Bollywood has had its leading pairs cavort on the sunny beaches of Mauritius, romp on the streets of Singapore, and sing countless songs against the backdrop of the Swiss Alps.
Now, Mumbai’s film industry appears to have discovered a location that promises a bit of everything: beaches, snow-clad mountains and cities with a vibrant night life.
South Africa’s stunning vistas are the backdrop for two big Bollywood releases, Anil Kapoor’s Gandhi, My Father and Anubhav Sinha’s Cash (both opened on Friday). And at least half a dozen other big budget movies, including Sajid Nadiadwalla’s Heyy Babyy and Abbas Mastan’s Race are being shot in that country.
Indian film-makers prefer foreign locales simply because they fit in well with the general escapist tone of the movies. Some of Bollywood’s biggest blockbusters in recent years were shot abroad. For instance, Krrish was shot exclusively in Singapore; Kaho Naa Pyaar Hai, which launched Hrithik Roshan, the hero of Krrish as well, into instant super-stardom was shot in New Zealand; Gangster, was shot in South Korea; and Karan Johar’s Kal Ho Naa Ho was shot in New York.
“For me, South Africa will always be first choice because it offered me everything that a film-maker wants in a location,” says Feroz Abbas Khan, director of Gandhi, My Father. “It offers the best in technical support and it’s significantly cheaper than, say, European locations. And most important, I loved the combination of Western professionalism with a huge dose of African warmth and hospitality,” he adds.
South Africa also has a sizeable Indian-origin population and Bollywood releases have a following there.
Gandhi... is about Harilal, Gandhi’s son who preferred to stay away from many events in his father’s life, including the freedom struggle.
It was in South Africa that Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, then a practising lawyer, hit upon the idea of satyagraha or non-violent resistance.
Anil Kapoor, the film’s producer also happens to be a brand ambassador for South Africa: the country signed him on after No Entry, a film in which he acted and that was shot completely in South Africa, was a box office hit.
Switzerland became a popular destination for Indian tourists in the 1990s and early 2000s after several Bollywood films were wholly or partially shot in the?country.?On?the itinerary of most Indian tourists to the country is a visit to Chopra Lake (as it is referred to in tourist parlance), a lake that has made many appearances in films directed or produced by Yash Chopra. In 2005, when one of Chopra’s movies, Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge, completed 500 weeks in theatres, the consul of Switzerland in India honoured Chopra for rediscovering Switzerland.
The South African tourism department has learnt from this and is pitching in to help visiting film teams find locations, technical support and accommodation. It is also open to exploring marketing alliances with film-makers, as it did with the producers of Cash. The movie, starring Ajay Devgan, Sunil Shetty, Esha Deol and Shamita Shetty, is set in Cape Town. South African Tourism is involved with its marketing and promotion and is giving away 10,000 movie tickets.
“Cape Town is arguably one of the most popular tourism destinations on the planet. For it to feature almost like a character itself in a glamourous Bollywood production is wonderful for South Africa and its film and tourism industries,” says Lance Littlefield, South African Tourism’s country head for India.
The ad industry, too, seems to have taken a shine to South Africa and recent ads for Wrangler (featuring actor John Abraham), Thums Up (Akshay Kumar), Scorpio and Pantaloon have been shot in the country. Photographer Atul Kasbekar shot one of his Kingfisher calendars completely in South Africa and set off a rush for the country among other ad makers, according to Heena Munshaw, managing director of Beacon Holidays, a Mumbai-based travel firm that coordinates shoots, finds locations and makes travel arrangements for ad film crews.
Reports of crime in the country, especially in Johannesburg, are exaggerated, says Munshaw.
Three more movies, Sankee, God Tussi Great Ho, and Ghajini are currently being shot in South Africa. It could be because of the movies or it could be something else, but the interest of Indian tourists in South Africa has been rising.
“We saw a record growth of 23% in 2006 with 44,337 Indians visiting South Africa. The numbers from India have been very encouraging in the last few years and we are sure of capitalizing on this growth trend,” says Littlefield of South African Tourism.