Novelty is the name of the game in the show business. And a film’s setting is an integral part of that. Non-metro cities and smaller towns in India are attracting more and more Bollywood filmmakers for their distinctive setting, nicer landscape, and in some cases, shoot subsidies offered by the local authorities. Some recent examples of films shot in such locations include Toilet: Ek Prem Katha (starring Akshay Kumar and Bhumi Pednekar), Bareilly Ki Barfi (starring Ayushmann Khurrana, Kriti Sanon, and Rajkummar Rao), Padman (starring Akshay Kumar and Sonam Kapoor), and Behen Hogi Teri (starring Rajkummar Rao and Shruti Haasan).
Filmmaker Aanand L Rai, who has produced Nil Battey Sannata (starring Swara Bhaskar, 2015) and Shubh Mangal Saavdhan (starring Ayushmann Khurrana and Bhumi Pednekar), believes that while cinema, in general, is not dependent on subsidies, a small-budget film can really benefit from such perks. “I don’t work on stories for subsidies and I have my own reasons for placing my stories in small towns. However, when we try to make a film like a Nil Battey Sannata and (this year’s) Newton (starring Rajkummar Rao), then I feel that a certain kind of support from the authorities is required,” he says. “It’s not about the budget, but more about the content. When you do a film like Nil Battey Sannata, where you have to put up a certain fight to reach your audience and to promote [it], you want support from authorities.”
Toilet: Ek Prem Katha: Hoshangabad in Madhya Pradesh (MP); Nandgaon in Uttar Pradesh (UP)
Bareilly Ki Barfi: Lucknow, UP
Behen Hogi Teri: Lucknow
Babumoshai Bandookbaaz: Lucknow
Padman: Indore, MP
Shubh Mangal Saavdhan: Haridwar, Uttarakhand
Lucknow Central: Lucknow
For Bareilly Ki Barfi director Ashwini Iyer Tiwari, the landscape and emotions in a non-metro city are very different. “The most important thing is the emotion. A story that we’ve seen before in metro cities is different from [a story] in the smaller towns,” she says. “Another very important thing is that the landscape you get in heart of the country is much more beautiful than what we get in the metros.”
With a lot of film teams choosing Uttar Pradesh, we look at what kind of support is offered by the authorities there. Among the high-profile upcoming films being shot in the state is Lucknow Central (starring Farhan Akhtar), which obviously has the city’s central jail as its setting.
Gaurav Dwivedi, Vice-Chairman, Uttar Pradesh Film Development Council, says, “First, there’s a single-window clearance system, where you apply online or personally, and there’s a district officer who can help you with getting permission from different departments. Second, we give cash incentives [as] subsidies, e.g. if you shoot 50% of the film in Uttar Pradesh, you get subsidies up to Rs 1 crore; and if you shoot 75% or more, you get up to Rs 2 crore. The subsidy is given in two lots: 30% after [the film] getting a Censor Board certificate and 70% upon release.”
On the subject of cash incentives, Toilet: Ek Prem Katha director Shree Narayan Singh says, “There are many clauses that come with subsidies, because every location has different proposals — I don’t think [a subsidy] helps much.”
Singh, who has shot in Hoshangabad, Madhya Pradesh, and Nandgaon, Uttar Pradesh, feels that big-budget films don’t get much of a relief from subsidies of a couple of crores. He says, “If you shoot a complete film and get 10-20% [as subsidy] you don’t get a decent amount. It only makes sense if you get complete or 80% subsidy. A person who can spend Rs 20 crore on a film can spend Rs 3-4 crore extra.” However, he adds that even a small subsidy is worth something, because “people can use [the money] for publicity”.
Trade analyst Atul Mohan says that any subsidy, whatever percentage of the film’s budget, is useful. He says, “The thought of getting a subsidy is certainly there on a filmmaker’s mind. Otherwise, why would a film suddenly be shot in a state like Uttar Pradesh? Even if the subsidy is 10%, it makes a lot of difference. It definitely helps a producer; that’s why we have so many film teams shooting there. Any kind of relief is beneficial for a filmmaker.”