Why is Bollywood lining up to shoot its films in the Northeast?

Kangana Ranaut is shooting for her upcoming political thriller, Emergency in Chandubi, Assam. Hrithik Roshan was spotted shooting for his upcoming action thriller, Fighter, directed by Siddharth Anand, in Tezpur. 

Varun Dhawan’s recently-released Bhediya was shot extensively across locations in Arunachal Pradesh. Ayushmann Khurrana’s failed foray into Northeastern terrorism and its ramification across the seven states was shot across the Northeast. And the list goes and on. Why is there such a surge in interest among Bollywood filmmakers to shoot their stories in the Northeast when this section of the country has been long neglected and sidelined? What is making producers, directors, and actors run to the Northeast to shoot their films? Through the rest of this article, let us try to decipher this new and very interesting development.

The films I mentioned above are in no way the first few films to be shot in the Northeast. The list goes back to the 1960s. Jewel Thief, released in 1967 was one of India’s best spy thrillers, and it starred the nation’s heartthrob at that time, Dev Anand. It was shot extensively in Sikkim. Sikkim, back then, was not considered a part of the Northeast. However, it is very much a part of the Northeast now and for that reason, this film makes our list. Kurbaan, directed by Deepak Bahry was a family drama film starring Salman Khan and Ayesha Jhulka filmed in Shillong. A few scenes were shot at Eastern Air Command Campus, Upper Shillong. Rakesh Roshan’s 1997 Koyla, starring Shah Rukh Khan and Madhuri Dixit, was shot in Arunachal Pradesh. One of the film’s songs, “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. More recently, films like John Abraham-starrer Saya, Farhan Akhtar starer Rock On 2, and Shahid Kapoor- Kangana Ranaut- Saif Ali Khan starer Rangoon were also shot in the Northeast.

When one looks closely, one can see that there was a lull in the shooting of films here up till the late 1990s and early 2000s. so what has changed?

Tourism, social media, and interest in Northeast’s beauty

With the advent of social media and an ever-increasing number of people travelling to the Northeastern states for tourism, the entire country has finally woken up to the diverse culture, ethnicity, food, and cultural richness of the Eight Northeastern states. The filmmakers have also woken up to the mesmerizing natural beauty of the states and realized how the same can be used to mount spellbinding spectacles on the big screen that would give even the most sought-after locales of Europe a run for their money.

I keep bumping into tourists during my travel through the region who are quick to express that a certain place that they are planning to visit or have visited presented itself to them through social media. Dawki, with its transparent waters and synonymous drone-shot images, seems to be the most popular choice in this line. It is closely followed by Dzukou Valley, Mechuka, and of course, the ever-so-important Maa Kamakhya Temple in Guwahati. Thus, it is safe to say that social media, increased tourism, and word of mouth have contributed to the discovery of the Northeastern states in the eyes of the filmmakers.

A renewed sense of safety, security, and ease of work

Northeast for a very long time was considered to be a place that blew up every 15 minutes killing innocent people. It was just not worth taking a risk on as you never knew where the next bomb would go off. This was because of the numerous terrorist groups that were active in the different states even though they all pushed for different agendas and demands. Now, most of these groups have come to the discussion tables or have been subdued. Some of the remaining few that still try to cause trouble are too few and too inconsequential to pose any genuine threats. There hasn’t been any major terrorist incident in the Northeast ever since the serial bomb blasts in Guwahati. Thus, filmmakers feel a lot safer now to come to these parts of the country bringing their money, actors, and technician. The BJP government has also played an important role in inviting these people and ensuring their safety and a conducive work environment with fastened licensing and approval processes and systems.

Interest in northeast stories like never before

One of the biggest pulls for the film fraternity in the Northeast has been a renewed interest in Northeast stories, culture, way of life, and issues plaguing the region. This can be seen in the kind of films that have come out over the years about the place. What I find most amusing is the most talked about issues of the Northeastern states are terrorism and its diverse musical culture and leanings. It is amusing to note that these two issues are as different from one another as possible and yet are the defining factors of the region for the people of the rest of the country. I am hopeful that with time, people will discover a lot many different aspects of the region and will fall in love with these states all over again.  

Cost-effective to film, travel, and good connectivity

One of the most important contributions of the BJP government in the centre has been their effort to develop the Northeastern region by building roads and communication gateways thereby facilitating the movement of goods and people. This has immensely helped all Eight states and made it far easier and cheaper for film crews to travel to some of the most remote regions of the states. I remember a time when travelling from Dimapur to Kohima used to take 4 hours for a distance of 70 Kms and cost Rs. 700 per head in a shared shock absorber less Tata Sumo. While many places in the Northeast are still plagued by the same issues, I believe they will get developed in the not-so-distant future.

I am confident that this is just the beginning. With the passing years and the infrastructure and overall development of the region moving up to the next gear, Northeastern states will definitely become one of the hubs for enormously mounted Bollywood spectacles. Don’t be surprised to see the snowfall over the beautiful lands of Tawag instead of Switzerland. Don’t be surprised to see the dreamy and green village life in Assam replace the harsh but beautiful landscapes of Gujarat and Rajasthan villages. And don’t be surprised if the next story from Assam has Hrithik Roshan in the lead and is directed by Karan Johar. Times are changing and as Dr. Manmohan Singh once famously said, “the nation whose time has come, cannot be stopped in any shape or manner”. India’s time has come and with it, the Northeast’s too.

Also read | Manipur: MLTR set Imphal stage on fire with popular numbers 

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