Back to the Alps

Switzerland is back to being the favourite foreign locale for Bollywood, leaving a bleak future for Scotland’s love affair with the lucrative Indian film industry

Empire Bureau

The Scots make the best whiskey—Bollywood’s favourite drink—in the world, but India’s movie moguls believe that when it comes to shooting their movies, the Swiss are more bankable. Although more than 20 Indian films have been shot in Scotland over the past decade, the country, already facing intense competition from a resurgent eastern Europe, is now losing the battle to attract Bollywood filmmakers, who are gravitating towards Switzerland for its incentives.

A few years back, Scotland was giving Switzerland a run for its money, so much so that the British Tourism Authority chalked out a Bollywood trail to lure cinema-crazy Indian tourists.

Switzerland in summer is quiet, keen to get visitors and everyone drops their prices, whereas in Scotland, prices tend to go up in summer

Those who don’t believe in the power of Bollywood, chew on this. Visiting heads of state rarely have a reason to zoom into Mumbai, the home of the world’s largest film industry. But now they believe, afoot or afloat, it’s worth the journey. At least Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern does. Last month, when an Irish delegation led by Ahren visited India, courting Bollywood was right on top of his agenda.

Britain has been, for long, trying to attract the Indian film industry. Bollywood’s romance with Scotland first began in 1991, but it was not until 1999 that it became one of the prime locations for Hindi films. However, there is growing concern that Scotland is not doing everything it should to maintain this relationship. Consequently, it is losing out on millions of pounds in revenue. 

The country has scenic beauty and historical architecture enough. Loch Lomond was the backdrop for the title song of `Kuch Kuch Hota Hai.’ Among other films shot there are the Abhishek-Aishwarya film, Dhaai Akshar Prem Ke (Edinburgh Castle) and Rahul Rawail’s Kuch Khatti Kuch Meethi (shot on Princes Street, Edinburgh).

“The problem with Indian producers has always been that unless we can offer some kind of financial assistance, it’s not easy for them to come over,” says Bill Doyle, location director of Scottish Screen, a body for promoting Scotland as a film production centre. 

Superior Lake: With tranquility like this, why look elsewhere? Which is why Bollywood is having a relook.

“Four years ago, quite a lot of Bollywood films were coming here; that has now tailed off. They tend to go to Switzerland now if they want mountains, because Switzerland in summer is quiet, keen to get visitors and everyone drops their prices; whereas in Scotland, prices tend to go up in summer.”

Another reason, points out Doyle, is that the last Bollywood shooting unit in Scotland faced crew visa problems. “As a result, all the stuff set up in various locations fell through because there must have been a delay of three or four weeks”, obviously causing a good deal of loss to the producer. 

Recent trends show that Bollywood locations are now also shifting to eastern European countries such as the Czech Republic, Lithuania and Poland. The reason, many say, is due to lower costs of labour, accommodation, food and travel. This shift is not limited to Indian films alone. The Hollywood project, Highlander V, too, has snubbed Scotland and opted for Lithuania. In fact, Scotland even lost Braveheart to Ireland, though that film was about the Scottish hero, William Wallace.

Douglas Rae, chief executive of Ecosse Films, which produced Mrs Brown, starring Dame Judi Dench and Scottish comedian Billy Connolly, and the BBC series Monarch of the Glen, says, “One should compare the UK with the Isle of Man, which is a tiny island off Liverpool. The Isle of Man has produced 100 films in the past five years, because of the tax incentives on the island.

“It is not just the benefits to the economy while you are filming—it is all the tourists that come afterwards. Fifty per cent of the tourists come to Scotland because of the movies.” With Indian movie budgets beginning to equal the GDP of a small country, those Scots better get their act together.

March 2006

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