Art and culture

How Bollywood Inspired Indians to Travel the World

Nations across the world are falling over each other to attract Bollywood films to their shores – and it’s all thanks to Switzerland

The average Indian grows up believing that Switzerland is where dreams come true. Why? In a word: Bollywood. It began with the late filmmaker Yash Chopra’s sweeping romances like Chandni, Darr and Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge. They drilled into us that it’s only in the foothills of the snow-capped Alps that you can hope to find the happily-ever-after kind of love. And when you do, you must celebrate by dancing without a care in a flimsy chiffon sari. Sub-zero temperatures be damned.

Today, a bronze statue of Chopra stands in the Kursaal Gardens, in the central Swiss town of Interlaken. Bollywood is big business here, despite being 7,000 kilometres from Mumbai, the epicentre of the Bollywood film industry.

For the past eight years, tour guide Erwin Fässler has been running a travel company in Switzerland curating tours exclusively for Bollywood fans. In his experience, these fans constitute a sizeable percentage of the tourists that visit his country. Thanks to the demands of his job, Fässler has become somewhat of an expert on Bollywood films. He watches them keenly – and when he finds a scene that’s shot in Switzerland, he immediately screenshots it and sets off to hunt down the location. On 18 June, Fässler’s company celebrated 55 years of Indian filmmaking in Switzerland with a special guided tour of the locations featured in filmmaker Raj Kapoor’s 1964 romance Sangam, one of the earliest Hindi films to be shot across foreign locales.

Left: TCD/Prod.DB/Alamy Stock Photo; Middle: ©Eros International/Everett Collection; Right: Collection Christophel©Aditya Chopra/AFP

The power and magic of Hindi cinema knows no bounds. It dictates the way we speak, the way we dress, the way we dream – and also the way we travel. A movie can push us to explore a new country – or in some cases, help us know our own country better. Take the small town of Chanderi in central India’s Madhya Pradesh. While known for its historical significance as well as a hub for sari makers and handloom weavers, it wasn’t really considered to be much of anything until last year, when two major films – social comedy Sui Dhaaga and horror-comedy Stree – were based here. Photos of top Bollywood stars shopping in the area were the best endorsement the weavers of Chanderi could have asked for.

In 2011, filmmaker Zoya Akhtar made Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara (ZNMD), a film about three school friends who live it up in Spain on a bachelor party. The movie ended up being the most effective commercial for Spanish tourism imaginable. For the first time in a Bollywood film, we got glimpses of the town of Buñol, Pamplona’s San Fermín bull running festival and the beaches of Costa Brava.

ZNMD showcased Spain as a friendly and experiential destination’, says Apeksha Dhingra, media manager for the Tourism Office of Spain in Mumbai. ’Around 70 million people and counting have watched this movie. They’ve been influenced to travel to Spain. It’s a dream for every Indian traveller to visit and experience scuba diving and running with the bulls, like the actors of the film did.’

Three years later, Akhtar made another film, Dil Dhadakne Do – this time about a dysfunctional family who mend their fractured relationships on a stunning Mediterranean cruise. As soon as people left the theatre they promptly started looking up cruise packages.

Eduard Vilo Perea/Alamy Stock Photo

‘We have witnessed a substantial increase in enquiries as well as holidays booked for various destinations after they were promoted in popular movies’, says Daniel D’Souza, president and country head – leisure at travel company SOTC Travel. ‘Cruise tours were in demand post Dil Dhadakne Do and the industry has seen considerable growth following this phenomenon.’

Given the undeniable impact of movies on the Indian traveller, it makes perfect sense for global tourism boards to persuade Indian producers to come and shoot in their country. In exchange, they help with benefits like cheaper stays, permission to shoot in public spaces and assistance with finding the right locations. In fact, it’s not just movies but also Indian TV shows that are being lured in.

Nishant Kashikar, country manager, India and Gulf for Tourism Australia, attests to this: ‘In the past, we’ve successfully collaborated with the leading production houses to seamlessly integrate destinations within the story of appointment-viewed television shows – and these initiatives have seen some outstanding results. Our collaboration with Balaji Telefilms for their show Yeh Hai Mohabbatein [filmed in Australia, London and Budapest] resulted in an 85 per cent increase in bookings for Indian online travel company MakeMyTrip,’ he says.

The UK, US and Australia have been regularly featured in Bollywood movies for decades now. In fact, they’ve often been written into the narrative as characters rather than just acting as scenic backdrops. But Indian viewers are increasingly being introduced to new and untapped locations. In his film Tamasha, director Imtiaz Ali uses Corsica as the setting for two strangers to fall in love. Filmmaker Kabir Khan’s spy thriller Ek Tha Tiger, starring superstar Salman Khan, showed us Ireland and Cuba. Rohit Shetty’s Dilwale, starring Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol, went all the way to Iceland to shoot a romantic ballad.

Today, countries aren’t just leveraging Bollywood movies to drive tourism, but also Bollywood stars and their colossal social media followings. Actor Parineeti Chopra, who was recently deemed a ‘Friend of Australia’, posted a blow-by-blow account of her trip to the country on social media.

‘Our collaboration with Parineeti Chopra reached out to her 34 million fans and followers. The video content featuring Chopra has received over 12 million views. We have also leveraged her video assets for our campaign UnDiscover Australia. As a result of these campaigns, arrivals and spend by Indian tourists in Australia for 2018 have grown by 18 per cent and 21 per cent respectively,’ says Kashikar.

In December 2016, Shah Rukh Khan was recruited to be the face of Dubai’s #BeMyGuest campaign. In the latest six-episode campaign, we see Khan – the biggest movie star in India – embark on a treasure hunt around Dubai, showcasing the sights and sounds of the emirate. The videos were accompanied by ads splashed all over social media, including on Khan’s Twitter account with its staggering 38 million followers. That’s the power of cinema. When Khan looks into the camera and seductively instructs you to be his guest in Dubai – you go hunting for that flimsy chiffon sari.

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