To tell a story of terrorism, its nexus and how it affects the innocent, director Nikhil Advani was looking at a variety of locations for his film D-Day. “A mix of rural and urban was a must. Also, since it is an action thriller, we wanted to explore multiple landscapes, especially rough and gritty terrains, such as the desert,” explains Monisha Advani, producer of the film. The team realised that Gujarat offers a mix of all these and decided to shoot a large part of the film in the Kutch area. “To shoot the climax, we got a location that can match up to international standards — a vast piece of sandy land by the sea that has no development in sight,” she adds.
The advantage of being able to offer varying locations — from forts and palaces to highways and the city, as well as deserts and the sea — has made Gujarat the latest popular shooting destination. While some films have been set there, such as Abhishek Kapoor’s Kai Po Che!, others are merely being filmed in the state. Set in Haryana, Vishal Bhardwaj’s Matru Ki Bijli Ka Mandola has been filmed in Rajkot; Tigmanshu Dhulia shot both Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster and its sequel at Devgadh Baria Palace near Vadodara; US-based filmmaker Prashant Bhargava shot Patang in Ahmedabad; and Indra Kumar’s Grand Masti recently completed a 21-day schedule at the Laxmi Vilas Palace in Vadodara. Portions of Nikhil Dwivedi’s Captain and Neil Nitin Mukesh’s Shortcut Romeo have also been shot there.
Grand Masti’s producer Ashok Thakeria explains that the variety Gujarat offers was little known until it began to promote tourism. “The heritage structures have been maintained very well, which makes it an attraction for filmmakers looking to explore unseen locations,” he explains. The government has also cut down on red tape for getting the requisite permissions. He adds that Gujarat’s proximity to Mumbai helps keep the budget in control.
The colourful and vibrant culture of Gujarat, however, was among the first to make inroads into Indian cinema, challenging Punjab’s on-screen popularity. Several TV shows, starting with Ekta Kapoor’s Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi, have explored the traditions and exuberance of Gujaratis since. On the big screen, Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam was among the first films to explore Gujarat. His upcoming Ram Leela also uses Gujarat as the backdrop although it is being shot in Gujarat and Mumbai.
“For a lively backdrop, filmmakers need not only explore Punjab; West Bengal and Gujarat also offer options,” says Umesh Shukla, the director of Oh My God!, where the protagonist was a businessman from Kutch settled in Mumbai. The quirks of the community and their sense of humour, adds Shukla, also work well.
Bhargava was so taken in by the annual kite-flying festival that it became the backdrop of Patang. “I felt so alive shooting in the old city of Ahmedabad. I fell in love with the people, and how they handled the tragedy (Gujarat riots) through celebrations,” he says.
Kai Po Che! is also set in Gujarat and gets its title from the Gujarati phrase used triumphantly upon cutting someone’s kite string. “We considered shooting part of it in Ahmedabad and the rest in Mumbai, but changed our mind as Gujarat offers many types of landscape,” says Manish Hariprasad, UTV’s creative producer for the film, adding, “The budget shot up, but marginally, since the state is not as expensive as Mumbai.”