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Bollywood romance with Himachal wanes

- lack of facilities clouds picture

Shimla, Dec. 2: Rewind three years to 3 Idiots: Madhavan feigns illness to get off a taxiing plane and soon drives off with Sharman Joshi and Omi Vaidya to the Himachal hills to find long-lost classmate Aamir Khan.

Cut to December 2012: Bollywood still drives to the state, once a happy stomping ground for filmmakers, but not exactly in top gear.

A host of problems ranging from lack of flights to poor infrastructure have led to a situation where Himachal has lost some of its earlier allure for movie moguls despite its picture-perfect locations and world-famous tourist spots like Shimla, Dalhousie, Kullu and Manali.

Officials couldn’t provide numbers but local film co-ordinators and old-timers connected with shootings said the flow had ebbed.

Iqbal Anzum, a Manali-based co-ordinator whom many production houses get in touch with for their projects, claimed recent instances where the lack of air connections had posed problems.

The state with three airports — Shimla, Kullu and Kangra — has had no air services since the past two months when Kingfisher, the only carrier connecting the state, ran into financial problems and stopped operations.

Costs are another deterrent. Ashutosh Gowariker had decided to film his upcoming Buddha in Manali but the shooting was cancelled midway through the construction of the set as it was proving prohibitively expensive, according to sources. Labour costs are high in the state, a decisive factor given little of the equipment is available locally and has to be ferried to remote locations where the film crew are based.

Among the few upcoming movies set in Manali are Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani, starring Ranbir Kapoor and Deepika Padukone. The other is Vipul Shah’s Commando, featuring Vidyut Jamwal and former Miss India Pooja Chopra. But in Shimla, only one project, the low-budget Blue Mountain, is being shot now. The movie features Gracy Singh and Rajpal Yadav.

Other locales like Solangnala, Gulaba, Madhi and Rohtang in Manali have seen the torrent thin to a trickle.

Many view the current situation as a contrast given the Himachal capital was once part of a movie’s name, Love in Shimla, featuring Joy Mukherjee and Sadhana, in 1960. Ditto for Dev Anand’s Tere Ghar Ke Saamne three years later.

A number of Amitabh Bachchan movies, including his 1978 blockbuster Muqaddar Ka Sikandar, were filmed in the state. Recent films shot in the state include the 2007 Shahid-Kareena hit Jab We Met.

“Many directors are heading abroad where the administration is friendly and the infrastructure easily available at reasonable prices. Even from the south, few filmmakers have contacted us,” Anzum, the Manali co-ordinator, said. Normality in neighbouring Kashmir is also attracting some, with Yash Chopra’s Diwali release Jab Tak Hai Jaan shot in the Valley.

Some complain of red tape in Himachal. “The state has started single-window clearance facility for filmmakers but the formalities remain the same,” another co-ordinator in Manali said.

Arun Sharma, the director of Himachal Tourism, promised changes. “We have started a single-window clearance facility under which permissions are given within three days. I will give it in 10 minutes if approached.”