Hindi films go on a trot of the world

Bollywood goes location scouting far from home.

Salman Khan and Katrina Kaif in a scene set in Dublin from Ek Tha Tiger. Courtesy Yash Raj Films
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For generations of Indians who grew up watching Hindi movies, Switzerland was our first exposure to what we called by the overarching term “foreign”. It was this impossibly pretty place with snow-capped mountains, charming towns, clean roads and beautiful people who would occasionally be roped in to shake a leg with the lead actors in a dance sequence. Way before the director Yash Chopra made Switzerland famous among Indian audiences, for which he has been honoured by the Swiss government, Raj Kapoor shot there for Sangam in 1964.

Despite occasional forays into destinations such as Japan (Love in Tokyo in 1966), by and large, Hindi filmmakers stuck to their tried and tested favourites such as  Interlaken, Paris and London over the years. If one of the biggest hits of the 1990s, Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge, took us on a whirlwind tour of Europe, most big budget movies had a mandatory “dream song sequence” in a foreign location.

As the film writer Manisha Lakhe says: “Cinema has always been aspirational for the common people, so taking people to ‘exotic’ locations through movies has always been the done thing.”

Cut to the 21st century. Locales previously unheard of in Hindi cinema began to crop up regularly. Rafiq Gangjee, the vice president of marketing and communications at Yash Raj Films, says: “Storytellers always look for creative ways to weave their plot and locations are one way to bring about newness in the narrative.”

Race was shot in South Africa, while the sequel Race 2 took us to Cyprus and Turkey. Don was set in Malaysia and its sequel in Berlin. Suddenly, movies began to showcase destinations such as Poland (Fanaa), Czech Republic (Rockstar), Brazil (Dhoom 2) and Greece (Chalte Chalte) in a way that wanted us to pack our bags and head there right away.

While most of this seems like a ploy to entice audiences, the choice of a foreign location is sometimes – if rarely – logical. Spy stories, for instance, seem to offer a valid excuse to go globetrotting. Agent Vinod, which Saif Ali Khan produced and acted in, took this to a different level, with the story spinning from Latvia to Russia to Morocco – so much so that Hindi cinema critics dubbed the movie “Travel Agent Vinod”.

The director Kabir Khan transported audiences across continents in his spy thriller Ek Tha Tiger, with scenes set in Dublin, Istanbul and Havana.
According to Gangjee: “A film like Ek Tha Tiger
needed to and could explore destinations which
earlier had been unheard of, weaving them in seamlessly into the storyline.” Khan had earlier pulled off a minor coup by shooting in Afghanistan for his movie
Kabul Express, while the country was still under
Taliban rule.

The UAE has always been a Bollywood favourite, with the director Farah Khan admitting to being smitten by the Emirates Palace hotel in Abu Dhabi during her recent location search for her forthcoming film Happy New Year. And while both Dabangg and its sequel starring Salman Khan had several scenes set in Dubai, Once Upon A Time in Mumbai Again is one of the first to be shot in Oman.

Although it is difficult to pinpoint the cause and effect, this trend is in sync with the fact that Indian travellers are becoming more adventurous in their choice of holiday locations. Once confining themselves to familiar spots such as Singapore, Thailand and a few major western European countries, Indians are now exploring Turkey, South Africa, New Zealand and Oman with élan.

The super-hit road movie Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara alone did more for Spain’s tourism industry than probably a decade of marketing activities. Similarly, within India, a few scenes in the blockbuster hit 3 Idiots put Ladakh on the travel map, with everyone wanting to go there and see the shimmering blue lake by which Aamir Khan stood.

Early on, some countries recognised the positive affect that Hindi films had on tourism and actively encouraged the industry. According to Lakhe: “Switzerland actually created a government department to deal with our film crews, making it easier to shoot – permits, police protection and so on. Britain had a scheme where they would fund the movie partly if it was shot locally. The latest
to jump on the fund bandwagon is Fiji.”

Gangjee, too, stresses on the role of commerce in all this. “Filmmakers today are looking at experimen-ting creatively, with destination options opening up to us, but I suspect a lot will also depend on the incentives that are on offer from the respective

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