x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Despite official recognition that the film industry can help boost India’s economy by attracting tourists, filmmakers say more needs to be done to facilitate their work and improve India’s allure.

Undated street scene in Pondicherry, India. Michael Cogliantry . Getty Images
Undated street scene in Pondicherry, India. Michael Cogliantry . Getty Images

Rebecca Bundhun

India’s ministry of tourism honoured the Hollywood director Ang Lee and the author Yann Martel with national awards for the role that Life of Pi played in promoting the country as a tourism destination.

The Oscar-winning movie, which was filmed in Munnar in Kerala and Pondicherry, enjoyed significant global box-office success, and the ministry says it hopes more foreign film producers would be encouraged to shoot in India.

Despite official recognition that the film industry can help boost India’s economy by attracting tourists, filmmakers say more needs to be done to facilitate their work and consequently improve India’s allure for local and foreign filmmakers.

“I think there’s a huge potential in terms of money-making for India because culturally India is extremely rich and films can play a huge role in that,” says Indian film director Manu Rewal.

He says there should be a sense of urgency in getting all the state departments to cooperate on drawing international film productions to the country.

“It’s like a richness that is not being used and is going to waste unnecessarily,” Mr Rewal says.

India, despite its vast size and highly diverse historical and cultural attractions, only received about 6.5 million tourists last year.

Foreign tourism in India generated US$17.7 billion in foreign exchange earnings last year, according to data from the tourism ministry.

As well as helping to promote a location, filmmaking also directly generates revenues for a destination – through spending on accommodation, transport, equipment, local labour, and fees and taxes.

Directors say shooting in India can often be challenging because of the multitude of permits required to film in various locations and a lack of clarity on how to secure them.

The Bollywood director Anubhav Sinha, whose films include the blockbuster Ra.One that stars Shah Rukh Khan, says he is among the filmmakers who have been shooting abroad more often than in India.

“Citing an example, I recently shot a 3D [three-dimensional] film in water and all I needed was to be in the ocean with my camera and crew,” Mr Sinha says, speaking at the International Film Festival of India (IFFI) in Goa last week.

“I chose to not shoot in India because if I was to shoot in India for 50 days in the ocean, every single day I would be dealing with a new permission,” he says.

“It will be the coastguard, it will be customs, it will be the police, it will be the navy.

“If you’re told you have permission [in India] and you land up there to shoot, you don’t really know if you have the permission.”

This year, New Delhi has been enacting a “single window clearance” to make shooting in India easier for foreign and local crews.

Shankar Mohan, IFFI’s director, says the new system should resolve such problems.

It has a committee that meets in New Delhi once a month, and brings together representatives of the various Indian states and any relevant ministries to approve all film production applications.

This would encourage more film production and benefit the economy of individual states, Mr Mohan says.

“It’s a federal system that we have and film is a state subject,” he adds. “Therefore we don’t have a unified film policy which governs the entire country besides the censorship policy.

“Unlike other countries which have just one [film] industry, we have multiple [film] industries in India.

“Since we follow the federal structure, the entertainment taxes are accordingly levied by each of the state governments.”

Mr Mohan says the single window clearance “is the best solution we have in this federal structure”.

Kandaswamy Bharatan, the executive producer of Kavithalayaa Productions, says a lot of potential earnings are being lost from movies being shot abroad.

“Thirty per cent of the production days of Tamil films are spent overseas,” he says.

“That’s actually a transfer of resources that’s happening outside. When you’re shooting in a small town in Australia or New Zealand for about 15 days, you’re actually revving up the local economy in terms of food, stay, equipment, plus local people.”

Mr Bharatan says films can have a huge tourism impact on a destination, citing the Tamil film Muthu, which became a hit in Japan after it was screened there in 1998.

“Muthu became such a craze in Japan that Japanese tourism to south India boomed in the first three or four years after Muthu. Until then, Japanese tourism came only to the north of India.” he says.

The significant impact has to be packaged, Mr Bharatan says.

“For example, the UK and South Africa do a lot of research just to find out what is the relationship between a film shot there and the number of tourist arrivals because of that film,” he says.

“For example, 40 per cent of tourism arrivals in the UK are directly influenced by what people see on television and in films.”

More efforts should be made by the authorities to exploit films as a means of drawing tourists, Mr Bharatan adds.

In the case of one of his films, Roja, a Tamil political drama, the residents of a small village near Kanyakumari where the scenes were shot, put up a signboard that says it served as a location for the production and managed to promote the village as a tourism spot.

Other destinations worldwide are going to great lengths to attract filmmakers, with some countries in Europe offering tax rebates and subsidies, for example.

The Indian film director Manu Rewal says all the countries in Europe are competing against one another for tourism dollars.

“The authorities know what is the impact of the film,” Mr Rewal says. “It’s not only when the film is being shot and the money that is being spent over there by the crew. It’s also the effect afterwards.

“That is extremely precious for the image of a region. They are actually giving money to filmmakers to come and shoot. Here [in India] we are trying to clear the possibility of being able to shoot.”

The Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) is among those working to boost India’s role as a destination for filming.

Kirit Maganlal, the vice chairman of the CII Goa Council, says much of India’s potential, besides bolstering the national economy from tourism and film productions, “remains to be unfurled and rightly exploited”.

“[I hope] India as a whole becomes one of the best destinations for showing our culture and for making films,” he adds.