Opinion

MumBye! Hello UP

Yogi Adityanath’s proactive peddling of his planned film city in Noida raises hackles in Maharashtra, but with Mumbai’s hold over Bollywood secure, a new centre for Hindi cinema is to be welcomed

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MumBye! Hello UP
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Cinema: those six letters spell, and spin, a magic yarn of glamour, riches and adulation; a visual shorthand, woven of a thousand scenes that flit by, of the dolce vita. For the mesmerised many fixated by the big screen, the repository of all that gold-plated confetti is the film world—Mumbai, a city that has lured thousands of the young and bedazzled since the ’40s to its fickle tinsel town. Even though most dreams die unrealised, they still flock to it, like moths to a flame, for, as the saying goes, Bombay bole toh Bollywood.     

But is Mumbai’s long-standing monopoly over Bollywood under threat? Will its dream merchants, who have peddled 70MM fantasies from their seaside villas for generations, leave the maximum city lock, stock and barrel and shift base? Will Bambai no longer be Bollywood’s jaan? Can it be even a possibility in the near future?

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Such questions aren’t sacrilegious any more, given the way Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath has resolved to establish a film city with state-of-the-art facilities, spread over 1,000 acres, in Noida’s Sector 21. Once completed, it is expected to compete with the best film cities in the world—a Pinewood, Cinecitta or—dare we speak the name?—Hollywood in Uttar Pradesh’s western fringe.

Earlier this month, when Adityanath reached Mumbai to meet investors and unveiled his film city plans, the Uddhav Thackeray government sounded alarmed. It gave rise to speculations that the CM was armed to the teeth with an ambitious plan to make UP the hub of the Hindi film industry. Without naming Adityanath, Uddhav was quick to dec­lare that no industry would leave a “magnetic state” like Maharashtra. Instead, industrialists from other states would invest there. “The industries of Maharashtra will rem­ain in the state,” he stressed. “Competition is good, but if someone wants to take anything away by shouting and threatening, I will not let that happen.”

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That stark message was ostensibly meant for Yogi Adityanath, who was to meet industrialists along with film personalities during his visit. Adityanath did meet some, including Bollywood superstar Akshay Kumar, adding grist to the rumour mills. However, the UP CM was quick to dismiss them all, saying that it (Bollywood) was not a wallet that could be snatched away. He stressed that Bollywood would reign in Mumbai and a new film city would work in Uttar Pradesh.

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Nonetheless, few in Bollywood took Adityanath’s plans to establish a film city in UP seriously, believing it to be a political stunt. Samajwadi Party president Akhilesh Yadav advised Yogi to quit acting and conclude his Mumbai visit. “The film industry can never grow under today’s monolithic and narrow-minded power,” he tweeted. “Tomorrow, these people will also impose restrictions on the film’s subject, language, costumes and scenes.”

However, statement of intent was followed by action. Less than 15 days after his return to Lucknow, the Adityanath government selected CBRE South Asia Private Limited to prepare a detailed project report (DPR) for the film city. The Fortune 500 firm has been told to submit it latest by February 14, 2021. It will study all the film cities of the world and compile their best features, before making the final DPR. According to sources, if everything continues as per schedule, the film city may well take some shape before Adityanath’s current term ends in 2022.

Can it really be possible? UP culture and tourism minister Neelkanth Tiwari thinks it can be done. “Under the leadership of Yogiji, there is an underlying philosophy to be ahead of everyone else,” he tells Outlook. “The film city project has just started. It will take some time to complete it but facilities for film-making will certainly be there from 2022 onwards.”

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Adityanath’s opponents dismiss his plans as a desperate bid to polish his image as the development man before the next ass­­embly elections. But the chief minister believes that this will not only create large-scale employment but also create a new identity for the state. Besides, filmmakers will have a one-stop destination, with latest technology at their disposal. Tiwari says that even though Mumbai is called the city of dreams, movies have been shot in Uttar Pradesh for a long time. “Once the film city is built, it will become easier for industry people to do so,” he says.

Several Bollywood celebrities have welcomed Adityanath’s film city plans. Producer-director Prakash Jha (Ganga­ajal, 2003) says that the atm­osphere created for the entertainment indus­try in UP is quite encouraging. “There can be a big future here. We will support it. I see many opportunities in it,” he said after meeting the CM in Lucknow recently.

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Filmmaker Vivek Agnihotri says Adityanath’s decision will have a far-reaching impact. “Mumbai was always supposed to mean the Hindi film industry, but it ignored talent from the Hindi heartland, who understand its culture. If this industry gets an impetus in UP, we can put an end to it,” he adds.

Filmmaker Ashok Pandit says that though Mumbai is one of the janmabhoomis (birthplace) of cinema in India, its karmabhoomi (workplace) can be anywhere. Hindi movies have always been shot in cities like Chennai and Hyderabad; nowadays more than 50 per cent of films and web series are shot in Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh,” he says.

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Verily, it is not as though the film industry flourished only in Mumbai. In the era of black and white cinema, starting from Calcutta’s New Theatres, south-based Gemini Studios, Prasad Studios and AVM Studios made many big-budget Hindi films. Later, media baron Ramoji Rao built one of the world’s largest studios in Hyderabad where countless Hindi films were shot over the years. In fact, Bollywood star Jeetendra became so busy with films in the south that he moved to Madras from Bom­bay in 1980s. In those days, every major Bollywood star worked in films that were remakes of Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam cinema. At the same time, South Indian superstars like Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan made their Bolly­wood debut. In the ’90s, Mithun Chakraborty left Mumbai to shift permanently in Ooty in Tamil Nadu, where he made several low-budget films, setting up a one-man film industry. Nevertheless, there was no controversy over the shooting of such a large number of Hindi films in the south. Mumbai always remained the heart of Hindi cinema.

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Adityanath’s initiative is, however, not the first attempt to set up a film city in UP. In the ’80s, a so-called film city came into being at Noida Sector 16, which later metamorphosed into a media city. In 2015, the Akhilesh Yadav government unveiled ambitious plans to set up two film cities in Lucknow and Unnao, but nothing happened. Akhilesh is now accusing the Yogi government of having hijacked his schemes.

Pandit says that the serious intent shown by the CM underlines his commitment towards his project. “If we get all the things in one place, it will reduce the budget of a film. Such a film city should be in every state,” he says. He believes that the establishment of a film city in UP will also benefit the regional film industries like Bhojpuri cinema in a big way.

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But the moot point remains: will it gradually rob the sheen off haloed Bollywood based out of Mumbai? The Indian Motion Picture Producers Association (IMPPA) does not think so. It says that Mumbai is a vibrant city and its weather is suitable for shooting all through the year, while extremely hot and cold weather in states like UP, MP and Rajasthan is far from ideal.

In the wake of the controversy arising out of Adityanath’s visit to Mumbai, IMPPA President T.P. Aggarwal wrote a letter to Uddhav Thackeray, saying that Maharashtra is the birthplace of the film industry, which will not shift elsewhere, but he hoped at the same time that his government would take appropriate steps to bail Bollywood out after the crisis brought upon by the pandemic. The oldest association of the film producers wants subsidy and entertainment tax exemption for all Hindi films, as is given to Marathi films in Maharashtra. It also wants the government to offer incentives for shooting in the state on the lines of a policy decision by the UP government. Among other demands, IMPPA also wants the Uddhav government to deal firmly with film unions affiliated to different political parties, which often vandalise film shoots on one pretext or the other.

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Agrawal makes it clear that no producer will leave Mumbai for UP or anywhere else if a suitable environment for film production is created in Maharashtra. “If it happens, our members will take advantage of the facilities available in other states, though Mumbai will remain their base,” he says.

At the end of the day, Adityanath’s upcoming film city may not deprive Mumbai’s status of being the beating heart of Bollywood, but will give a new momentum to the growth of cinema in the Hindi belt. Time will tell whether it will be an extension of Bollywood or complement it as a healthy competitor. Both lovers of movies, and the hundreds who toil before they are projected on to the big screen, stand to gain.

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