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Foreign film crews hope that ‘Make in India’ will translate into easier shooting permits

By Nandini Ramnath  · Apr 14, 2015 · 05:49 pm


Line producers and the leading film guild want to put pressure on the Information and Broadcasting Ministry to push through single-window clearance for projects originating overseas.

Single-window clearance for international film and documentary crews shooting in India. Sounds familiar?

Over the years, that’s a promise that various authorities have made. In 2013, the Congress Party-led regime actually set up a department to help foreign crews obtain the various permissions they need from multiple ministries and departments before they can shoot in India. But it hasn’t lived up its expectations, and the process of making films in India is still replete with hassles and harassment. In an attempt to cut the red tape, representatives of several film organisations and firms have held meetings in Mumbai over the past few days, hoping to frame a petition that it can take to the government.

Among those present were members of the Film and Television Producers Guild of India, the apex body that represents Bollywood’s elite, as well as companies and individuals who handle production for visiting crews.

Two issues were discussed: reducing the time taken to procure permits for foreign crews that want to shoot in India and the fees to be paid to locals employed on such projects.

Complex procedures

Although permissions are supposed to take three weeks to obtain, they can often take close to three months or even longer. If the locations include, say, an archaeological site, a forest, a politically sensitive area, and Mumbai, clearances are needed at the very least from the Archaeological Survey of India, the Home Ministry, Ministry of Environment and Forests, and several departments in the metropolis, including the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation, the Mumbai Police and also its Traffic wing.

Scripts and a list of locations must be submitted and vetted in advance, the number of shooting days needs to be specified, and the appropriate visas need to be applied for (business visas for feature films and journalist visas for documentary filmmakers.) Depending on the complexity of the shoot, different sets of fees need to be paid to different authorities.

Filmmakers must not deviate from the original script or synopsis, and must definitely not attempt to besmirch India’s name. Filmmakers are supposed to share their finished films with government  authorities before making them public (though this diktat is rarely followed). Once international crews come to India, they need to pay three times the rate to the locals they hire — a fee that has been decided upon by local trade unions that represent various professions.

How it works (or doesn’t)

A typical example: Wide Screen Films, a production company in Chennai run by Suresh Balaje and George Pius, recently handled the Tamil Nadu shoot of a portion of reputed French director Jacques Audiard’s upcoming drama Dheepan about Sri Lankan Tamil refugees in Paris. (Tamil Nadu stood in as a location for Sri Lanka.) The process, Pius explained, included handing in a copy of the script and an exact list of locations to the Information and Broadcasting ministry and approaching state-level government departments such as the local police. The only hitch with Dheepan was that the Indian Embassy in Paris delayed the visas of the French crew.

“By and large, we have not faced any problems,” Pius said. Wide Screen also handled the Puducherry shoot of Michel Spinosa’s 2014 movie His Wife, starring real-life couple Yvan Attal and Charlotte Gainsbourg. “Foreign shoots help generate employment for locals,” Pius added. “I personally find that foreign crews are much more organised and their method of working is more detailed. They do their homework very well, and they know exactly what they want. If something is not allowed, they find ways to work around it.”

While feature films are cleared by the Information and Broadcasting Ministry, the Ministry of External Affairs’ Publicity Division decides which documentary filmmakers may shoot in India. The process has become somewhat simpler for documentary directors: their proposals can now be cleared by Indian embassies and missions in their respective countries. The ministries promise, but rarely deliver, a response within three weeks.


Cover Image: Amit Vachharajani


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