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Believe it or not, costs take Bollywood abroad

Mumbai, Aug. 10: It’s more expensive to shoot in Mumbai than abroad.

Bollywood producers are turning their backs on their homeland and shooting abroad like never before because Mauritius, Malaysia and sometimes even New Zealand and Australia are cheaper than aamchi Mumbai or any outdoor location in India.

“You can save (Rs) 10 lakh in 10 days if you are shooting abroad,” says Harman Baweja, producer of the latest box-office hit Qayamat.

A major part of Qayamat, starring Ajay Devgan, was shot in Mauritius, a haven of cost-cutting for Indian film producers. The reasons are cheap travel, cheaper accommodation, special packages from eager governments, longer days, several exotic locales close to one another, and stars who cannot afford to throw tantrums too much because they are not on home ground.

Compare the costs of shooting in Mumbai or domestic locations and shooting abroad. In Mumbai, you don’t pay for travel or accommodation, but you pay a huge unit. And you pay for the locale or set. “Hiring a studio or a bungalow is very expensive,” says director Hansal Mehta. “Not to mention shooting on the roads. Then there is permission to be taken from BMC (BrihanMumbai Municipal Corporation) and the police,” he says.

Money changes hands. All this is expensive — sometimes going up to Rs 1 lakh a day, which is saved abroad. A lot of time is also lost everyday as stars travel from one location to another.

Abroad, you pay for the airfare and accommodation, but for only a handful. The units abroad are smaller. “Shooting abroad is cheaper or, at most, as costly (as at home),” says Soma Shekar, former executive producer on Ram Gopal Verma’s team who has worked on a number of films with Verma. “When we shoot in the country, the unit has around 100 people. But abroad, we take a crew of 18-20 people.”

What is spent by way of travel is recovered with quality work in a short time. Moreover, foreign countries are going out of their way to ensure film units come their way by offering special packages on travel and stay. The cheapest shooting zones are the Asian countries, Malaysia, Mauritius and Thailand.

“A stay at a five-star or seven-star (hotel) in Malaysia or Mauritius costs about Rs 1,000 to Rs 2,000 (per night). A return air ticket to Mauritius costs around Rs 20,000,” says Tarun Hukku, director of Locations, a company launched recently as an interface between the tourism and film industries.

“It takes less money to travel to Mauritius than to Kashmir,” says Manmohan Shetty, the man behind the multiplexes in the city.

To drive home the point about his country, the deputy Prime Minister of Thailand, Korn Dabbaransi, recently visited the city to speak to Bollywood bigwigs.

The other favourite outdoor location is New Zealand, where it is summer when in Europe it is winter. It is the new Kashmir for Bollywood, says Jitendra Chacha, who adds that a crew saves up to 20 to 30 per cent by shooting abroad. He is the “international film logistics manager” of Travel Masters who liaises between Kuran, the “off-land Indian producers” in New Zealand, and producers here.

No wonder then that there is a deluge of Indian films being shot abroad. The crew of Sooraj Barjatya’s Main Prem Ki Diwani Hoon was in New Zealand for two weeks and in Mauritius for one week. Vashu Vaghnani was in New Zealand for 45 days shooting for three of his films: Om Jai Jagdish, Deewanapan and Rehna Hai Terre Dil Mein. Ajanabee was shot in Switzerland in two stints of 30 days each. The crew also spent 20 days in Mauritius, one week in Singapore and 10 days on a cruise liner.

“In the past three to four years, Kuran has handled 90 crews, including units of television programmes and music videos, in New Zealand,” says Chacha. In New Zealand, you have everything together and near each other — snow-capped mountains, sea, forests and even a contemporary city, all the staples of a Bollywood dream or fantasy sequence. “Even Australia, another popular destination, doesn’t have that,” he says.

There are new cheap paradises emerging, especially in the former Marxist part of the world: Moscow, Tashkent, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan.

Mehta, who is to shoot 60 to 70 per cent of his next venture in Tashkent, says Russia and the former CIS countries are convenient because the rupee is becoming stronger against their currencies.

Abroad, the cost of hiring equipment, generators and light boys is usually more than it is in the country, but the cost evens out. “The entire unit is committed for the period,” says Baweja, adding that much more work is done then.

“And artistes are captive, with no reporters, no distractions, and we have all the attention and time,” says Mehta.

“The stars are at the mercy of the producers because they have schedules to go back to and can’t waste time and throw tantrums, like they do here,” adds Chacha. “So much more work gets done in a short while.”

It may not work for longer stints, but for short ones, it does. It is value for money.

But an effort is on already to check the flow. Locations has as one of its major sponsors the Chhattisgarh government, which is bent on turning the flow of outbound producers into the country. It boasts of the most beautiful places on earth, says its tourism department.

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