UP is Bollywood’s current favourite destination, thanks to Akhilesh Yadav
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New Delhi: The ongoing polling in Uttar Pradesh has forced many filmmakers to postpone their shooting schedules in the state, but none of them want to give up on the state. In the past few years, several films, including the most recent Jolly LLB 2, which has raked in more than Rs66 crore within five days of its release, Sultan, Raanjhana and Masaan, have been shot in the state and point to the industry’s growing affinity towards Uttar Pradesh.
Polling for the highly anticipated assembly elections in the state is being held in seven phases between 11 February and 8 March, while counting will take place on 11 March. Though the state government and Uttar Pradesh’s Film Development Council (FDC) have continually assured support, a few filmmakers have decided to postpone their shooting schedules until mid-March.
“The focus, at the moment is entirely on the elections and considering Uttar Pradesh is so famous for its political campaigns, there is bound to be some chaos,” said director Sanjay Puran Singh, who is planning to shoot a space adventure called Chanda Mama Door Ke with Sushant Singh Rajput in Uttar Pradesh.
About 8-10 films have reshuffled their shooting schedules in view of the elections, said Atul Mohan, editor of trade magazine Complete Cinema. But none of them have given up on the plans.
The state has registered about 180 film proposals since UP chief minister Akhilesh Yadav came up with an exhaustive film policy one and a half years ago, said Gaurav Dwivedi, vice-chairman of the UP FDC. It has 30-40 projects being planned or shot in the state at this moment, said Mohan. While previous regimes have also initiated film development plans, the new policy introduced by Yadav in October 2015 added a couple of crucial elements.
Firstly, for ease of doing business, the UP FDC came up with a single-window clearance and an online portal where filmmakers can get permission to shoot in any of the 75 districts in the state. Nodal officers appointed in each state do further ground work and filmmakers don’t have to go through any hassle themselves.
Secondly, cash subsidy of up to Rs1 crore is given if 50% of the film is shot in the state and up to Rs2 crore for shooting up to 75% or more. Add-ons include Rs25 lakh if five main actors in the cast belong to UP, and another Rs25 lakh if all actors are from UP.
“The idea was not to lure people but to create a parity between small and big filmmakers. Most of the time, the former do not have production and P&A (prints and advertising) budget,” said Dwivedi of the UP FDC. “The subsidy is given at two points—30% when you get a censor certificate and 70% on the release, which does not have to be pan-India either.”
Subsidies of Rs20 crore have been given to nearly 30 films in the past one-and-a-half years, including Rs2 crore to National Award-winning drama Masaan. And when the stakes are as high, there is little reason to not bite the bait.
“A big production house will anyway shoot its film where it wants to. But if there are such benefits in store simply by tweaking the backdrop, why not go for it?” said Mohan, adding that there are projects specifically designed today to incorporate Uttar Pradesh into the narrative.
The state, too, stands to gain. Apart from cinema boosting tourism for the state, film units dealing with logistical issues always have the local administration to fall back on for arrangements.
Dwivedi said the choice of Uttar Pradesh has helped in the revival of slice-of-life cinema that focuses on small-town characters, their relationships and challenges, besides giving a push to the state’s distinct dialect.
“People think filmmakers are flocking to UP for subsidies. But when you have a Sultan or Jolly LLB 2, which are Rs60-70 crore productions, they are clearly not here for Rs2 crore,” Dwivedi said. “And all of them are shooting for 30-50 days, with units of 100-150 people so they are spending more than what we are giving them. In terms of hiring, catering and giving a platform to our talent, it is good for us also.”
Apart from big-ticket Bollywood projects like Aanand L. Rai’s untitled feature starring Shah Rukh Khan, and Prabhudheva’s Mr. Lefty, featuring Abhishek Bachchan, the state is also looking to woo Hollywood filmmakers. Two Hollywood productions, including a Nawazuddin Siddiqui-starrer, are on the cards, Dwivedi said.
As evident as the benefits of the UP film policy are, the fact that other Indian states are yet to take similar initiatives is surprising. While states like Gujarat and Maharashtra promote their local productions and others like Meghalaya and Arunachal Pradesh have policies underway, there is no other initiative that takes all-language productions under its purview.
“This can clearly be attributed to the lack of welfare consciousness in the political dispensation and the fact that most regimes are too overwhelmed by political issues to look at culture,” said A.K. Verma, a Kanpur-based political analyst and political science professor at Christ Church College. “Most states have to be educated of such cultural windows that require consistent follow-ups but also bring them prosperity and interaction with established industries such as those in Mumbai.”