Camels and Crane-shots on the Cheap: Indie Production in India
Andrea Meyer/IFC News
India is trendy. Look no further than the pages of Lucky magazine or the streets of New York to find fashionistas wearing embroidered hippie blouses and beaded flip-flops while carting yoga mats. But India's appeal does not lie in its breezy clothes and hilltop ashrams alone. Or even in Bollywood, its popular film industry that is being honored this month alone with festivals or showcases in New York, L.A. and Washington, DC. This country both mystical and bustling, with its wonders of architecture, landscape and urban chaos alike is a great place to shoot a movie.
If Toronto production has boomed in recent years thanks to its low costs and malleable locations, India is an equally profitable and infinitely more exotic alternative. "For four or five years we've been selling India as the new film destination," says Dileep Singh Rathore of On the Road (OTR) Productions, a company specializing in foreign films shooting in India. With a thriving film industry that puts out between 800 and 1,000 movies a year, there is a complex infrastructure — studios, labs, rental equipment — in place, so crew is as well-trained as in the U.S. Crews are also inexpensive and generally fluent in English. Equipment and processing can also be had at lower costs.
Celine Rattray of Plum Pictures ("Lonesome Jim"), one of the producers of "Rajapur," an indie that recently wrapped in Jaisalmer, a town in the Rajasthan Desert, says of the film, "The production value of this movie is the equivalent of a $20 million movie shot in the States." Some ways in which the filmmakers got more bang for their buck included being able to shoot 29 days (as opposed to the 20 days shot on a recent Plum project with a similar budget back home), low crew salaries and housing costs, two cameras and a crane available for the entire shoot (a rarity for a U.S. indie film), 350 extras. "We had intense stunt sequences with wind machines blowing sand and a large stunt team. We [were] surrounded by sand dunes, camels, gypsies dressed in amazing colors. In every way it felt like a large movie," Rattray says.
The most compelling reason to shoot in India, whether making a tale of young Indians in love or a Western set in the heart of Texas, is the stunning and diverse locations. "We have snow-covered mountains, the beautiful beaches of Goa, palaces, tropical jungles," says Rathore. "You can shoot India for Afghanistan, Tunisia, Thailand, Egypt. You can shoot India for the Middle East without having to go to the Middle East."
"Rajapur" is a movie about a young woman returning to India to meet the man her mother once loved. The film's director, Nanda Anand, says she would consider shooting in India, even if the storyline had nothing to do with the country. "You could shoot India for Arizona or, my God, Mexico!" she said. "Making movies in India is great because the people are very talented and professional and the movie industry is the love of their life, just like in the States."
Rattray admits that there are logistical complications to shooting in a so-called third-world country, even one with a booming film industry. In this case, some included having only one telephone line in the office that doubled as a spotty Internet connection, packages that never arrived, cancelled flights, crew with debilitating bouts of stomach flu, often-nonexistent cellphone reception. The pros, however, far outweigh the cons. "You learn fast that trying to control the logistics is a waste of time," she says. "There is an Indian attitude of 'don't worry, it'll work itself out,' and they're right. With all our lack of resources and ability to control the day, somehow things came together."