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India can become a living studio for filmmakers globally

For several decades, Indian filmmakers have flown abroad, taking in locations in North America, Europe, Australia, other parts of Asia, even Africa. Now, this, the most cinematic of countries, a living studio of sights and sounds, is attracting attention

columns Updated: Sep 28, 2018 20:04 IST
Abhishek Bachchan takes selfies with fans at the "Husband Material" premiere during 2018 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) at Roy Thomson Hall in Toronto, September 11. TIFF’s new section, Landscapes, featured India among its four countries while a Breakfast at TIFF event emphasised “exploring opportunities for doing business with India”.(AFP)

After an absence of three years, the Indian booth at the Toronto International Film Festival or TIFF returned to the industry centre this year, but with a marked difference. If, in earlier years, it had been fronted by the National Film Development Corporation to promote Indian films, particularly those playing at the festival, this year it was managed by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting and the Confederation of Indian Industry and was, literally, all business.

That switch in tactic also came in a year in which as many as three international productions filmed largely in India had their world premiere at TIFF: the Australian film, Hotel Mumbai; the British production, The Wedding Guest; and the French feature, Maya. India-themed industry conferences also highlighted this change. TIFF’s new section, Landscapes, featured India among its four countries while a Breakfast at TIFF event emphasised “exploring opportunities for doing business with India”.

With feedback received at previous film festivals, including those at Berlin and Cannes, the I&B Ministry is looking at creating a fund for productions in India, with the model of countries like Canada being studied as its basis. Other actions may include tax incentives for international productions, co-productions, and visa simplification. At the International Film Festival of India in Goa later this year, the Ministry will also launch a website that will provide details about filming in Indian states, including those of locations, facilities available and local talent to partner with. The core effort is to showcase India’s film infrastructure, from qualified and experienced personnel to post-production facilities, graphics and animation work. The lens is focused on making this a sunrise sector.

There are plenty of reasons why international filmmakers are increasingly attracted to India. As Mia Hansen-Love, director of the French film, Maya, which is set in India, said, “There is a very strong structure of making film” and there is the availability of “very good technicians, they are not hard to find”. Her film was made with a half-French, half-Indian crew. But she also faced challenges, including the misconception that India is a relatively inexpensive place to shoot. As the celebrated director, who has won awards at Cannes and Berlin, said, “It’s not cheap because you have to ask for authorisation for everything. It’s the most stiff in terms of administration I have ever experienced.”

As with any permit raj, such a system leads to corruption, one reason why filmmakers like Hansen-Love aren’t finding India cost-effective.

For several decades, Indian filmmakers have flown abroad, taking in locations in North America, Europe, Australia, other parts of Asia, even Africa. Now, this, the most cinematic of countries, a living studio of sights and sounds, is attracting attention. As the gaze of global filmmakers falls upon India, it may be time to make the country a welcome setting for such projects.

Anirudh Bhattacharyya is a Toronto-based commentator on American affairs

The views expressed are personal

First Published: Sep 28, 2018 20:02 IST