India is sending right signals to foreign filmmakers. As a result, the country is witnessing warmth from Hollywood studios. Christopher Nolan’s experience in filming in India for Tenet has grabbed global attention. Dilip Singh Rathore, CEO and Co-founder of On The Road India was incharge of production services for Tenet in India. Ministry of Information & Broadcasting’s Film Facilitation Office is currently wooing international studios and incentive package is on cards. Rathore says India is prepared for post-COVID shooting and expects a flurry of new projects. Excerpts from Rathore’s chat with Vivek Ratnakar
Pickle congratulates you on the completion of 25 years of On The Road India, which has undertaken many reputed international projects to keep us all entertained. Please tell us about your journey. It’s a good thing that we have now completed 25 years or more in the film production and production services and made many films with international filmmakers. Our journey started very differently. Back then it was a much different industry and production services were looked at in a very different way. I happen to be from a very popular filming destination State called Rajasthan. I was very fortunate to become a part of the productions coming to the State 25 years back. I worked with Mr Shashi Kapoor in the film Ajooba which was shot in India and Russia, among other projects. Eventually I decided to start On The Road India, and it has taken 25 years to reach where we are today. When we were starting, the production was quite different and government’s outlook towards production services and international filmmakers was quite different. Today, the things are much easier with government support. So it has been a long journey.
Founded by veteran producer Dileep Singh Rathore, since 1996, the work ethic and service of On The Road India has earned the trust of Hollywood studios, international filmmakers and production companies. Its team is based between Mumbai, Jaipur, Los Angeles, Sydney and Rome. This enables the firm to better understand project requirements and to deliver the best location and budgetary solutions for production in India.
On The Road India understands the challenges and risks of shooting abroad and the added complexity and diversity of shooting in India and South Asia. While there is no question India offers a wealth of opportunities to filmmakers, the challenges that face productions can prove daunting, even to the most experienced producer. On The Road India will help mitigate many of these challenges with honesty, integrity and transparency.
Some of the major changes include the ways the government supports the industry. There has been a significant change in the government mindset
and now they are more forthcoming in inviting international filmmakers to come and shoot in India. Earlier, government officials were quiet
skeptical and used to be very critical about film productions. Even the Information and Broadcasting Ministry permissions used to take
anywhere between 6 to 14 weeks and we had to make many rounds to Delhi. But now the production process has really eased off with the
government taking it very positively. Also, earlier we used to bring a lot of crew from abroad as the local crew was not very efficient. But now any
international company brings only the key members while the rest of the crew is sourced from India itself. Also, they used to come with a lot of equipment. There used to be a ‘J-Visa’ for filmakers and crew that was complicated and confusing because the J-Visa was mainly for journalistic work in India. Also, the visa process was time consuming. Now the government has introduced a new category of visa called Film Visa which is very easy to get and the process is quite transparent. On The Road India has executed some of the finest executive productions for Hollywood Studios including
Tenet and The Dark Knight. Tell us about your experience of working on the Tenet in Mumbai India.
Interestingly, I have also worked with Mr Nolan’s brother. So I had a very long relationship with them. The Dark Knight was shot in Jodhpur and the film required a very different kind of location. So we had to prepare the backdrop of Mehrangarh because of the filming requirements. To shoot the film, we had to completely shut down the entire Fort. We had to make a special arrangement with the royal family of Jodhpur. We would shoot the film during day and open the fort for the public during night. We shot there for 6 to 7 days and then achieved what Mr Nolan wanted to.
Similarly, for Tenet it was very challenging to shoot here in Mumbai. Without the support of the Maharashtra government we could not have achieved what we did. The government got us all the permits for shooting at a landmark location like Gateway of India. We had a huge crew of over 1,500 people and a part of the Gateway of India was frozen. We cordoned off the area with the help of the transport department that diverted the traffic
and we finished the shooting without any issue. The building where we were shooting was a high rise and to light around 40 buildings around
for a fortnight to shoot an action sequence was a mammoth task that was accomplished with the help of the State government, local crew and
our international technicians. Mr Nolan left India on a very positive note.
The government set up the Film Facilitation Office as an example to give foreign filmmakers confidence that they can come and shoot in India. The role of Film Facilitation Office has been very important as they did all the heavy lifting and worked as hard as us when we were shooting for Tenet. The FFO helped us get all the permissions, whether it was from the Aviation Ministry, Defence Ministry or Information and Broadcasting Ministry. They were working very closely with us shoulder to shoulder. They also played a key role in making all the right introductions and coordinated
with the State government to get all the clearances.
The message has to be transmitted efficiently to the very local level when it comes to allowing film shootings. Tenet was a big project and an
important film. But if you don’t take any project seriously it brings bad publicity to the country. There has to be a total transparency between the agencies which are involved in the commissioning so that all the permissions granted in Delhi are also transmitted at the local level. A lot of people do not understand the urgency of the filmmakers to complete the shooting in a limited number of days. Anybody coming from abroad does not have an infinite time. He might be coming for a month or a few days and he needs to do the preparation and shoot within a tight schedule. All the agencies need to go an extra mile to make things happen at the right pace. If that doesn’t happen filmmakers will keep on going to other countries or they may
not choose India as there shooting destination. Any permission that needs to be granted should be given within a fixed timeline as filmmakers
are ready to pay for that.
The first is story, the second is locations and the third most important thing is the dollar value, as the skill set in India is a lot cheaper than many other countries. We can build a lot of sets at cheaper rates. The day India becomes as expensive as any other place, fewer people would come to shoot here. They will only come if the story is related with India or for an interesting location.
The incentive plan is not there yet but talks are going on. A lot of states like UP, Gujarat and Goa are doing it at the local level but major Incentive from the Government of India is talked about and yet to be finalized.
Every State now is connected to the FFO office in Delhi, which has placed nodal officer in every State. I think they are all coordinating. Recently, I got in touch with the FFO office for scouting filming locations and they were very happy to help me in connecting with a lot of people. They are making a coordinated effort to ensure that everybody is together on the same page.
Popular filming destinations in India are Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Kerala and Gujarat. Some States are not that popular due to information gap as very few filmmakers know about their filming policies. There are also infrastructure and connectivity issues, and little awareness about how to reach those States.
The pandemic has put everybody one or two years behind their growth targets. It has been very tough for the industry not only in India but across the world. The sectors that have been most affected are entertainment, aviation and tourism. Filmmaking is a collective effort and the crew needs to be together to pull off a project, but the pandemic has prohibited them to do so. The governments have opened film shootings but people are still skeptical. Besides, there are a lot of protocols to follow which is not easy. The people are afraid, cautious, and they are not very comfortable which has made a huge negative impact on the industry.
It is very early to say that things have improved. Although India has opened up, ours is mainly international film production. America has the highest
number of cases and the Europe has been shut down again. We were supposed to do 2-3 projects but they have all been put on hold. We are just waiting for the world to get rid of the disease. People are talking about going back to work but everybody is very cautious. Hopefully things may change in the next couple of months and some vaccine comes out. The safety protocols are good as we are required to keep a safe distance from each other, wear a mask and carry out periodic sanitization of sets and crew. A couple of my friends who are shooting in Germany have said that it had been very difficult to shoot with all these protocols in place, but people are still doing it. They are following it and it has been successful so far.
There are different ways of doing things now. We have to do most of the work online as the number of people travelling has reduced drastically. We are still waiting and watching. There have been a lot of talks that happened in the last 4-5 months, and now we are scouting and sending pictures of locations and also looking for some scripts.
Earlier, we would do location scouting and the key filming crew from abroad would come to India for a physical visit. But now we are doing local scouting with the help of movie cameras and Go-pro to give a virtual tour of the location. We upload the 3D shots online so that the director and producers can have a look at it. I want to get back into action and I know that people are dying to get back on the location. But even if we start working on a certain project the shooting will happen only next year. So, people are working on script level or location level. So it’s looking very positive and I hope situation remains under control. I am keeping my fingers crossed that everything moves in the right direction.
We conduct more virtual discussions rather than physical interactions. For example, I was supposed to be in the US but I have not travelled for the last nine months. We are working from home and computers have become our important assets. We spend a lot more time in conducting virtual scouting. We have opted to use just one person for scouting as it is easier to manage that one person with gloves, proper mask and sanitizer. Our crew would never leave without taking proper safety measures.
I can’t wait to resume work. Like I said I have not been on the set and have not travelled in the last nine months, not making a film is the biggest depression for me. So I am looking forward to get back on the set again.