Is Uttar Pradesh the new UK for Bollywood?

Updated: Nov 24, 2016, 10:46 IST | Shaheen Parkar

With the Uttar Pradesh state giving out super subsidies (like the Brits once did for Bollywood), top stars line up to film up north

In Meerut: Shah Rukh Khan, Near Mathura: Akshay Kumar, In Agra: Sanjay Dutt, In Lucknow: Farhan Akhtar and In Varanasi: Arjun Kapoor
In Meerut: Shah Rukh Khan, Near Mathura: Akshay Kumar, In Agra: Sanjay Dutt, In Lucknow: Farhan Akhtar and In Varanasi: Arjun Kapoor

Bollywood may find it difficult to get over its European fixation, but for now, the industry's top stars seem to swear by India's heartland. Setting stories in the ghats of Varanasi, the narrow alleys of Mathura or the old-world charm of Lucknow serves as an ideal proposition for filmmakers. The local culture and various languages spoken in Uttar Pradesh — Hindi, Urdu, Awadhi, Braj Bhasha and Bhojpuri — also help infuse desi flavour in a film.

But, what has mostly caught B-Town's attention is the Akhilesh Yadav government's film-friendly policies. Filmmakers are offered dollops of incentives to showcase the state's culture, which in turn helps boost state tourism (see box).

In May, many were surprised when the state government sent out a global 'Make your film in UP' team to the prestigious Cannes film festival to invite foreign crew to shoot in the state. It has also set up a nodal agency to ensure availability of all film production-related facilities under a single roof. So, now, we have A-listers like Shah Rukh Khan and Akshay Kumar to Sanjay Dutt and Farhan Akhtar heading up north for their films.

Unique charm
Shah Rukh will film Aanand L Rai's next in Meerut. While the filmmaker admits shooting in Uttar Pradesh makes him "feel at home" and has already done a recce of the locations, SRK says, "I will visit UP after many years. I have to learn the nuances of the local people's behaviour for the character I play. They have a distinct tehzeeb that I have to master."

Omung Kumar's Bhoomi starring Sanjay Dutt will be filmed in and around Agra. "We chose UP since the script demanded so. Everything about the state — the locations, people, food and language — is fascinating. You could shoot a romantic drama with the Taj Mahal as the backdrop, or a war film at a historical site," says Manish Singh, associate producer of Legend Studios, which is backing the film. The UP government sop is an added advantage, points out Zafar mehdi, Manish's aide. "The subsidies are a blessing for the film industry," he adds.

Agrees Ashwiny Iyer Tiwary, who chose UP for the second time — after Nil Battey Sannata, which released earlier this year — for Bareilly Ki Barfi starring Ayushmann Khurrana, Rajkummar Rao and Kriti Sanon. She shot for the film in Agra, Lucknow and Rae Bareilly, of course. "The incentives help a great deal, and local people also get work as suppliers. Besides, the landscape that UP offers definitely helps in storytelling."

The unusual suspects
What's interesting is that some filmmakers have explored lesser known locales, ditching landmarks like Agra's Taj Mahal and the ghats of Benaras. Akshay Kumar, who shot for Subhash Kapoor's Jolly LLB 2 in Lucknow, has returned to the state for Neeraj Pandey's Toilet — Ek Prem Katha in Nandgaon, near Mathura. In April, Salman Khan had shot for Sultan in Bihargarh village in Morna tehsil of Muzaffarnagar. The local police machinery had swung into action to avoid crowding of fans near the set.

Work in progress

> Akshay Kumar in 'Jolly LLB 2' (Lucknow), Toilet Ek Prem Katha (Nandgaon, near Mathura)

> Arjun Kapoor and Shraddha Kapoor in Half Girlfriend (Varanasi)

Shraddha Kapoor and Ayushmann Khurrana
Shraddha Kapoor and Ayushmann Khurrana

> Ayushmann Khurrana, Rajkummar Rao in Bareilly Ki Barfi (Agra, Lucknow and Rae Bareilly)

> Nawazuddin Siddiqui in Babumoshai Bandookbaaz (Lucknow)

> Kunaal Roy Kapur in Hum Dono Honge (Kanpur)

Ready to roll
> Sanjay Dutt in Bhoomi (Agra)

> Shah Rukh Khan in untitled next (Meerut)

> Anurag Kashyap's next (Benaras)

> Farhan Akhtar in Lucknow Central (Lucknow)

For a hassle-free shoot
Gaurav Dwivedi, vice chairman, Uttar Pradesh Film Development Council, gives a lowdown on what a filmmaker keen to shoot in UP can expect:

> Subsidies ranging from R1 crore to Rs 3.75 crore. Makers can apply for hassle-free permission across 75 districts in UP.

> Rs 1 crore subsidy if 50 per cent of the film is shot there, Rs 2 crore for 75 per cent.

> Rs 16 lakh for post-production in the state.

> Additional Rs 25 lakh for casting five actors from UP. For an all-UP cast, it's bumped up to Rs 50 lakh.

> Rs 25 lakh extra for shooting for second project in UP. National award-winning maker gets 25 per cent over and above the subsidy for second film.

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