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Bollywood producers honoured in Locarno

Switzerland is one of Bollywood's favourite locations (museum-gestaltung)

The Swiss president, Joseph Deiss, has met ten top Indian film producers this weekend on the sidelines of the annual Locarno film festival.

Around 30 Bollywood productions are shot in Switzerland each year, which has led to a boom in the number of Indian tourists visiting the country.

Deiss held talks with the film producers during a working lunch on Sunday near Ascona.

The Swiss president said he was proud that India's movie makers had chosen Switzerland as a film location, adding that many Indian tourist now visited the country as a result of this.

The group, which has been invited to the country by Switzerland Tourism, will also spend four days touring the country in search of new film locations.

Cyril Jost, head of the Swiss Film Commission, said the meeting with Deiss was a sign that Switzerland recognised the importance of the Bollywood industry.

“This is a way of honouring the Indian film producers who have done a lot for Switzerland, and it’s very important for them to get some recognition,” he said.

Since Switzerland was discovered by the Indian film industry in the 1960s, hundreds of films have been made in the country. Popular locations include the Bernese Oberland and the area around Lake Geneva.

Indian film producers increasingly turned to Switzerland for their location filming in the 1980s after war broke out in Kashmir.

They found that the country’s mountain scenery was an ideal backdrop for the song and dance sequences - an integral part of any Bollywood movie - which had always been filmed in Kashmir.

Fairytale location

N. Ramji is the director of a Chennai-based travel agency which helps organise Indian productions abroad. During the course of his work he has paid around 160 trips to Switzerland.

swissinfo recently caught up with him while he was on a film shoot at the Grimsel Pass in the Bernese Oberland.

“Switzerland has got some great panoramic views and the beauty of the country is that it’s compact,” said Ramji.

“I can stay in one place and reach the snow in 90 minutes or I can go to a nice lake which is half an hour away - so logistically it’s a dream as well as a fairytale destination.”

He adds that other reasons why Switzerland is so popular as a location for Bollywood films include the country’s good infrastructure and lack of red tape.

Tourism boom

The films are also a huge source of indirect tourism marketing for Switzerland and have largely been responsible for the rise in the number of Indians choosing to visit the country.

“Last year we had about 200,000 visits from India and over the last few years the numbers have increased by about five per cent,” said Silvia De Vito from Switzerland Tourism.

De Vito estimates that the number of Indian tourists coming to the country could rise by up to 20 per cent in the future.

Tourism officials are therefore stepping up efforts to attract even more Indian film producers to Switzerland.

Switzerland Tourism recently published a brochure aimed specifically at the Indian market entitled “Switzerland for the Movie Stars”.

Wooing Bollywood

The government-funded Swiss Film Commission, which helps crews that want to use Switzerland as a backdrop for location shoots, has also been active in wooing the best of Bollywood to the country.

Jost and his colleagues recently attended a film locations fair in India and have been promoting cantons Jura and Ticino as alternative destinations.

But Switzerland is not alone in cashing in on the Bollywood business – it faces stiff competition from countries such as Ireland and New Zealand as well as Kashmir, which is trying to lure the film industry back to the region.

Although Switzerland’s efforts to do more for producers have been noticed by Indian film producers, Ramji feels that the country could be doing more.

“Countries like Ireland, Romania and England… are going all out to woo Bollywood movies, because this is the only industry where we come, spend our money and give you publicity,” he said.

“The Swiss should selectively help people who have a track record of film-making in Switzerland… we not looking for anything big, but small courtesies can go a long way.”

swissinfo, Isobel Leybold-Johnson

In brief

Switzerland was first used by Bollywood legend Raj Kapoor in the 1960s for the film “Sangam”.

One of the most famous films to be shot in Switzerland was “Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge”, released in 1995.

The newly-released “Asambhav” was the first Bollywood production to be shot in the Locarno region and was shown at the Locarno film festival.

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