In February 2013, television and film producer Ekta Kapoor made her maiden visit to Lucknow on her way to the Maha Kumbh Mela in Allahabad.
She had said ecstatically, “I didn’t know how beautiful Lucknow is. I am coming here to shoot my next film. I always carried a different image of Lucknow: Of a literary city that has produced many noted writers, a relaxed lifestyle and a rich heritage. But now I am fully convinced that lots can be done here. Before I start the shoot of the next film in the city, I am going to meet the young chief minister.”
Well before she could call on Uttar Pradesh chief minister Akhilesh Yadav, he came up with the state’s new film policy, which for the first time provided financial incentives to film producers who will shoot their films in the state. Uttar Pradesh had twice announced its film policy in the past but none of the chief ministers had any real intention of promoting films and Bollywood stars and had little or no comfort with them.
What seems to be working behind the scenes is not only the chief minister’s age and accessibility but also his personal rapport with many Bollywood stars — from giants like Amitabh Bachchan to television star Raju Srivastava.
In the burgeoning entertainment industry, an astute Akhilesh also sees an opportunity to generate economic and fiscal benefits from the film incentive programme and check the flight of talent to Mumbai. Also, the time has never been as conducive as it is now with directors and producers, hungry for scripts and locations, looking beyond Mumbai, which is increasingly getting awfully costly and congested. Gujarat doesn’t offer the ambience and locales that Uttar Pradesh does.
Till the other day, the badlands of Uttar Pradesh with its battery of archetypal bhais, political dons and dacoits, provided juicy scripts for action-packed thrillers. But it was never a favourite destination for Bollywood directors and producers. I remember the time when the Punjabis had taken over Bollywood with film after film set in Punjab or Delhi. Now you have actor Saif Ali Khan camping in a Lucknow hotel for about two months, shooting both in neighbouring Barabanki and the renovated Hazratganj market in the heart of Lucknow for Bullet Raja.
Ekta did not fall for the charms of the state without a reason. Where else can they find such unexplored rivers and the ravines, the ancient havelis and palaces and also modern architecture like the Ambedkar Udyan raised by former chief minister Mayawati. One has to see the Chambal ravines where a lion safari is being planned.
Directors and producers from the state also want to return to their roots. One hears Sudhir Mishra, Salim Arif, Tigmanshu Dhulia, Rahul Mittra and so many others endlessly talk about how the state can develop by opening its doors to Bollywood. If they have it in them, the government appears ready to help them. From badlands to Bollywood, quite a transformation isn’t it?