THIS WHOLE summer, actors Ranveer Singh and Vaani Kapoor were shooting in the French capital for Befikre, the new Aditya Chopra film. Slated for a December release, Befikre soaks up all the elegance and magic of Paris, as the actors sing and dance in the backdrop of the Eiffel Tower, Moulin Rouge, etc.
Two years before, it was Deepika Padukone and Ranbir Kapoor who were shooting in the country, more specifically Corsica, for the Imtiaz Ali-directed Tamasha (2015). Before that, it was London Paris New York (2012), which was set in the city of love. After decades of obsession with the Swiss Alps, Bollywood is now smitten by the beauty of France, as can be seen by the number of high-budget Indian films—from action to science-fiction—that are going to be shot in French locations in the coming months.
Shoot & love
For decades, the preferred foreign locale for Indian filmmakers would be Switzerland. In fact, it was Bollywood director-producer Yash Chopra who cemented Hindi cinema’s romance with the Swiss landscape with films like Faasle (1985) and Chandni (1989). Chopra’s portrayal of Switzerland in his films was so popular in that country that, following his death in 2012, he was honoured by the Swiss government with a special bronze statue and even a train was named after him.
Interestingly, the shift from Switzerland to France is being led by Chopra’s son Aditya Chopra with Befikre. The film, which marks the younger Chopra’s return to direction after almost a decade, is the first Indian movie to be shot completely in France. “An increasing interest is being shown by Indian production companies (in French locations),” says Melanie Chebance of Film France, a state-run body that promotes the shooting of foreign films in the country. “This is because of a combination of reasons… maybe our neighbouring countries have been seen too often in Indian movies, so there’s a need for something different,” adds Chebance, who heads the producers’ liaison and tax rebate section at Film France.
To woo Indian production houses, Film France recently increased the tax rebate extended to Indian films from the earlier 20% to 30%. With its three months of shooting in France, Befikre became the first Indian film to be eligible for the increased tax rebate—films can avail the rebate by spending a minimum of 1 million euros, or 50% of the film’s total budget, in France. “This makes it possible even for filmmakers with smaller budgets to come and shoot here… be it short films, VR (virtual reality) projects or webisodes,” says Chebance. However, it’s not only tax rebate that’s an attraction, but free air tickets and hotel accommodation as well.
Cast & castle
Needless to say, Indian production companies are only too happy to avail the benefits. A week before the Cannes Film Festival in May this year, companies like Viacom 18 Motion Pictures, Eros International and Anurag Kashyap Films sent senior professionals to France to check out its castles, cafés, etc, for shooting possibilities. One of the locations that caught their attention was the Renaissance-style castle Château de Chambord, a Unesco World Heritage Site. Just a month before, during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to France, the management of the 16th-century monument, which has a mystical Leonardo da Vinci-inspired double-helix staircase running through its middle, entered into a partnership with Udaipur’s Mewar Charitable Foundation with the aim of promoting and preserving each other’s heritage.
Another castle, Château de Chaumont, in the famous Loire Valley of France is attracting Indian filmmakers, highlighting its link with
India—the castle adorns a black-and-white photograph of a female baby elephant, Miss Pungdi, gifted by the Maharaja of Kapurthala in 1898 to the then royalty in Loire.
But if 14 castles, 25 gardens, 18 Michelin-star restaurants, an abundance of vineyards, etc, are the strengths of the Loire Valley region, Marseille, the oldest city in France, boasts of a harbour right in the middle of town. Named the ‘European Cultural Capital’ in 2013, the 2,600-year-old Marseille, lying on the Mediterranean coast, was the location of the French blockbuster Taxi series of films. “Nature is so close here. You have the sea and also the countryside… there are typical provincial villages as well and even a desert only 20 minutes away,” says Maxime Tissot, general manager, Marseille Tourism.
After Befikre, the coming months will witness a slew of Indian films being shot in France. And it’s not just Bollywood that is heading to that country. Indian regional filmmakers, too, are excited about the new location. Tamil filmmaker MJ Ramanan is likely to shoot some parts of his film Aagamam at a French rocket launch station in Kourou, French Guiana. The film, Ramanan’s debut, is about an Indian astronaut from Tamil Nadu going to France to join a manned mission to moon.
This coming together of India and France on celluloid seems to be a match made in heaven.
Faizal Khan is a freelancer