Chandigarh to cash in on Bollywood

By Jaideep Sarin, IANS
7/9/2004 12:00:00 AM
It's raining stars in Chandigarh, and the tourism department here wants to get a windfall out of it.

With Bollywood making a beeline to this locale with its array of stars, the tourism department in this union territory has planned a facilitation cell for film units.

The cell would help provide single window clearance for filming at locations in and around the city, arrange police permission and security and even make available equipment and artists.

The services would come for a small fee, according to officials.

The administration has invited bids for the supply of film equipment like cameras, trolleys and other things for visiting film crews, said Special Secretary (Tourism) S.P. Singh.

"The cell was needed with more and more Bollywood interests developing in and around the city," he said.

According to officials, the cell would reduce a lot of problems that are otherwise faced by filmmakers in this "bureaucratised city".

Those involved in theatre and cinema are happy. "It would definitely give a boost to the economy in this region. Several people will get employment from the film trade," said theatre and TV artist Vinod Sharma.

Though the city has no graded five-star hotel, the hospitality industry has benefited from the visits of film crews in the past year, as there are mass bookings for several days together.

The latest visit from Bollywood -- as Mumbai's tinsel world is better known -- was by Gracy Singh, the leading lady of two super-hit films, "Lagaan" and the comedy "Munnabhai MBBS".

She shot here for nearly 10 days with actor-turned-MP Raj Babbar's son Arya.

The big names were all here in May -- from superstar Amitabh Bachchan, current male number one Shah Rukh Khan, Sanjay Dutt, Suniel Shetty, Bobby Deol to leading ladies Preity Zinta, Rani Mukherjee.

The deluge started lately. Earlier, barely four to five film units used to visit the city in a year. Last month, a Punjabi film "Pind Di Kudi" (Village Girl) -- starring Indian and Pakistani artistes -- was shot in and around Chandigarh.

Among the favourite locales for film units are the scenic Panjab University area, the artificial Sukhna Lake that has mountains in its backdrop, Nek Chand's Rock Garden, several landscaped gardens spread across the city, the Forest Hill golf course and resort and the city's palatial bungalows.

Nearby locations include sundry agricultural fields, the Mughal Gardens at Pinjore and Ramgarh Fort.

For most Bollywood films, Chandigarh is also the gateway to locations in Himachal Pradesh. Shimla -- capital of the hill state -- is a three-hour drive away.

Among other locations in Himachal Pradesh, most film units heading for the picturesque Kullu-Manali valley have to touch down at Chandigarh and then drive ahead.

Though Kullu has an airport at Bhuntar, most stars prefer to travel to Manali by road from here, taking in the scenic beauty.