India is home to one of the world’s best movie businesses (Bollywood), not to mention fast growing TV and advertising markets. The most obvious factor in its favour is the diversity of locations and iconic images. But also in its favour are the long shooting season, low costs and quality of local crews and technicians. Not to be overlooked is the fact that India is fast becoming a world leader in animation, digital and post-production services.
For some producers, India’s red tape is a concern, for others it’s the chaos, heat and potential for religious controversy. Oscar winner Kathryn Bigelow, for example, faced anger from Hindus when she used India to double for Pakistan in Zero Dark Thirty (2012) about the US mission to track down Osama Bin Laden.
Producer Karen G. Cadle announced in late August 2015 that she was assembling a cast of screen legends including Joan Collins, Tippi Hedren and Franco Nero to star in Unforgettable, a feature set to film in Jodhpur from early 2016. She cited the romance, beauty and colours of India as well as the financial viablity for filmmakers as reasons for her choice of location.
Films to have recently shot in India include Peter Weir’s The Way Back and acclaimed film The Dark Knight Rises, which shot in some scenes in Rajasthan. Rajasthan has also hosted commercial shoots from brands such as Amex, Visa, Pepsi and Dulux.
Director Howard J Ford chose India to shoot his zombie horror movie The Dead 2: India in 2013, using many locations including Rajasthan.
The Hundred-Foot Journey from Dreamworks, directed by Lasse Hallstrom and starring Helen Mirren, used France in 2013 for some of the shoot.
Dulux (via agency Euro RSCG and producer Stink) visited Jodhpur as part of the company’s Let’s Colour project, which has also involved trips to Rio, London and Paris. Phones4U has also shot commercials in India, one to imitate Thailand.
In terms of TV, documentary filmmakers often visit India looking for interesting subject matter. But international drama producers are infrequent visitors by comparison. One area where there is a lot of co-operation is animation, with studios Like DQ Entertainment doing work for hire for big Hollywood studios and, increasingly, running high-profile co-productions..
Permits are not difficult to get as long as you leave enough time and respect local customs. The starting point is to get advice from your local embassy and look at the http://indiafilm.org website. In general your embassy will tell you to send a letter to India stating shooting dates, cast and crew details, and chosen locations. For feature films and TV dramas, this letter should go to The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. For documentaries, the Ministry of External Affairs. There is a fee for films/TV and the notice required is usually about a month. Aside from this permit, you’ll need to supply details of shooting equipment to get an exemption from customs duty. In addition, you may need local permits from individual state authorities – though the central government can help facilitate this.
The basic rule is not to overlook any significant details. If there is anything controversial in the script, if the chosen location is a known hotspot, if there is a co-production partner on board, alert the authorities to this upfront. It also makes sense to have contingency plans. There are so many rules that it is possible for a production to be shut down even if it has permits. Listen to advice from local fixers to avoid this kind of hold-up.
Finally, keep in mind that India is made up of a number of powerful states. These have their own ways of doing things that run alongside central government bureaucracy. As such, make sure that you hire a local service partner which is able to run your operation smoothly across all states in the shoot.
In May 2016 the government launched the Film Facilitation Office, a resource designed to reduce bureacracy by providing filmmakers with a 'single window clearance' for filming permits across India.
No surprise that there are numerous studios in a country the size of India. But the quality varies considerably and a number of the older ones have shut down recently or acquired by property developers. Not to be overlooked either is that many of the best get booked up by Bollywood films or TV dramas.
The top end of the market is dominated by state-of-the-art studios like Yash Raj Films (YRF) and Reliance MediaWorks. YRF, for example, has three sound stages and claims to be “the only complete soundproof and air-con studio in India”. Reliance MediaWorks, meanwhile, is in the final phase of constructing a state-of-the-art 200,000 sq ft. complex comprising 8 sound stages at Film City in Mumbai. This studio covers everything from films, TV and commercials to music videos and gaming.
Although Mumbai is the industry HQ, the big players are expanding their influence. For example, Reliance recently partnered with Hyderabad’s Annapurna Studios, to manage their studio and to expand the Digital Post Production facility.
Among the studios to have closed are Kamalistan in Mumbai and Gemini Studios in Chennai, a city which has seen a number of traditional studios shut down. Back in Mumbai, Filmistan Studio continues to be an important player with 16 stages varying from 30 feet to 180 feet in length. So does Chandivali which has a wide range of indoor and outdoor locations.
India has an amazing array of locations. Fabulous beaches, Himalayan peaks, exotic tea plantations, holy cities, castles, temples, bustling markets, jungles, deserts… the list is endless. Specific examples of popular locations (with maps) can be found at the India Film Commission website. These range from the pink building of Jaipur to the sacred Hindu city of Varanasi on the Ganges and the old colonial architecture left behind by the British. Currently, India tends to be used when specific Indian locations are required. But the geographic diversity means it would be possible to use India as a double for other parts of the world - examples being the Caribbean or even the European Alps.
India is home to the sacred River Ganges and is set apart from the rest of Asia by the Himalayas - the highest, youngest and still evolving mountain chain on the planet. The country holds virtually every kind of landscape imaginable. An abundance of mountain ranges and national parks and its sheer size provide ample opportunity for film locations. Northern India offers terrain varying from arid mountains in the far north to the lake country and forests near Srinagar and Jammu, becoming flatter and more hospitable along the Indus river towards the south as it widens into the fertile plains of Punjab to the west and the Himalayan foothills of Uttar Pradesh and the Ganges river valley to the east. Extending from the Gujarat peninsula down to Goa, the west coast is lined with some of India's best beaches. The land along the coast is typically lush with rainforests. The Western Ghats separate the verdant coast from the Vindya Mountains and the dry Deccan plateau further inland.
Up-to-date cameras, lighting, grip and post-production equipment are pretty widely available – as are some experienced and motivated crews. This is not a given however. With crews and kit covering a wide range of specifications and quality, be clear with your local fixer about what you need.
Mumbai, Hyderabad and Chennai are the major production centres and tend to be where you find most kit suppliers. Some of these, like Reliance-Mediaworks-Ltd, are huge affairs – offering everything from studio space to equipment rental at the heart of Mumbai’s film business. “Our brand new gear includes an exhaustive list of ARRI cameras with sync-sound capabilities and RED Cameras accompanied with the high end lenses from ARRI, Cooke & Angenieux. Apart from this, we offer an exhaustive list of high end support elite accessories which keep these cameras at the head of the field,” explains Reliance
New Delhi is also an important location. It is home to companies like India Film Services, which can supply production and location services as well as video equipment, crews, lighting and sound equipment rental. Some players, like Mumbai-based Cine Dreams, have divisions across the country. Cine Dreams has high-end equipment in Mumbai, New Delhi “as well as local equipment rentals in all major cities of India.”
In terms of other production needs, art department skills are underdeveloped but sets can be built quickly and cheaply.