India and China inked an audio- visual co-production treaty during Chinese president Xi Jinping's Indian visit. The treaty aims to usher in a new chapter of cultural diplomacy between the two countries. While the prospect of a Telugu film being co-produced through this treaty seems a distant possibility, mana filmmakers are waking up to the prospect of shooting films in China. For the past three decades, Europe has been the preferred destination of filmmakers in South Indian cinema, however, the trend looks set to change post the release of Shankar's upcoming magnum opus I, reckons Bill Chang,who worked as a line producer in China for the film.
EXOTIC LOCALES, UNEXPLORED TERRITORIES
The recently launched teaser of I showed glimpses of a song shot in the surreal backdrop of Red Seabeach,Panjin has generated a lot of curiosity about China as a shooting destination among filmmakers. The wide variety of landscapes available in the 9.6 million square kilometer stretch of the country with many untapped locales is tipped to be China's biggest draw. "We worked closely with Shankar for nearly 50 days in 2012, during which his film was shot in nine different locations. The range of locations available in China is simply mind-boggling. No other country in the world has such variety of locales ranging from coloured mountains to futuristic city landscapes," explains Chang".
Sources reveal that when V V Vinayak saw the photographs of some of the picturesque locations in China, he was so impressed that he ended up using them as a backdrop in the Neeli Neeli Kallalona song. Although the entire song was shot in Hyderabad, the filmmaker made sure exotic locales of Red Seabeach, Rainbow Mountains in Zhangye Danxia Geopark were super imposed through computer-generated imagery. A couple of years ago, a fight sequence from Ram Charan's Rachha was shot in the famous bamboo forest, near Anji County in Zhejiang province.
LURE OF A NEW MARKET...
Last year SS Rajamouli's Eega was screened at the Shanghai Film Festival and it was received well and speculations about Baahubali getting a theatrical release in China are rife. Producer Shobu Yarlagadda clarifies that it's too early to talk about it, but admits that China is a huge movie market. "The Chinese market is so huge that anyone would dream of releasing their films in China, but it's a tough market to crack, unless you enter into a co-production deal with a Chinese film production firm. Till recently, only 34 foreign films were allowed to release by the government in a year and most of them happen to be Hollywood films. I believe that quota might increase to 50 films per year," he adds.
Last year, when China surpassed Japan as the second largest market for films outside the US, it was clear that filmmakers across the world could no longer ignore China. What's even more lucrative to filmmakers across the world is the number of screens the country has been building every year. As per the latest estimates, the country has more than 20,000 screens and this number is expected to grow at a rate of 10-15% every year. And given the fact that India is the largest producer of films in the world, it's easy to guess why China is keen on luring filmmakers in India to explore its fast-growing market.
"When we went to Shanghai, Rajamouli and I were stunned with the scale and the pace atwhich they were adding more screens across the country. Moreover, the ticket prices are quite high and in general, like us, they love going to the movies," Shobu says.
Talking about why it could emerge as the next hot destination, Natarajan Ramji,who has been instrumental in organising several film shoots abroad, says, "There is a lack of awareness and some misconceptions about shooting in China. They have opened up in a big way and it's quite economical to shoot there, provided you collaborate with the right company licensed to take care of the permissions to shoot and logistics.We've got habituated to shooting in Europe and Dubai; however, there are few filmmakers like Shankar, KV Anand and VV Vinayak to name a few who are very particular about the location they want to shoot. And we are definitely betting big on China, if the film's script demands a location which is both exotic and has an old-world charm."
After working with Shankar in the past, Ramji is now gearing up for another film's shoot at a popular Ice and Snow Sculpture festival, which is held annually in Harbin, Heilongjiang province. Ask him what the most surprising factor about working with a Chinese crew is, Ramji reveals, "Within a day, they got used to the way Indian filmmakers work (laughs). At times, our filmmakers and producers come up with requests at the last minute and I was surprised that not only did they get things done but also they are alarmingly quick."
"One of the reasons why China has opened its doors to filmmakers from all over the world is tourism and films are a great way to market what the country has to offer.We see it as part of cultural exchange," Bill Chang adds,who recently met several Telugu film producers to hold discussions about shooting in China. And the discussions were apparently quite fruitful.
Although it remains to be seen how many filmmakers jump on this bandwagon and try to explore this new market, one thing is clear — China has made us an offer,which is hard to refuse.