Mumbai's Bollywood is a fast-growing industry and New York City hopes to capitalize on some of that success. (Getty)
By Rebecca Wolfson
Special to amNewYork
New York is on a blitz for Bollywood bucks, but faces plenty of competition from neighboring cities also looking to woo the booming Indian film market.
In October, Katherine Oliver, the commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting, was in Mumbai to meet with Bollywood leaders, a trip that coincided with the opening of a city tourism bureau there.
“We thought it would be good to learn more about this growing market and bring their projects to our city,” Oliver said. Unfortunately for Oliver, Philadelphia’s film office is also on a mission to attract Indian films, as are a number of cities worldwide.In 2008, eight Bollywood film productions came to New York. None are yet scheduled to film here this year, but crews apply for permits within weeks of filming so that should change, according to the city’s film office.
The Bollywood box office brings in about $3 billion a year — a fraction of Hollywood — but the Indian industry is growing at almost 25 percent a year, according to Anadil Hosein, who has produced several Bollywood films shot in the city during the past five years.
In a sign of the tough competition, Philadelphia recently recruited a Bollywood movie that is all about New York — and named for it. “New York” is set to be released this month, and is about three Muslim friends caught up in the aftermath of 9/11. The trailer of the movie draws on the imagery of the Twin Towers and some sequences were shot at familiar New York locales. However, a lot of the scenes were also filmed in Philly.
“[The producers] were looking for alternative places to film,” said Sharon Pinkenson, executive director of the Greater Philadelphia Film Office. “What they like about Philadelphia is that it is a real urban metropolis with skyscrapers, and could easily double for New York.”
Bollywood audiences, however, don’t identify with Philadelphia like they do with New York, according to Hosein.
“It’s sort of the pinnacle of every Bollywood director’s dream — to make a quintessential New York film,” she said.
Whether or not they’ll actually film here, however, depends on the city’s efforts. Television, film and commercial production in the city is a $5 billion industry that supports 4,000 ancillary businesses and employs 100,000 New Yorkers, Oliver said. The film office works to attract filmmakers by offering free permits, free police assistance, tax incentives and discounts at local businesses.
New York is in a good position to attract more Indian filmmakers, Hosein said.
One of the biggest Bollywood stars, Shah Rukh Kahn, spends a lot of time here, Hosein said. The city’s film office likes to tout the fact that the movies “Kal Ho Naa Ho” and “Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna,” both filmed here, are among the 25 highest grossing productions in India during the last decade.
“Bollywood is already very much a part of the New York film language,” she said. “It’s become a second home to many Bollywood stars and personalities.”