Shooting With A Business Angle

Updated: Jun 13 2004, 05:30am hrs
Noticed a change in your favourite television soap If it figures anywhere at the top of the ratings, chances are it is now shooting episodes abroad. Increasingly, foreign countries are hosting film and television producers as they shoot at exotic locations and, at times, even offering them facilities and subsidies.

Jassi Jaisi Koi Nahin has become the latest TV serial to shoot abroad, having got an invitation from Singapore to come over thanks to its position on top of the charts. Deeya Singh of DJsA Creative Unit, who is producing the serial, says they were looking for an opportunity to take their serial beyond familiar locations when Singapore Tourism came along with the right offer.

We had already explored Mumbai and the local environs of Murud-Janjira, so taking the serial abroad was a different thrill. Also, we get to explore Jassis character better. She is this finance whiz but has never travelled abroad, so the nervousness adds to the thrill of the trip, says Ms Singh.

The production house of Balaji Telefilms actually signed a memorandum of understanding with the Australian Tourist Commission which led to two of their serials being shot there. Last year, Balaji Telefilms had taken Kyunki Saans Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi to Sydney, and recently they shot Kahani Ghar Ghar Ki there. Shobha Kapoor, managing director, Balaji Telefilms, says that one of the primary reasons for taking Kahani Ghar Ghar Ki to Australia was the fact that the script was perfectly in tune with an outdoor shoot.

She adds, It could have been any location anywhere, but since we had worked with the Australian Tourist Commission in the past, we thought it was logical to continue the relationship and shot in Melbourne.

Cinema, of course, is a different scene altogether, with foreign locations being the order of the day whether it is for the one item song, or basing an entire film abroad to suit NRI tastes.

But before Indians began to take expensive holidays abroad and before every other film had a credit line announcing a foreign location, you still had films like Singapore, An Evening in Paris, Night in London, Aankhen, Love in Tokyo, Around the World With Eight Dollars, Johar Mahmood in Hong Kong, Charas and Barood, which introduced Indians to places they had never seen before.

Then came Yash Chopras films which did more for Switzerland than any trade promotion could have done. In fact, a beautiful lake where he shot is now named Chopra Lake after him! Necessity is the mother of invention, Mr Chopra laughs as he describes his decision to shoot in Switzerland.

I used to shoot a lot in Jammu & Kashmir before trouble broke out in the state. Of course, I had shot that one song from Silsila, Dekha ek khwab, in the famous Tulip Gardens in Keukenhof near Amsterdam. That was because the song spoke of flowers, and Amitabh recommended this location to me which had flowers as far as the eye could see.

But other than that, Mr Chopra had never felt the need to go abroad to look for locations. It was only when Jammu & Kashmir became inaccessible that he was forced to look elsewhere. Switzerland was perfect.

You need a peaceful environment to shoot a film. You cannot do so under the fear of the gun. Other than beautiful locations, Switzerland has a wonderful climate which removed the stress of shooting long hours in the summer, he says. Right from Faasle up to Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, I shot about eight to nine films there and it was a wonderful experience. The authorities were very helpful. Switzerland, he reminds you, became a favourite honeymoon destination in the 1980s.

Filmmaker Dev Anand who has consistently shot on foreign locations is quick to say that he does so only if story demands it. I have shot Hare Rama Hare Krishna in Nepal, Des Pardes in London, Main Solah Baras Ki in Scotland and Love at Times Square in the US. But I didnt go abroad just to shoot one songand it didnt matter to me whether the local government supported my efforts or whether my film boosted tourism. There was no need for any official help because I knew everybody, my cast and crew. The local people knew me and supported me and that was enough. I am an independent film-maker, he says dismissively. But I do know that people liked what they saw of Scotland in Main Solah Baras Ki, and went to that country.

Yash Chopra says the governments of Singapore, Malaysia, Australia, New Zealand, Mauritius, Canada, Germany and Italy are approaching Indian film-makers to shoot there. The tourism departments show you around, recommend good locations, and are very enterprising when it comes to providing infrastructure for the shoot. They help with everything right from cooking and cleaning facilities to arranging for dollies and cranes. If I had to shoot in India, I would have to lug all that heavy equipment when I went location hunting or on a shoot. So shooting abroad works out much easier, he recommends.

Actress Kunika is going to shoot her first film in the US, which is not a destination everyone opts for because of that countrys stringent regulations. I plan to follow all the rules so I dont foresee any problems, she says. Kunika adds that the governments of Spain, New Zealand and the Scandinavian countries are promoting themselves as tourist destinations in a big way by involving producers of Hindi films. Of course it is their way of earning an income for their countries too, she says. But you must also remember the large number of NRI audiences our films are finding. I have friends who live in London and the US who like to show me around places where Hindi films, like Yaadein for instance, were shot.

Shobha Kapoor of Balaji Telefilms says, We have worked very closely with the Australian Tourist Commission. Their presence and involvement always go a long way in getting the legalities out of the way. Various locations and places, which otherwise may be out of bounds, could be made available for the shoots, thereby making the scenes look rather aesthetic. She confirms that an increasing number of tourism boards are now looking at indirect and direct promotions through television seriously. More than anything else, TV does cater to a large section of the population, who could be potential tourists to their respective countries, she says.

The consulates and tourism boards of various countries agree that any visiting team of Indian film-makers is welcome. Pieter Coetzee, South African Consul who is based in Mumbai, says the South African government has actually introduced a legislation to encourage Hindi film-makers to come and shoot films in their country. We also hosted the IIFA awards twice, in 2001 and 2003, and since then a lot of film makers like Suneil Shetty have evinced interest in shooting their films in South Africa, Mr Coetzee reports. Cape Town, by the way, is the favourite filming destination.

Meanwhile, as recently as May 22, the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) announced a S$10 million scheme to encourage international film-makers and broadcasters to shoot and produce movies and television programmes in Singapore.

In fact, film-maker Rakesh Roshan has already signed up and will shoot part of his next film in that country. He had earlier shot Kaho Na Pyar Hai and Koi... Mil Gaya abroad. I am delighted to shoot my next film in Singapore. It will make an exciting backdrop for the story and I am sure the audience will be fascinated, he says.

The Film in Singapore! scheme aims to promote the country as a unique and attractive destination for international producers by creating a friendly production environment. The S$10 million funding will be disbursed over a three-year period, and the scheme will subsidise up to a maximum of 50 per cent of the expenses incurred by international film companies during their shoots in Singapore. Subsidies are to be granted for hiring of professional services, local talent, production staff, post-production services and location specialists, renting production equipment and facilities, and airfare and accommodation.

The ultimate aim in doing all this is, of course, to promote tourism. So to qualify for the scheme, the film companies will be assessed on how the script showcases Singapore, as well as the previous work of the cast and crew. For those projects which will showcase Singapores appeal, the STB and the Media Development Authority (MDA) will also provide information and one-stop facilitation on the application of permits and licences, sourcing of venues and locations, and hiring and rental of resources.

Says Lim Neo Chian, deputy chairman and chief executive of the STB, Movies and TV are an excellent way of creating more awareness about Singapore and generating buzz in a competitive tourism market. Singapore has much to offer as a location for movies and TV programmes. Not only do we have abundant technical expertise and excellent infrastructure, but we also have a diverse range of film locations in Singapore. Whether the shot calls for a colourful ethnic district, luxuriant gardens or modern amenities such as hotels or convention facilities, producers will find these in Singapore. Clearly, local business sees good prospects, too.

But the British government is far ahead of the rest in this respect. P R Giridhar, senior trade and investment adviser, British Deputy High Commission, Mumbai, informs us that around six years ago the British government created what are called Screen Commissions (SCs) to encourage foreign filmmakers to visit Britain. These create special packages for film-makers to provide them with one-stop services regarding permissions, infrastructure and hospitality.

Interestingly, there are nine Screen Commissions present in different regions, which in fact compete with one another to draw in visiting film-makers, Mr Giridhar says. One region may promote its castles and another its scenery. Some of them even have their own marketing agents who work in association with Visit Britain (formerly the British Tourist Authority). A British delegation even participated in FRAMES 2004, Mr Giridhar says.

As for the results, he commends Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham and Mohabbatein for showing off England so well. Currently also, about six-odd films are shooting in the UK. Of these, there is one project by I-Dreams and another by Spice Team Entertainment, he says. And yes, apart from just the locations, he cites quality post-production facilities in the UK as another reason why film-makers like to shoot there.

These strategies of filming abroad do tend to attract viewers looking for exotic holidays. Ameeta Munshi, manager, Corporate Communications, Thomas Cook, says their travel agency received enquiries from customers regarding travel to South Africa after the World Cup and Mandira Bedi, and now Singapore after the IIFA Awards were held there. I think Kaho Na Pyar Hai started this trend of shooting entire films abroad when it shot in New Zealand, Ms Munshi says. While travel to New Zealand did pick up subsequently, Ms Munshi also says Chalte Chalte did a lot for Greece and Kal Ho Na Ho for New York because both films showcased those places rather well.

However, as far as TV goes, the channels as well as programme producers agree that foreign locations do not mean more viewership or higher TRPs. Shola Rajachandran, a vice-president with STAR TV, honestly cannot say whether higher TRPs are a result of the inclusion of shots of Australia or because the story progressed there.

For instance, when we took ,Kyonki Saas Bhi... to Australia, the revelation came about that Mihir had contacts there. So we cannot say whether viewership increased because of the Australian locations or the twist in the plot, she says.

Shobha Kapoor agrees. While the audience tastes do not necessarily warrant an outdoor foreign shoot, it does give the audience a welcome break from the studio looks and locations which can go on to become monotonous. While an outdoor shoot does not effect the rating points upwards or downwards, it does give a different look and feel to the show, which is pleasant especially for a show which has been running for more than three years, she says of Kyunki Saas Bhi... and Kahani....