India is raring to go, after Covid-19 lockdowns and travel restrictions for overseas productions entering the country impacted the subcontinent.
The Film Facilitation Office (FFO), established by the government’s Ministry of Information and Broadcasting as a one-stop shop for international filmmakers looking to shoot in India, expects in the coming months to unveil federal/central incentives for foreign feature films and TV/web shows and series that shoot in India.
“There will be incentives for foreign films, TV and web shows and series that shoot in India and for films that are co-produced under an official audiovisual treaty signed by the government of India,” says Apurva Chandra, secretary at the government’s Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. The aim, he says, is to “encourage more films to come and shoot in India and benefit from the country’s vast range of locations and the prowess of the AVG [animation, visual effects and gaming] sector”.
Incentives are already on offer in several states/regions under individual state policies. Assam, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Jammu and Kashmir are among those offering different incentives to international projects, such as varying percentage-level cash rebates on qualifying production spend or free accommodation pending the volume of work involving local cast, crew and storyline.
The vast subcontinent — the second-most populous country after China and seventh largest by area — offers filmmakers breathtaking landscapes. India’s locations are as diverse as the country is big, from the imposing Himalayas, arid Thar desert in Rajasthan and backwaters of Kerala to the dense forests of Madhya Pradesh, the snaking rivers across the Deccan plateau, eye-widening valleys of Himachal Pradesh and the pristine Gangetic deltas of the Sundarbans in Bengal.
It also boasts age-old cultural and heritage sites and myriad man-made splendours, including the Taj Mahal, the ghats (steps) on the banks of the Ganges and the Aga Khan palace.
The FFO says 21 international projects were given permission to shoot in India in the last financial year, running April 2021-March 2022. Manjari Makijany’s coming-of-age drama Skater Girl filmed in rural Rajasthan. It details the story of a girl growing up in the caste system who discovers skateboarding and has to overcome societal pressures and prejudice. The US-India Netflix backed co-production built a real skatepark that remained standing long after the film wrapped.
Other high-profile overseas productions to shoot in India include Netflix’s Chris Hemsworth-starrer Extraction, directed by Sam Hargrave about a black-market mercenary enlisted to rescue the kidnapped son of an imprisoned international crime lord; Mira Nair’s lavish BBC adaptation of Vikram Seth’s novel A Suitable Boy; Christopher Nolan’s Tenet; and The White Tiger, Ramin Bahrani’s adaptation of Aravind Adiga’s international bestseller.
The FFO says notable cultural quirks for visiting filmmakers include the Indian head shake, which can mean yes, thank you or simply indicate understanding. But never ask a taxi or auto-rickshaw to go faster unless you are an adrenaline junkie. “India is an astounding and ever-changing melting pot of ideas, religions, landscapes and culture, contributing to its diversity,” says Chandra. “It is impossible to run out of imagination when in India.”
Due to its diverse landscapes, low costs and skilled local workforce, India has always attracted a steady flow of international film and TV productions. In 2018, projects to shoot in India included AGBO-produced action film Dhaka, starring Chris Hemsworth and distributed worldwide by Netflix, and Gurinder Chadha’s Beecham House, a six-part series for the UK’s ITV, while Christopher Nolan’s Tenet starring Robert Pattinson and Elizabeth Debicki shot in Mumbai in September 2019.
Upcoming TV projects expected to shoot in the country include Andrew Davies’ adaptation of Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy, directed by Mira Nair for the BBC; and Apple’s adaptation of Shantaram, produced with Anonymous Content and Paramount Television.
Many of these productions are set in India, tapping into the country’s rich history and extensive canon of English-language literature, much of which is familiar to international audiences.
India has a large pool of skilled English‑speaking crew with experience of international and Hollywood productions. India played host to and facilitated almost 30 international projects each year pre-Covid. Historically, international productions land in India with main actors and production heads, and staff up using the myriad skilled crew and equipment available locally. Many also use local acting talent. Christopher Nolan’s Tenet shot for six days in India with his 160-strong team but hired 600 locals. The film also cast four Indian actors and employed some 2,000 extras.
The seventh-largest country by area in the world, all of India’s major cities and towns are connected by international air travel options. Within the country, cities and towns boast either air, road or rail links. Every city has a variety of options including app-based car and bus operators. The Indian railways system is one of the most affordable means of transport and reaches the farthest corners of the subcontinent. There is a transportation option for every budget to every corner of India.
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