As a director, I'm often asked why Bollywood filmmakers don't shoot more often in India. What's the rest of the world got that India doesn't have? I finally found the answers to all these questions in our beloved capital Delhi. The film I am working on currently, Fanaa, starring Aamir Khan and Kajol, requires me to shoot extensively in Delhi for which I did a recce of its many wonderful monuments, all of which I had read about in history in school, but never actually been inside. I was waiting to commence shooting, excited that Indians the world over and in India would see so much of its past. What I had not bargained for was the red tape involved in getting permission for shooting.
I have shot extensively in Britain, Switzerland and Amsterdam. All one needs is a local coordinator, which the film commission of that country puts you in touch with. It is she or he who gets the required clearances, which usually involve a letter or two from one/or two authorities. In India, it is a multiple of that. To shoot in Delhi in any monument, one requires permission from up to seven agencies-the Home Ministry, NDMC, the police commissioner, the local police station of the area you want to shoot in, the fire brigade, the ASI, in certain cases the Defence Ministry or another nodal ministry, the list goes on. That's not all. Even after the permission, people walk onto your set and order you to provide the stars of the film for a photo session with Mr X, his wife, their children, and their friends-Mr X being the officer who has provided the permission. God help you if you don't oblige them. They will have you thrown out of the location as soon as they can. After getting clearances, you are suddenly told you cannot put the camera under any structure that has a roof in any ASI monument-never mind if people have scratched their names all over the monument. No reason is given. While shooting in Purana Qila for Veer-Zaara, Shah Rukh Khan couldn't spare time to meet an official and his family (we work during shooting you know), so, a year later when we (my film is produced by Yash Raj Films, the producers of Veer-Zaara) reached Qutub Minar for a shoot, we encountered the same man who insisted that we could not shoot anywhere near the iron pillar. Revenge? Oh no, he's just protecting the monuments from us. While shooting in Lodhi Gardens we had to instruct our security to be extra polite with everyone taking a morning walk there as there would probably be about 50 people walking there who could cancel our shooting with just one phone call, as happened with Deepa Mehta on Earth.
The Swiss have named a lake after Yash Chopra because he has been solely responsible for increasing tourism to that country from India. Norway, France, Australia and New Zealand regularly pay for trips of our filmmakers, enticing us to shoot in their countries, as they have realised how much Hindi films can contribute to their coffers. They offer us cheaper air fares on their national carriers, hotel rooms at discounts and locations for free. What do we get in our country? Officials who want to get photographed with the stars.
Since it's so difficult for us to shoot in our own country no one recognises our monuments. Purana Qila in Delhi was passed off as a monument in Lahore. Why? In my trips to Delhi, the only people I saw in the monuments were a handful of foreign tourists, some schoolchildren and couples who want to go make out in the quiet of the monuments or the surrounding gardens. So how did I manage my shoot? I made sure every official's wife and child got photographed with the stars, I made sure we weren't rude to any official, but even then I wasn't allowed to place the camera in so many places from where I could capture the true beauty of our monuments. In Amsterdam, a portion of the Van Gogh Museum was blocked so that I could shoot. But what do I get in my own country? Rules and regulations that make no sense.
Why can't we sell our cities to not just Indian filmmakers, but filmmakers from all over the world? Isn't it some thing Delhi, its administration and the Union ministry responsible for attracting tourists to India, should be concerned about? We pay Rs 5,000 a day right now for the privilege of shooting in the monuments. Raise it. But also give us credit for being sensitive enough to protect our heritage. We are as proud of it as you are.
The writer is director of the National Award-winning film, Hum Tum.