Hot films, cool locales

Film Tourism

Hot films, cool locales

If we head to Manali after watching ‘Jab We Met’, we plan our holiday to Switzerland even as we are watching ‘DDLJ’. Exotic locations featured in song picturisations and dream sequences of movies entice holidaymakers to no end, writes Susheela Nair

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Standing 130 feet above sea level, near the outer boundary of the seaside fort of Bekal in Kasargod district in North Kerala, I watched a honeymooning couple enacting scenes from movies with a hired photographer capturing their carefree moments.

Many South Indian movies had actors romancing against the backdrop of this fabulous fort which is said to have moved even the most battle-scarred of soldiers to poetry. But it attained tinsel fame when Mani Ratnam chose it as the locale for a song sequence to depict the intense love and agony of the lovers in his hit film Bombay.

It shot into prominence as a tourist destination after the hero crooned Tu hi re, tu hi re... on its rain-drenched ramparts whilst waiting for a clandestine meeting with his burka-clad paramour.

With his captivating shots of the rainy rendezvous of the lovers, against the backdrop of the wet, green ambience, coupled with the black, weather-beaten laterite, ace cinematographer Rajiv Menon lured movie buffs and tourists to this fabulous fort. That speaks about the significance of exotic locales in movies.

Another visually captivating movie which drew me to the destination is Punnagai Mannan. A popular movie shooting locale, the peaceful and pristine environs of Athirappilly formed the backdrop of many action sequences, rape scenes and romantic interludes of various commercial movies.

Once a lesser known tourist spot, Athirappilly shot into prominence with the release of the Tamil blockbuster Punnagai Mannan. The opening scene of the movie, with the superhit song Enna Satha Intha Neram with the falls as the recurring motif, catapulted the falls to fame that it came to be christened as ‘Punnagai Mannan Falls’. Mudalvan, Sarfarosh and Vijaykant’s Captain were the other hits filmed in these pristine surroundings. Exotic locations featuring song picturisations and dream sequences are a must-do on the list of filmmakers.

Watching the falls cascading down the hard granite rocks with a rising spray
engulfing us, I could visualise heroines sizzling beneath the falls and heroes bashing up villains in the beautiful canopy of green. Mani Ratnam and his filmy entourage filmed their Ravana till an elephant ran amok.

This magnificent falls also formed the enchanting visual of Kerala Tourism in the late 80s, beckoning all and sundry to God’s Own Country. Since then, the small hamlet of Athirappilly with its myriad falls has been attracting holidaymakers and filmmakers.

Hogenakkal with its craggy, forbidding rock face and thundering waterfalls also formed the backdrop of many Kollywood and Bollywood movies. The legendary MGR bashed up many villains here.

Escorting me to a cliff top, my guide recalled and rattled off some names which include the famous song sequence Choti si asha in Roja, climax scene of Bobby in which Dimple Kapadia and Rishi Kapoor took a plunge from the cliff top, and the opening scene of Ravana where the villain takes a nosedive. But Pollachi, a back-to-nature destination at the foothills of Annamalai ranges, is the all-time favourite haunt of visiting film crews.

Scores of veteran directors never cease to showcase the undiscovered beauty of Pollachi in South Indian movies. Priyadarshan has captured the bucolic magic, pastoral lifestyle and vernal surroundings of this small hamlet in Virasat (remake of Tamil Devarmagan). Nature enthusiasts and tourists come here to savour a slice of the heart of rustic Tamil Nadu. A must on the itinerary of tourists and tour operators include ‘Sixth Mile’ and ‘Ninth Mile’, designated film shooting areas near Ooty.

Movies are the ideal form of advertisement and publicity for a destination.

Ramanagaram, which formed the backdrop of the blockbusters Sholay and A Passage to India, are classic examples of this. Though the legendary Sholay was shot 35 years back, the rocky escarpments here continue to draw tourists and the memories of Gabbar Singh, Basanthi and Thakur still linger in the hearts of the villagers and their lives.

There are special packages like ‘Sholay Trails’, which take tourists to the place where Basanthi of Sholay was forced to dance on broken bottles to keep Veeru alive, the Thakur’s house, Gabbar’s den, etc. As a mark of respect, the people of Ramanagaram have renamed a hamlet as Sippynagar after the director of the movie, Ramesh Sippy.

The Kannada blockbuster Mungaru Male had tourists rushing to Jog Falls to witness
nature’s headlong tumble into the depths below. With the release of Nammoora Mandara Hoove in the late 90s, bus loads of tourists rushed to explore the awesome rock formations of Yana in Uttara Karnataka.

Khandala, a comparatively smaller and lesser known hill station, became a crowd puller with the popular Hindi song Aati Kya Khandala in the film Ghulam, when the hero serenades the heroine and invites her to come to Khandala. Following the runaway success of this Bollywood blockbuster, hordes of tourists, especially youngsters, descended on it to explore its mysteries.

Thanks to the success of 3 Idiots, Pangong Tso Lake is on the tourist itinerary more than ever before. “Captivating visuals in movies inspire travellers to visit destinations, and movies even help you plan your holiday,” says Dhanya Sukumaran, a software professional who headed to Manali with her rucksack after watching Jab We Met.

Foreign locales

After showcasing all the exotic locales from Kashmir to Munnar, destination
fatigue set in. Subsequently, Bollywood producers started scouting for new locales abroad. Though many of us could not even have dreamt of going to Switzerland, it was filmmaker Yash Chopra who ensured that we got to at least see its scenic vistas of flower-carpeted gardens, glaciers, snowfields, sunny alpine pastures, crystal blue lakes and snow-crested mountains on the screen.

Switzerland was perceived as the good luck charm for his movies. Enamoured by the locales used in his movies, producers made a beeline for Switzerland. He was even honoured by the Swiss Embassy with the title, Ambassador of Interlaken, and a train named after him.

A lake in Alpenrausch, one of the filmmaker’s favourite locations for shooting, was renamed Chopra Lake. SOTC’s ‘Yash Raj Films Enchanted Journey’ package covering places in Switzerland, where films such as Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge,
Mohabbatein, Veer-Zaara, Chandini, Darr and Bachna Ae Haseeno were shot, has been a big hit.

Thailand has contributed in no small measure to film tourism. Endowed with diverse and stunning scenery, local creativity, and competitive costs, the Land of Smiles has hosted reels of legendary films over the years, beginning with the war epic Bridge on the River Kwai. One cannot forget the pristine beaches and limestone cliffs of Krabi in the opening scene of the film The Hangover Part 2.

Movies like The Beach witnessed beachcombers flocking to May Bay to frolic in its green waters and white sandy beaches while several tourists made a dash to Koh Tapu, more popularly known as the James Bond Island, location for one of the most dramatic scenes in the Bond movie, The Man With The Golden Gun. Many Tamil movies had actors cavorting and singing on the gorgeous beaches of Krabi, Phuket and Pattaya.

Anurag Basu’s Murder was said to be the first film to be shot entirely in Bangkok. The high-voltage action stunts of Salman Khan in the Hindi film Ready, while driving a tuk tuk in Bangkok and Pattaya, is still fresh in the minds of viewers. Many of the joints in Thailand have repeatedly been featured in many movies, and today, even people who have not been to these destinations are aware of them.

Indian directors’ fascination for the west continues to exist. Don 2, starring Shahrukh Khan, has been extensively shot in Germany.  Rockstar was filmed in Czech Republic and Italy. Tourist footfalls to New Zealand increased about fourfold after the release of Kaho Naa Pyaar Hai in 2000. Krrish is the first Indian movie to be shot in Singapore under the Singapore Tourism Board’s Film-in-Singapore subsidy scheme and more than 60 per cent of the film was shot there.

Singapore has never been picturised in all its splendour and breathtaking beauty as in Krrish. Another newly discovered shooting locale is Macau, where Dhamaal was filmed. Incidentally, a song sequence in the Tamil movie, Poda Podi, was picturised here.

Boost for tourism
Zoya Akhtar’s Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, which was shot extensively in Spain, did wonders for Spain Tourism. The Tomatino festival, featured in the movie, enticed travellers from India to visit Spain. “After the success of the movie, there was a surge in enquiries from travel agencies seeking special customised packages to Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia and Pamplona.

The Spain Tourism Board spent a whopping amount on marketing campaigns using Zindagi… clips. We offered facilitation with visas and faster approval of permissions to film in Spain. Following this, there was a considerable rise in the number of visas processed, and in 2011, 70,000 Indians visited Spain,” says Arturo Ortiz, director, Spain Tourism office, Mumbai.

Filmmakers have realised the need for tapping newer, untapped locales in films. Ek Tha Tiger, starring Salman Khan, traversed continents, people and countries. The rising minarets of Turkey, high-octane action stunts, cobbled streets, belly dances, quaint little shops in the sprawling bazaars, shot in the exotic terrains of Mardan, Antalya, Cappadocia and Istanbul have made Turkey a hot spot for filmmakers and travellers.

The song, Mashallah, set in a souk of a Turkish village, still lingers in the minds of viewers. There is no better way to showcase Turkey on screen. Following the success of the movie, Turkey Tourism Board was flooded with enquiries about places featured in the film, and there was a spurt in tourist arrivals.

Filmed on location in Wadi Rum in Jordan, David Lean’s epic 1962 movie, Lawrence of Arabia, starring Peter O’Toole and Omar Shariff, put Jordan on the tourist map. “No other film has captured the expanse of the desert with such scope and grandeur as dexterously as David Lean’s masterpiece,” explained my guide, pointing to a carving of Lawrence’s face in a Canyon wall.

This iconic film celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2012. To follow Lawrence’s steps, ‘Lawrence of Arabia Adventure Trails’ have been worked out for tourists to explore the wild terrain in Wadi Rum.

Another destination which has fascinated me is the soul-stirring, rose-red city of Petra. Steve Spielberg used Petra’s dramatic red sandstone temples and tombs as a prime location for his blockbuster Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade. The towering façade of the treasury in Petra formed the backdrop of this Hollywood blockbuster.

2012 marked the 200th anniversary of the rediscovery of the rose-red city of Petra. As we walked through the narrow, rock chasm called the Siq into the city, vendors lured us with Indiana Jones hats, a popular souvenir with tourists.

Ta Prohm Temple in Siem Reap in Cambodia is best known to tourists as the ‘Tomb Raider Temple’ or ‘Angelina Jolie Temple’. It is one of the most magical and photographed ruins in the Angkor area. Escorting us around the 12th century Tree-Strangled Temples, which formed the setting of Tomb Raider, Chum, our guide, explained, “The 2001 film starring Angeline Jolie helped to spread the word about this amazing feat of architecture. Tourists come in droves asking for the Angelina Jolie Temple.”

Bollywood has always been the eyes and ears of the local janata. Movies are
perhaps the best way of promoting a destination. Film tourism, a growing global phenomenon, has given a big boost to the travel sector. “For the convenience of filmmakers, the Thai Government has set up a One-Stop-Service-Centre for filming in Thailand. All the permits you need can be obtained under one roof by a local
coordinator working on your behalf.

Tax incentives and rebates for foreign productions filming in Thailand were implemented in 2011. Thailand has also signed the Double Taxation Treaty to prevent foreign filmmakers of member countries from being taxed twice — once in Thailand, and again in their own country. The Cabinet has also approved the exemption of film shooting fees in areas owned by the seven State offices,” says Sethaphan Buddhani, director, Tourism Authority of Thailand, Mumbai Office.

Filmmakers get subsidies from the host country for shooting, while the latter gets wide publicity. Film production companies are eligible for such refunds if they spend a certain percentage of their entire budget while filming in that particular country, using local talent. Czech offers 20 per cent rebate on production-related costs when producers film in the country while Ireland offers 28 per cent rebate on the spend made in that country.

“As movies can promote a destination, we are wooing film producers with easy facilitation of visas, a refund of 18 per cent on VAT, and other sops,” says Ozgur Ayturk, culture and tourism counsellor, Turkish Embassy, Delhi.

Incredible India could take a cue from various tourism boards overseas and
promote India as a film tourism destination by luring more foreign production houses to film in India. The gains of an international filmmaker filming in India are manifold.

Wherever movies leave their footprints, the tourism industry reaps economic gains. There is a need for a film tourism policy and a single window clearance mechanism nationally in order to ensure that filmmakers do not have trouble and hassles in getting permissions for shooting in India. There is a long way to go before the worlds of cinema and tourism forge a mutually beneficial relationship.

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