Shoot at another site! Bollywood filmmakers speak up on location woes

As makers of 'Sarbjit' biopic struggle for permission to shoot at the Wagah border, Bollywood directors talk about the inconvenience caused due to restrictions on filming at  locations crucial to their stories

Selecting the right location is a key part of the filmmaking process, and it takes a lot of effort to organise a shooting schedule and execute it. However, it is not always that things happen as per plan — like in the case of 'Sarbjit'. In a setback to makers of the slain prisoner’s biopic, their ongoing schedule has been delayed for the want of permission to shoot at the Wagah border, the only legal crossing between India and Pakistan.

A busy Wagah border and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, who stars in the Sarabjit Singh biopic
A busy Wagah border and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan (inset), who stars in the Sarabjit Singh biopic

“We have been shooting in Amritsar from February 5 and awaiting permission to film at the Wagah border. As per our schedule, it should have been shot between February 18 and 20. The border scene is the most important part for us. But we have not got the nod of (Ministry of Home Affairs) so far. The reason given to us are the recent Pathankot attacks as well as Haryana reservation and JNU issues,” says Sandeep Singh, producer of 'Sarbjit' which stars Randeep Hooda, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and Richa Chadda.

Randeep Hooda in a still from Sarbjit
Randeep Hooda in a still from 'Sarbjit'

If the makers fail to secure official permission, they will have no choice but to overshoot the project’s budget and recreate the Wagah border in one of Mumbai’s film studios, adds Singh. “We will have to call the entire unit for the shoot on some other date. This will only add to production costs. But my actors have been co-operative and waiting patiently for us to get permission. Everyday, we hope that the Ministry will grant us permission. If we don’t get it eventually, we will be disappointed,” he sighs.

'Silly' move
Vipul Shah, who was denied permission to shoot in China for his John Abraham and Sonakshi Sinha-starrer Force 2, says, “Most of the time, filmmakers find an alternative. So, according to me, it (not being given permission to film at real locations) is silly because if you do not allow me to shoot, I won’t change my script. I will still go ahead and shoot it at a (similar) location or on a set which can pass off as that particular place. What is the purpose of saying no then? Whatever we are supposed to show, we will. Only that it makes our lives slightly difficult.”

Vipul Shah

Elaborating on the “slightly difficult” bit, the filmmaker says that it not only puts pressure on the producers but also affects a film unit’s creativity. “The team has to start scouring for a location all over again to ensure the scripted scene suits the planned location. This sometimes can be really tough. A lot of time and effort go waste. Forget Force 2 and the fact that it was supposed to be shot in China, we at least expect freedom to shoot anywhere in India,” he rues.

Losing it
Nadeem Shah, who has worked as an associate director for Sanjay Gupta’s films, claims that the Shootout At Wadala (2013) team tried to convince officials in vain to shoot at Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus while the Jazbaa unit wasn’t allowed to shoot at Marine Drive despite official permission. “When you are not allowed to shoot at real locations, you have to compromise by rewriting a sequence to suit the alternate location, and that can have a negative impact on the film. The audience might point out that it is not how a particular location looks or that not enough research has gone into the film,” he explains, adding it also results in loss of money and actors’ dates.

Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and Irrfan in Jazbaa
Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and Irrfan in 'Jazbaa'

Home truths
Shooting abroad has been a breeze, says director Anees Bazmee as he points out that he has not had luck while filming in India for “almost all my projects”. “Here, people do not even know about the script and how the film will shape up, but still object to shooting because they have certain pre-conceived notions. From morning till night, police keep barging into our sets to ask us for proof of permission and pose random questions only to scare us. We have had to hire a person to just ‘manage’ the police. However, abroad, police come on the sets to check if our shoot is going on smoothly and if there are any concerns. That’s the attitude difference. Undoubtedly, it is difficult to shoot in India,” he says.

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