Taking Bollywood to the Beach

Less than a year ago two of India’s favorite actors came to Miami to film a romantic comedy. The film was such a success that Bollywood’s No. 1 star, Shahrukh Khan (often described as an Indian Brad Pitt and George Clooney rolled into one package) is returning to Miami to shoot again—this time bringing action and a superhero plot to South Beach.

The film, Ra.One, begins as Khan’s character, playing a Miami software engineer, accidentally gives life to a video game villain. Khan must take the form of the game’s hero to battle the monster he created. While Dostana, Miami’s first major Bollywood movie, portrayed Miami as a glamorous place to fall in love, Ra.One plans a more ominous take on the city.

Producer Prashant Shah believes that, “Miami will serve as a nice alternative to the darker settings employed by other superhero films, such as Gotham City in Batman.”

While the movie’s announced $3 million local budget is modest by Hollywood standards, local production officials see Bollywood’s quick return to Miami as a milestone. And though Ra.One won’t start shooting until February at the earliest, another Indian movie crew this week was filming in Miami—a far smaller production with an estimated budget of about $300,000 that officials still see as part of an encouraging trend.

Though crews will be brought from Mumbai to avoid the higher wages demanded by Florida’s unionized production workers, they do plan on hiring some locals for their cast and crew of about 80 and the hundreds of extras needed for scenes will come from South Florida.

Tourism officials hope the biggest payoff will come not from Ra.One‘s production dollars, but from its audience.

The “Bollywood Effect” shows that Indians have traveled to obscure destinations in Europe and the Pacific when those locations were showcased in Indian films.  Now with India’s 1.1 billion population and increasing affluence, the Bollywood Effect is seen as more lucrative than ever.

“It’s a huge market and language is not a barrier, as it is in China,” Rolando Aedo senior vice president of marketing for the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau told the Miami Herald. “The fact that we’ve got this movie that’s going to deliver more media impressions than I could ever afford to buy, even in the best of times—the timing is extremely fortunate.”

Before this year’s budget cutbacks, Miami-Dade’s tourism bureau pursued India as a new market for Miami vacations (though Dostana filmed throughout South Florida, the locale was always portrayed as Miami). Part of that campaign included special screenings of Dostana for Indian travel agents, and a meeting with Bollywood producers in Mumbai to encourage more use of Miami as a backdrop.

“We used to joke that we were Hollywood East,” said Miami Beach’s film coordinator Graham Winick in the same Herald article. “Now we’re Bollywood West.”