Australia plays its part in Bollywood-led boom

TODAY, 23 million people will watch a Bollywood film in India and many of them will want to travel to the places they have seen.

This is a daily scenario that has been noted by Australian tourism officials, who are supporting Bollywood movies and Indian television programs filmed in Australia by providing funding and location advice.

"Bollywood has a huge influence on where Indians travel," says Melbourne-based India tour specialist Carl Mah. "Bollywood is bigger than Hollywood and people want to go to the places they see in the movies," he says. "The influence of the movies is massive."

Earlier this month, shooting started in Sydney on the latest Bollywood feature to be filmed in Australia, a romance called From Sydney … with Love.

It is the first Bollywood movie to include the name of an Australian city in its title and is being filmed in locations across the city, including the Opera House, Darling Harbour and the Kings Cross fountain.

There will be a rugby scene, choreographed by the movie's stunt director, and footage of buskers and graffiti art.

"There will be 2 million posters and up to 10,000 billboards for it in India and producers estimate at least half a billion people will read the positive title with the word 'Sydney'," says Australian-based Bollywood entrepreneur Anupam Sharma.

"A quarter of a billion people will watch the film [due for release next May], counting its cinema screening, pay TV release and years on the DVD market," he claims.

"But if it turns out to be a super hit many more will see it. That's a conservative estimate. The figures are mind-boggling because of the population of 1.2 billion people."

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Sharma says several Bollywood movies and Indian TV programs are filmed in Australia each year and tourism authorities provide cash and assistance to help get them off the ground and ensure destination footage is included.

Tourism Victoria has embraced Bollywood for years, most notably with Salaam Namaste (2005) with Tania Zaetta and Chak De! India (2007), which were both filmed in the state and were each seen by up to 400 million people.

Tourism Victoria says it is difficult to gauge the exact impact of the films, but the annual growth of visitor numbers from India to Victoria has averaged more than 18 per cent since they screened.

A spokesman said: "There is no doubt that these films have assisted significantly in raising the profile of Melbourne in India, while also seeding positive messages about the destination and showcasing key locations such as Federation Square and the Great Ocean Road."

The state government has also stepped in, recently releasing a "Bollywood for Victoria" policy that promises to cut the red tape for film productions.

Sharma says a Bollywood feature called Orange was filmed in Melbourne last year and directors and producers are currently scouting Victorian locations to make another movie and to shoot episodes of a TV series that is already established in India.

Tourism Australia managing director Andrew McEvoy isn't making a song and dance of the Bollywood phenomena, saying there are a number of box office flops, but he says: "India's tourism potential is enormous … It shouldn't be seen as a big surprise that more and more tourism bodies are turning to Bollywood films as part of their marketing approach.

"There is a burgeoning middle class in India that wants to travel. There will be 50 million outbound travellers from India by 2020 and we want to tap into that emerging market."

Tourism Australia is supporting the current filming, in Sydney, of an Indian TV show called Bade Ache Lagte Hain.

It has contributed $350,000 towards the soapie for 66 minutes of destination footage across eight 30-minute episodes that will be seen by 25 million Indians.

The footage will show Bondi Beach, Grand Pacific Drive, the SCG, the Opera House and the Sydney Harbour Bridge among other landmarks.

McEvoy acknowledges that Australia's reputation as a welcoming tourist destination nosedived after several attacks on Indian students in 2009.

"We haven't overcome that completely. Our reputation as a welcoming destination prior to that was a lot stronger."

India's cricket team will play in Australia this season and Tourism Australia is also looking at how it can capitalise on that visit for tourism. But that's a whole new ball game … and audience.

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