private locations in big cities in India are by far the most expensive anywhere in the world. Airports, five-star hotels etc are far cheaper overseas when compared to the same locations in Mumbai or Delhi.

These are some of the reasons producers prefer to shoot abroad than in India.

rajan-kapoor-2Rajan Kapoor, Kabul Express, Phantom, Bajrangi Bhaijaan, Tubelight

As an executive producer, I don’t go to cities and seek permission to shoot; we outsource that to the cities line producer. Unfortunately, even they have to give bribes to get things done. As a result the project becomes more expensive. We are blessed to live in a country like India where you have a desert, sea, snow-capped mountains, rivers, heritage and historical locations. The sad part is that corruption takes away from this. Shooting in Canada is more expensive than shooting in India, but producers still choose to shoot abroad. Why? When you shoot in Canada, you get a one-window clearance. Once you get that clearance, you know there is no more money you need to hand over under the table.
In India, even after getting all the permissions, a lot of money has to be spent on daily basis. And it’s not just the fault of other side; we do wrong too. For example, if you are not being allowed to shoot in a certain location, you should leave and start looking for another option, right? But no; we bribe and pay off people and somehow get that original location for ourselves. So we too spoil the system.
Not that the government isn’t taking measures to support shoots. In fact, governments in states like Kashmir and Uttar Pradesh are taking a special interest in films, welcoming film shoots and providing rebates. These states are also working towards single-window clearance. Currently, shooting at a heritage monument, for example, needs separate clearance from the archaeological department, tourism department, traffic police, local police. One-window clearance would make things so much easier, if done properly.
States like Jammu Kashmir, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Himachal Pradesh understand the power of tourism. They know that if big films and good films are shot in their states, tourism will increase. In fact, the local people support us and are very cooperative too.
Now, some states are working on making proper hotels, cars etc available, because these are things you need when you shoot on location. Countries like Japan and the US call us to shoot in their countries, but why shoot there and spend money in another country when you have everything available in your own country?
The biggest problem is shooting in Mumbai. If you need to shoot at Marine Drive, they give you permission but the clauses are you can’t shoot on the road, you can’t keep your things on the footpath. If you want to shoot a coastal scene at Bhaucha Dhakka, you need seven different permissions – environmental department, Navy, Coast Guard, and so many other departments. It becomes a nightmare. And even after giving you permission to shoot, they can step in at any point and ask you to stop shooting, which happens. So you prefer shooting in a foreign country or creating a set at Film City.
The problem arises when your script demands such locations. If it’s a dream sequence, you can shoot anywhere. But if the script demands Delhi’s crowded markets, then that is where you have to shoot.
So as an industry, along with the support of the central government, we need to make India a shoot-friendly country because we have a huge industry, just not Hindi films but regional films too. And if we could set proper systems in place, we could attract foreign films too!

anil-davda-1Anil Davda

PK, Munna Bhai MBBS, Lage Raho Munna Bhai, Kareeb, Parindey,
1942: A Love Story

Basically, once the director finalises a set of locations, the team starts seeking permission to shoot in those locations. Shooting in India these days takes a range of permissions, starting with the municipality and local police. The problem arises at our end – we as an industry are known for last-minute demands, and when permission becomes difficult we use our Indian jugaadu avatar.

Since I started, a lot of things have changed. In the days of 1947: A Love Story, we would just go and shoot. There used to be no rents. In fact, people would invite us to shoot on their premises. I remember shooting in Wai in the ’90s and everyone pulling out cots, giving us tea and coffee, letting us shoot in their village. Today, they charge Rs.50,000 per day to shoot in that area. And all this has happened because of middlemen who charge a lot. Earlier we used to work on the basis of trust; today we work on the basis of contracts.

I remember shooting for Kareeb in Himachal Pradesh’s Rewalsar village and they didn’t charge us anything. We were given one government guesthouse where the actors and top technicians stayed. The rest of the crew stayed at a gurudwara and in local houses. And no one charged us anything. It was only towards the end when the gram panchayat people came to meet us that Vidhu Vinod Chopra donated money.

Earlier things used to work differently. Now if you are using a bungalow, you pay a certain sum. And if you even shift a plant from right to left, they demand Rs.100 extra. Their reason: You would have had to source that plant from outside; rather than that, pay us. Things have changed drastically.

In fact, the most cooperative state was Kashmir, where we shot Mission Kashmir. From the people to the police and state government, everyone was very cooperative throughout the shoot. We even got our hotel rooms at a 50 per
cent discount.

Earlier we just had to inform local officials about a shoot. Now one has to take permission six days prior if you need to shoot on Marine Drive or use a public road. The issue is that nothing is that well-planned. Sometimes one has to shoot a scene depending on the star’s avaibility. And if you don’t take six days’ prior permission but need it ASAP, even to talk to the concerned person you need to pay.

Still, all over India, even today, people don’t create a ruckus and they allow you to shoot. But not in Mumbai. Mumbai is the toughest place to shoot a film.  First there are all the permissions, from the RTO and police to sometimes the archaeological department and Coast Guard, and still your shoot will see police people dropping by every 15 minutes.

You can’t block the way, you cannot block traffic, but still they give you permission to shoot. In all of India, shooting in Mumbai is the most challenging. And it’s not just about permission. The rates are so high too. Some bungalows charge Rs.1 lakh a day. It’s too high! There should be a body managing the rates so that people cannot just charge anything.

I shot Parindey on Mumbai streets and must have spent hardly Rs.100, whereas today you need to spend about Rs.16,000 to shoot on Mumbai streets. They charge you some deposit which they never refund.

Foreign countries give you rebates. But in India, where the film industry is such a huge one, no state provides rebates. In all these years I have not heard of any state in India officially providing rebates. There are meetings which happen, talks which happen, but the moment you go there to shoot, you don’t even get to see those people.

Why choose foreign locations?

Firstly, to get a good view. That’s why Yash Chopra went to Switzerland, to capture the snow-capped mountains on film. Another reason filmmakers choose to shoot in Europe is because the days there are longer. You get 16 hours a day to shoot in Europe. When we were shooting PK in Belgium we used to get sunlight for 16 hours.

Rebates are another reason. Recently we were shooting in Bulgaria for Shivaay and we spent about Rs.40 crore but we got Rs.2.5 crore back from the government of Bulgaria. Now Georgia is giving rebates too. Foreign countries are taking these initiatives because they want to promote tourism there. The number of Indian tourists going to Spain has risen so much after Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara. They are trying to attract tourism from our country, but our Indian states are ignoring this factor.

Another reason is that you can’t keep using the same locations. When you shoot in a particular city, you also have to show the famous landmarks of that city – like CST and the Fort area for Mumbai. Now, whether you take the shot from right, left or above, it will look the same. And audiences don’t want to see the same thing again and again. They want to see something new. And that’s why a lot of directors choose foreign locations.

You can create a set at Mehboob Studio or at Film City, but a set is set. Today, with cinema changing, set shoots don’t attract audiences that much and new-age directors too prefer to shoot on location. So for the new backdrops and natural beauty, directors choose foreign locations.

Also, when you shoot abroad, half the details are taken care of by the line producer. If that country has its own industry, then hiring equipment is also not hard. When we were shooting for Shivaay in Bulgaria, we hired the equipment from there and got a fantastic studio that had everything. We also hired local actors and technicians and everything was taken care of by the line producer. We just had to go and shoot.

Measures to be taken

A film commission and a body like an association to take care of the details. We also need to document our shared experiences. So, if a film is shot in Manipur, they share their experience – what difficulties did they face, what kind of help did they get there. So that when B film goes to Manipur, they know these things. I believe a producers’ association should look into this.

One-window clearance for sure, but someone from the industry should head it someone who knows how things work.

Every state should give rebates and allow us to reach their best locations, which will also help increase tourism.

Finally, unity and discipline at our end. A lot of the time, our own people create a ruckus. We have to make sure that when we shoot, we do not disturb others.

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