Bollywood's International Film Shoots Hurt by Weak Indian Rupee

Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara
Excel Movies/Eros International

With the Indian currency dipping to an all-time low against the U.S. dollar, foreign shoots have declined by about 35 percent, according to a study.

NEW DELHI – The Indian rupee has been on a downward spiral in recent months, touching an all-time low in late August at 68.7 -- from about 53 in January -- against the U.S. dollar. While various factors have been attributed to the rupee's erosion -- from flawed economic policies by the government to a resurgent U.S. economy attracting investment away from the developing markets of Asia -- the Indian film business is feeling the pinch.

According to a study by the New Delhi-based Associated Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ASSOCHAM), the weak rupee has meant that Bollywood producers are shying away from shooting overseas. In the last four months, foreign film shoots have dropped between 30-35 percent, driven by the weaker currency, according to the study titled “Weak Rupee Dampens Spirits of Bollywood Film-makers in Foreign Locations.” This is in stark contrast to 2012, when there was a 40 percent increase in Indian productions heading overseas.

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ASSOCHAM secretary general D. S. Rawat said that the weak rupee has meant that Indian filmmakers are now opting to shoot within the country, and international shoots -- especially for medium- and low-budget films -- are plummeting. Moreover, producers are now looking at cheaper foreign destinations in Southeast Asia, the Middle East and South Africa.

“For filmmakers, the cost turns out to be much higher in countries such as the U.S., U.K., Germany, France, Sweden, Italy, Ireland and Denmark. Indian film producers are also looking to offset costs by opting for shorter overseas schedules and considering budget accommodation options,” added Rawat.

While it is too early to assume Bollywood A-listers are now checking into a budget hotels overseas, producers are moving towards non-dollar destinations such as neighboring Sri Lanka, Dubai, Bali and Thailand, or sticking to India, such as the states of Kashmir, Kerala and Goa, according to the ASSOCHAM study. Over the past four months, travel and accommodation costs have gone up by around 25 to 30 percent, the study also adds.
A weak rupee also means that Hollywood productions can get a bigger bang for their buck in India, but for now, there are no figures to indicate if there has been a spurt in international productions shooting here. Some of the recent high-profile Hollywood projects to shoot in India include the Judi Dench-starrer The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and The Dark Knight Rises, for which director Chris Nolan filmed some scenes in Jodhpur's historic Mehrangarh Fort in Rajasthan. Kathryn Bigelow's Zero Dark Thirty attracted controversy when protestors opposed the film's shoot for recreating a Pakistani location in the North Indian city of Chandigarh.

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With Indian films expanding their overseas earnings -- owing to strong diaspora audiences and new non-traditional markets -- a strong dollar could also mean more revenues. But again, there is currently no data to indicate if an increase in export earnings has helped offset rising overseas production costs.

In recent years, Indian films have been increasingly shooting in overseas locations. Major productions include hits like Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara (shot extensively in Spain), Kal Ho Na Ho and My Name is Khan (both shot in the U.S.), Salaam Namaste (Australia) and Kaho Na Pyar Hai (New Zealand), among others.

Meanwhile, some major upcoming productions shooting overseas include Anurag Kashyap's Bombay Velvet (shooting in Sri Lanka), Shah Rukh Khan-starrer Happy New Year (Dubai) and Salman Khan-starrer Kick (Scotland), while one of the year's most anticipated releases, actioner Dhoom 3 -- starring Aamir Khan -- recently wrapped shooting in the U.S.