Foreign lands woo Bollywood
Year 2003 marks 40 years of Sangam, which was shot extensively abroad, setting the scene for others.
Most people have probably forgotten today how much effort it must have taken to convince foreign countries to allow Indian filmmakers to shoot scenes there as little as two decades ago.
This year marks the 40th anniversary of the first Indian film to be shot extensively abroad, setting the scene for many more to come. Legendary filmmaker Raj Kapoor's Sangam was a trendsetter in many ways when it was released in 1963 – not just for the innovative acting by then superstar Vyjayanthimala and the songs that have become eternal gems, but also because it was the first film to be shot in Europe at a time when Indian films were usually scoffed at in the Western world.
This is a far cry from the situation today, when foreign countries, including South Africa, are actually falling over each other with incentives to lure Indian filmmakers to their shores. An overseas setting for at least one song is almost being obligatory in every Indian film today.
The status of and respect for Indian films abroad has dramatically improved in recent years due largely to better products being made; exposure for the films and stars at international film festivals and other fora; cooperative efforts between the Indian and Western film industry and the emergence of a new breed of young filmmakers with innovative ideas.
But one can just imagine what hurdles Kapoor and his team must have had to cross four decades ago to convince sceptical authorities to allow the use of the Eiffel Tower in France, London Bridge and a host of other famous tourist attractions in Sangam.
As it turned out, the film became a significant piece of tourism publicity for those that allowed it. No details are available about what sort of fees were charged at the time, if at all, but today, using any facility abroad comes at a premium, especially when attractions sometimes have to be closed off for a while during filming.
With Swiss snow and Mauritian beaches having become almost boring, producers and directors are now scouting new locales in an effort to be different. But with the world becoming a global village, new and different places are getting increasingly difficult to find.
Australia, New Zealand and Canada have become favourite places even as Switzerland starts offering better incentives to lure back filmmakers who are beginning to ignore it.
South Africa has also become a favourite, especially Cape Town because of its scenic beauty and water features, with over a dozen films having scenes shot there in the past two years alone.
After almost everything in Cape Town was shown in the film Dil Ka Rishta, so well that even the country's parliamentarians and tourism authorities complimented it, how much more can be shown on screen repeatedly?
Ebrahim Kaskar of Shalimar Productions in Cape Town is confident that there will be Indian films shot in the Mother City, as Cape Town is known, for some time to come.He claims to be at his busiest ever, coordinating film shoots for Indian producers. He said there was still a lot of unexplored territory in the province that could be exploited by filmmakers.
In Durban, a consortium is busy putting together a major studio that it hopes will also attract Indian filmmakers to the city that houses the bulk of the 1.2 million Indians of South Africa. Good weather and low costs of hiring equipment and crew, something critical for Indian filmmakers, also make South Africa a competitive locale.
And then, of course, there are the hundreds of budding actors and actresses dying to get a bit role in an Indian movie. Nothing unique about this - their cousins in Britain, US, Australia, New Zealand or other places where Indian films are being shot are probably doing the same.
Pioneer filmmaker Kapoor may have left behind a larger legacy than even he probably envisaged in his innovative and visionary thinking.