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Why the North East has been off B-Town's radar as a shoot locale

Mary Kom’s biopic, starring Priyanka Chopra, was not shot in the boxing champ’s home state, Manipur. The makers preferred to opt for Himachal Pradesh instead. The North East has not been on Bollywood’s radar as a shoot locale. The seven sisters — the states of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura — despite their pristine locations, are missing from Bollywood’s map.

Over the years, producers have preferrd to log air miles to East European nations (Bollywood’s current hotspot) or traverse from Alaska to New Zealand.

Also read: Manipur to be recreated in Darjeeling for Mary Kom biopic

Rock On 2 is currently being filmed in Shillong, Meghalaya
'Rock On 2' is currently being filmed in Shillong, Meghalaya

As National award-winning filmmaker Jahnu Barua, who hails from Assam, points out, “The rest of India has been allergic to the North East since independence. There is this fear psychosis as it is the border area. They just do not want to take notice of
the region.” Fortunately, that seems to be changing now.

Play it loud
The sequel of 'Rock On!!' (2008) is presently being shot in Shillong, Meghalaya. The film revolves around a music band, and Meghalaya is emerging as the rock capital of India.

Also read: 'Rock On 2' to begin shooting in Meghalaya from October 23

Ira Dubey in Aisa Yeh Jahaan which was shot in Assam
Ira Dubey in 'Aisa Yeh Jahaan' which was shot in Assam

The makers of the film — which stars Farhan Akhtar, Shraddha Kapoor, Arjun Rampal and Prachi Desai -- wanted to capture the music festival scene in Shillong which is now on the go-to-list for rock music aficionados.

Filmmaker Biswajeet Bora, who is from Assam, points out, “Most filmmakers feel it is not feasible to shoot with big stars in the area due to the lack of fancy five-star hotels, but things have changed a lot in the region. They have to put their fears to rest.”

Imphal-based Mary Kom’s biopic, starring Priyanka Chopra, was not shot in Manipur, but in Himachal Pradesh
Imphal-based Mary Kom’s biopic, starring Priyanka Chopra, was not shot in Manipur, but in Himachal Pradesh

Also read: 'Aisa Yeh Jahaan' - Movie Review

Bora shot his recent film, 'Aisa Yeh Jahaan', starring Palash Sen and Ira Dubey in the Golaghat district of Assam.

Another project
Close on the heels of the 'Rock On 2' unit, is Vishal Bharadwaj, who is shooting his Saif Ali Khan-Shahid Kapoor-Kangna Ranaut starrer 'Rangoon' in Arunachal Pradesh. Knowing B-Town’s herd mentality, this might just have others following suit.

As 'Rangoon' is set against the backdrop of World War II, the region lends itself as the perfect location. Bharadwaj’s film will unfold in Ziro valley in Arunachal Pradesh which is considered a heritage site.

With two film productions in the North East, Bollywood is likely to wake up from its slumber and tap the region’s full potential.
Veteran filmmaker Shyam Benegal was part of a task force to develop the region as a shoot location. He says, “Five years ago, the Meghalaya government was keen that Hindi films be shot in the state. I was part of the initiative to promote it as a destination, but we had just one meeting and then things became quiet on that front.”

Also read: Shahid Kapoor and Saif Ali Khan to start shooting for 'Rangoon' in Arunachal Pradesh

Benegal visited several breathtaking locations in the state. He says, “I wish I could have shot a film there. When I visited the place, I was stunned by the natural beauty. The Meghalaya government showed great interest. We visited several spots in the state which could be ideal locations. They were keen to offer several incentives to attract filmmakers, but things did not take off.”

Logistical issues
What Benegal saw as a possible deterrent were the connectivity and infrastructural requirements. As he puts it, “A film unit consists of a large number of people all their needs have to be taken care of.” But Barua feels what matters more is the mindset, rather than the logistics, “People need to understand the region. They need to know about the area. Due to the Mongoloid physical features of the people, they are considered to be different from the rest of the country.”

Barua always shoots his films in Assam to highlight the culture and politics of the state. “Most Bollywood stories do not match the North East region. The stories do not reflect the people of the region. They feel you cannot have people with Mongoloid physical features in their films. It is all in the thinking; it needs to change.”

This sentiment is echoed by actor Adil Hussain, who is from Goalpara in Assam. Best remembered as Sridevi’s husband in 'English Vinglish' (2012), he says, “It is because of the attitude of the political class that the area has been neglected. Films are being shot all over India, even Kashmir. Bollywood only looks at commercial viability. It is driven by profits, rather than art. They would rather go to an exotic foreign locale than go to the North East. The North East is considered a sensitive area, they do not want to put their money at stake by shooting in the region.”

Birthday blast
In November 2013, when Aamir Khan chose to bring in his wife Kiran Rao’s 40th birthday in Assam, it at least made Bollywood realise the region’s tourist potential. The star was accompanied by filmmakers Karan Johar and Ayan Mukerji. Though they raved about the state’s natural beauty, planning a film in the state remained a distant dream.

Unsafe terrain
Safety seems to be a big concern for filmmakers. Benegal explains, “Decades of insurgency and unrest has a lot to contribute to Bollywood skipping the north east. But Bora has a different opinion, “Things have changed a lot now. There were issues, but all that is now the past. There are several Western tourists who visit the Kaziranga National Park in Assam. Meghalaya has already become a rock music hotspot, so why can’t Bollywood shoot here?”

Things may be changing, but as Barua maintains mindsets do not alter, at least not soon.

“The people of the terrain have gone through a lot,” says actress Ira Dubey, who shot in Assam for her film, 'Aisa Yeh Jahaan'. “There have been natural disasters and political unrest, but what I observed after spending time in Assam during the shoot, was the resilience of the people. There is so much positivity, the people are warm and clean-hearted.”

Ira also learnt the Assamese folk dance, Bihu, for a song. “It looks simple, but there are some delicate hand movements which you have to get right.”

Talking about her experience of shooting in Assam, she says, “There was a scary episode when we were flying in a chopper from Arunachal Pradesh to Assam. We had to do an emergency landing, but we were fine. Later, I learnt that the two pilots, who had flown us, had perished in a crash.” So is this fear psychosis that makes industry folk keep off the North East for shoots? Mary Kom director Omung Kumar chose not to comment about why he did not shoot in Manipur for his film. But for his upcoming biopic on Sarabjit Singh, he plans to shoot in the actual locations in Punjab.

So why did he skip Manipur? He has no answer — like most of the B-Town folk who just do not seem to want to tread the region.

When Bollywood made an exception

>> Deepak Bahry’s 'Kurbaan' (1991) with Salman Khan and Ayesha Jhulka was shot in Shillong in Meghalaya. The red jeep used in the film by Sallu belonged to a local store owner in the Laban area of Shillong, who became a star himself after the shoot.

Madhuri Dixit shot for Koyla (1991) in Tawang, Arunachal Pradesh
Madhuri Dixit shot for 'Koyla' (1997) in Tawang, Arunachal Pradesh

>> Rakesh Roshan’s 'Koyla' (1997) starring Shah Rukh Khan and Madhuri Dixit was shot in Arunachal Pradesh. One of the film’s tracks, Tanhai Tanhai, was filmed in the Shungetser Lake and Nuranang Falls in the Tawang district of the state. After the shoot, Shungetser Lake came to be referred to as the Madhuri Lake.

>> Kalpana Lajmi shot her Naseeruddin Shah-Shabana Azmi starrer 'Ek Pal' (1986) in Shillong, Meghalaya, and Jorhat, Assam. Her Raveena Tandon-starrer Daman (2001) was shot in Guwahati, Assam.

>> Jahnu Barua’s 'Har Pal' was shot in Shillong, Meghalaya, with Preity Zinta and Shiny Ahuja. It was filmed in 2007, but did not see light of day.

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