New Delhi: Mumbai has just about enough monuments to fill a handbook—bad roads, hardly any parks and gardens, near-unaffordable housing, and restaurants and bars that are now running scared from the Mumbai Police. Delhi has more monuments than can fit in a book, relatively smooth roads, green spaces in every neighbourhood, more affordable (and prettier) housing options, and, of late, swinging restaurants and bars.
However, Delhi doesn’t have Bollywood. It isn’t a base for film production and post-production. It isn’t home to people involved with all aspects of film-making.
That may change if the Delhi government seriously takes up a report that will be handed over next month by Neville Tuli, chairman of the Osian Group. The report will contain suggestions made at a two-day seminar titled Is Delhi India’s Next Film City? that was held alongside the Osian’s Cinefan Film Festival on 31 July and 1 August. The big idea emerging from the seminar: it’s time to create an alternative film hub in Delhi that will cater to the northern region.
“There is a huge potential for film activity in Delhi, at least as a resource hub,” producer Bobby Bedi, whose movies include Mangal Pandey and Bandit Queen, said at the seminar, which was attended by a healthy mix of film-makers and government representatives. “Every time I need a truck or a (camera) crane, it shouldn’t have to come from Bombay, as it does at the moment. Delhi can be a satellite to Mumbai just like New York is for Los Angeles.”
There is already a film city near Delhi, in Noida in Uttar Pradesh, but it caters mainly to television. One of the big ideas at the seminar was to set up a Delhi Film Commission on the lines of the California Film Commission—an organization that takes care of every aspect of production, from ensuring single-window clearance for shooting permission to getting concessions at hotels in exchange for bringing Delhi on the screen.
Nina Lath Gupta, managing director of the National Film Development Corporation, pointed to examples from European countries, which offer subsidies in exchange for shooting on their soil and helping local business.
“Bombay is a film destination by luck, by chance,” lyricist Prasoon Joshi said at the seminar. “Delhi can be a film destination by design.”
In Mumbai, the film industry has been the result mostly of private initiative, with some help from the Maharashtra government in the shape of the Film City shooting complex that was set up in 1977 in Goregaon in north-west Mumbai. For Delhi to snatch away business from Mumbai and set up its own film base like in Chennai and Hyderabad, it will have to go beyond creating another Film City production complex—and it will need several handouts from the Delhi government to succeed.
“Any extra city with infrastructure for a film base is always welcome since it fosters a situation beyond the monopoly,” said Shanghai director Dibakar Banerjee, who grew up in Delhi, but moved to Mumbai to pursue a film career. “In theory, it helps, but in practice, a lot more needs to be done before it can become a reality. This can’t be a policy-based decision, but it has to emerge out of a whole film culture. It can’t be imposed from above. It won’t work if the Delhi government wants to do an ego-massage exercise or a propaganda thing.”
The idea of Dollywood is perhaps inevitable. Delhi has overtaken Mumbai in several aspects in recent years, helped to no end by a government that is as active as the Maharashtra regime is inefficient. Delhi is a key market for distributors and sends thousands of aspiring film-makers, actors and technicians to Mumbai every year.
Yet, Delhi seems to have more film scholars than resident film-makers. There are several forums dedicated to deconstructing Hindi cinema in the political capital, but if film-makers have to make it—or even complete their projects—there is no escaping the trip to Mumbai.
“I simply had to go to Bombay for post-production of my film,” said first-time director Hemant Gaba, whose Shuttlecock Boys will be shown at PVR cinema halls from 3 August. “We shot on 35mm film, and there is no (processing) laboratory in Delhi. We don’t have sound mix or colour correction labs here either.” The editors, digital intermediate experts and sound technicians all live in Mumbai, Gaba added.
The cost of post-production and living expenses in Mumbai added up to nearly Rs 17 lakh— only Rs 1 lakh less than what the film itself took to make. “It would have been better if I could have worked in Delhi— my family is here, and I have a better network here,” Gaba said. “In Bombay, I have no network, and the competition is intense.”
The forced one-way traffic from northern cities in the direction of Mumbai may be undesirable for many film-makers, but it has had a discernible influence on how movies look and sound. The heavy presence of cinematic talent from northern cities in Mumbai has resulted in a subset of cinema set in Delhi and its environs— the examples include Khosla Ka Ghosla and Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye! by Banerjee, Delhi-6 by Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra, and Do Dooni Char, written by Habib Faisal. Writers and directors from Uttar Pradesh have also poked around their backyards for inspiration, such as Tigmanshu Dhulia in Haasil and Anurag Kashyap in Gangs of Wasseypur.
Research scholar Mihir Pandya, whose book Sheher Aur Cinema Via Delhi (The City and Cinema Via Delhi) examines the ways in which Delhi has been reflected in cinema, said the Capital is represented either as a symbol of state power or as a backdrop for everyday stories. “Since the 1990s, identity politics have come forward, so the place from where you are is something not to hide, but to highlight,” Pandya said. Delhi has a vibrant culture of discussing and watching films from all over the country and the world, he added. “If you watch so much cinema, you will want to make films,” Pandya said.
Delhi seems to be all the rage, on the screen and off it, especially since Mumbai’s infrastructure is “at breaking point”, as Tuli put it in his opening remarks. Yet, the angels that watch over the financial capital seemed to have taken their revenge by causing the northern grid to collapse on both days of the seminar. Mumbai can hold on to Bollywood—at least for now.