GANGTOK: Sikkim was conferred with the title of ‘Film Friendly State’ at the 67th National Film Awards in New Delhi on March 23. The long-standing effort of the state has ideally focussed more on welcoming filmmakers to Sikkim, but not so much in developing or supporting one of its own. Is that subject to change in Sikkim with the latest recognition? And how instrumental will be the Sikkim Film Policy?

A conversation with various filmmakers and film crew from within Sikkim and outside, as well Sikkim Film Board officials revealed that the Sikkim Film Policy, adopted by the state government in 2020, would facilitate local artists as well as filmmakers coming to Sikkim. 

Pooja Sharma, the Chairman of Sikkim Film Board, has been instrumental in welcoming the Film Policy. She says that 75% of the films must be shot in Sikkim and showcase its tourism potential to make Sikkim a film destination. The other aspect focuses on 50% of the cast and crew for any film coming to Sikkim to house local artists or enthusiasts. She shared, “Sikkim CM Prem Singh Golay backs on the belief that films are the next big thing and has given it a lot of attention. The same is getting reflected in the national platform with the award. We are being appreciated. The beauty of this place is a natural set for films. We have not been able to exhibit the same. It (the state) is a tourism destination, but nothing happened regarding a film destination. We brought officials from the Film Federation of India, contacted the Information and Broadcasting Ministry to showcase Sikkim. Our policy is friendly, with subsidy schemes, medical assistance, and covers everyone in the film sector from locals to those from outside.”

Dipankar Gupta, the first assistant director of Bollywood film ‘Qareeb Qareeb Singlle’ (2017), starring late actor Irrfan Khan, shared, “Everywhere we went it was so beautiful..we could shoot at any place. There is an abundance of beauty, and we got permission with relative ease. There is a little bit of logistical issue with the lack of an airport but it is not much of a hassle. Unless we are shooting something which needs a lot of lights, in which case we need to get equipment from Kolkata. But the camera and other equipment were relatively easy to get. We could bring them to Sikkim without much difficulty.”

While there is an overwhelming consensus on the state’s beauty, real-life experiences tend to be different. Logistical issues can increase the shoot cost, and at times, promises between the state government and film producers aren’t respected. When Pahuna, a film by Priyanka Chopra’s Purple Pebble Pictures, was shot in Sikkim in 2017, there was a lot of hula-hoop. But, by the time the film was released, the reviews soured, local presence was ignored, and the government failed to keep its end of the bargain. 

The film, however, had a positive impact too, with locals like Biswas Timshina, Raj Sitaula, Ashik Sharma making a name for themselves as filmmakers, writers, lyricists, production manager, and line producers.

In 2017, a film crew visited Sikkim for a recce shoot for a Bollywood film Paltan, as the story was based in Nathula on the Indo-China border. “They wanted to shoot in North Sikkim, but there was no infrastructure. There were no hotels not to host the 100-plus crew. Sadly, when it failed, they had to take the shoot to Ladakh. Our major attraction is ideally South, West and East Sikkim, but outsiders want to shoot in North Sikkim. So, if North Sikkim is developed properly, it would help the state’s film endeavours,” shared Timshina, who has been living in Mumbai to be a filmmaker ever since ‘Pahuna‘.

Ugen Chopel, the legendary filmmaker who made the Nepali film ‘Saino’ that marked the debut of Bollywood legend Danny Denzongpa, shared, “The government has to rise to the occasion. The Sikkim Film board is ensuring that more shootings should happen in Sikkim. We majorly struggle with marketing and infrastructure. But we also struggle with permit issues. There are restricted areas which are very beautiful. People want to pay, but they also want convenience. Airports, hotels and travel need to be professional, as it can be a separate industry in Sikkim. It will also ensure that casting and crew are ideally local. If the government wants, they can have people like us aid them. We lack in the field of marketing, and if we don’t capitalise, this award will go to waste.”

Independent filmmaker Karma Takapa, who made ‘Ralang Road‘ in 2017, had the rare success of showcasing his film at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival in the Czech Republic. He shot the film about a tiny hamlet ‘Ralang‘, a crime thriller based and shot entirely in Sikkim. His suggestion following Sikkim receiving award and recognition was to first look inward, then outward. “You need to support people who could go out, make films and put you on the map rather than waiting for someone from outside. We need to stop being proud of big films coming to shoot here. Instead, we should be proud of someone from here going out and making it big. Any sort of recognition is good but it is how you capitalise on it,” he adds. 

Raj Sitaula, a line producer who has been instrumental in bringing many of the films to Sikkim, stated, “When we came for MOM film for its location recce in 2015 which had Sridevi as the lead cast, we realized there was no professional line producer in Sikkim. As a result, so many film locations were being missed out on. But with our effort, many films came and locals were also employed. The award for Most Film Friendly State is an annual affair, since in 2018 also we had competed in the category. The information about how much the government has aided a film goes to the Information and Broadcasting Ministry every year. We prepared film profiles and took feedback from all the filmmakers and producers who have shot a film in Sikkim. It has helped in Sikkim being adjudged as a film-friendly State. We feel this award is as per 2018 data, as in 2020 there were no films shot in Sikkim due to COVID-19. We feel in 2021 as well, we will win the award again. The processing has become easier, the state government has taken initiative to make it a shooting hub.”

When informed about the feedback from the various filmmakers and the ground reality, Sikkim Film Board Chairman asserted on making the film policy convenient. “The logistic support must be provided from the Sikkim Tourism Development Corporation and vehicles from Sikkim Nationalized Transport. The Department of Tourism can help in providing hotel bookings at a subsidised rate. Other departments must also understand the same to ease the single-window system. We are trying to prepare a film facilitation office. For it to perform better, we must ease permit concerns and provide tourism guest houses for shoots. On most occasions, films come at the very last minute. We cannot give financial aid at the beginning; we can only aid once the film gets clearance from the Ministry.”

The Sikkim government is organising the second edition of the Global Film Festival for April end, but looking at COVID 19, there is a re-consideration for postponement, informed Sharma. “The festival will happen this year. We will focus on the festival as film producers meet will be the main focus. Notable celebrities are coming to help us aid in the Film City development, which is the Chief Minister’s aim. We have got the green signal from the Ministry,” Sharma added.

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