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The Sun Rises In The (North) East?

One of the earliest and most significant foreign policy initiatives of the Narendra Modi government was to intensify and upgrade the nation’s ‘Look East’ initiative into an ‘Act East’ policy.  The doctrine seeks to widen and deepen India’s economic, political, strategic and cultural ties with its extended neighbourhood in the Asia-Pacific region. Implicit in this initiative is the goal of bolstering India’s standing as a rising power on the global geo-political stage as well as counter-weighing the influence of its powerful neighbor, China.

Another critical objective of this strategy is to provide a fillip for the long neglected North-East region of our country by greatly enhancing the connectivity – and by extension, trade and commerce – between that region and neighbouring ASEAN countries like Myanmar and Thailand.

Perhaps the Hindi film industry can take a leaf out of the government’s playbook and launch a ‘Look and Act East’ policy of its own in terms of where we shoot our films. Especially since – unlike many other administrative dispensations, including in our own backyard – there seems to be a genuine attempt by the current regime in Assam to roll out the red carpet for filmmakers.

On Thursday, November 30, the Chief Minister of Assam, Sarbananda Sonowal, interacted with a cross-section of the Hindi film fraternity in Mumbai to personally apprise them of the Assam Film Tourism Policy that becomes operational in January 2018.

Operating under the aegis of the Department of Tourism in the Assam government, the Film Tourism Policy is part of the state’s multi-pronged strategy to boost investments in Assam and promote its immense potential for tourism.

To summarise the key highlights of the film policy:

  • The policy shall come into effect on January 1, 2018 and remain in force for five years i.e. till December 31, 2022.
  • The incentives are available to producers making films in Hindi, English and any foreign language, subject to the producers having made a minimum of five feature films to qualify.
  • Filmmakers who shoot a minimum of 25 per cent of their film in Assam shall get a financial grant of up to 25 per cent of the expenditure made in the state, subject to a maximum incentive of ` 1 crore.
  • A further incentive of 10 per cent shall be made available to films whose scripts incorporate elements promoting Assam’s culture, tourism or heritage.
  • In case 50 per cent of a film’s shooting is done in Assam, then it will be eligible for a further incentive of 10 per cent.
  • In effect, a maximum rebate of 45 per cent can be availed on qualifying expenditure
    if the film does 50 per cent or more of its shooting in Assam and is deemed to promote the state’s tourism, culture or heritage.
  • For producers who have made at least 10 films in the past, there is an additional benefit in the form of free accommodation and transport for their key cast members.
  • The policy also provides for a web-based single window clearance system for filmmakers and producers to facilitate fast track approvals/permissions for shooting in the state.

The new policy certainly provides some food for thought for filmmakers who are pondering over where to shoot their upcoming projects. What makes Assam all the more attractive as a shooting destination is the fact that it is a virtually virgin territory as far as Hindi cinema is concerned, and a very rich and diversely scenic one at that. With its lush forests, teeming wildlife reserves, the mighty Brahmaputra river, rolling hills, pristine lakes, expansive valleys and undulating tea gardens, the region lends itself beautifully to the cinematic canvas.

The proof of the pudding, as always, will be in its eating. While the sincerity and enthusiasm of the top echelons of the state’s leadership in inviting filmmakers to make films in Assam is palpable, for the good intentions to be effectively and efficiently executed, it is imperative that the same percolates down the line to those who will actually implement the policy at the ground level.

What also needs to be examined is the availability of a shooting-friendly infrastructure to ensure that the incremental cost of filming in the state doesn’t outweigh the incentives on offer. Additionally, the legacy perception issues of the security situation in Assam need to be addressed if the intended goal of attracting filmmakers is to be fully realised.

That said, the sincere effort of the Assam government to reach out to the film industry with a tangible package is most laudable indeed. Even more so as this outreach comes at a time when the film fraternity has felt increasingly abandoned when it comes to administrative support and empathy. So here’s extending a vote of thanks to Chief Minister Sonowal and his team. May their tribe increase!

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