Nepali Times
Bollywood in the Swiss Alps


Switzerland already is well known in India as a heaven on earth for honeymoons and dream sequences. This means dividends for the Swiss tourism industry. The number of overnight stays by Indian guests has doubled since 1995 to almost 166,000 per year.

When Indian film stars Rani and Aftaab flirt with each other on a flower-filled mountain pasture, millions of Indian movie-goers think the scene is in Kashmir.

But the cow on the periphery of the screen is not a holy one, but rather a Swiss Alpine cow, the pasture belongs to the farmers of the town of Boltigen, and the background panorama is made up of the Swiss Alps of the Berne region.

No matter. More and more Indian film directors are discovering Switzerland as an ideal place to make their movies.

"I love Switzerland. It has a pleasant climate, good lodgings, and nobody staring," says Rani Mukherji, who is already a big film star though she is only 22. She says that when she does a film in India, dozens of police have to cordon her off. With the five or six new films each year seen by hundreds of millions of people, almost everybody knows her. On top of this, while there are beautiful sites for filming in India, there is often a lack of hotels where the film crews can be lodged.

By contrast, Rani has her peace and solitude up in the Swiss Alps, except for maybe the boy whose only job is to follow her around with an umbrella to protect her skin from the sun.

Rani\'s films are the stuff which the dreams of the poor are made of, with movie director Vikram Bhatt saying "films are the only entertainment for the masses. They want to escape their misery for two hours and dream."

It is Jakob Trittin\'s job to see that operations go smoothly in Switzerland. The bus company operator has gone over completely to working with Indian filmmakers.

He gets their visas and arranges their hotels, takes over the transportation logistics and has acquired a lighting vehicle and electricity generators. Then there is the mobile kitchen in which Indian cooks serve up dinners of rice and chicken kebab to the film crews up in the Swiss mountains.

Trittin also takes care of the arrangements with the Swiss farmers on whose pastures the scenes are filmed that make Indian film-goers hearts beat faster.
He was particularly busy in June, having seven different Indian film teams to take care of: "We were cooking for 360 people." The crews, counting up to 60 persons, work virtually round the clock.

"In Switzerland the sun goes down later. We can film longer and so make up for the extra travel costs," says Mukesh Bhatt, producer and uncle of director Vikram Bhatt.

Rani also has an action-packed programme. After this particular day with Bhatt, she must head to another production team, on another Swiss mountain, for a film being made there. Meanwhile her film partner, Aftaab, will be doing scenes for Bhatt - for yet a different movie altogether.

This is all part of an industry in India in which 800 films are produced each year. "The industry feeds 45 million people," Bhatt observes about the branch of movies which has become known as "Bollywood". In the Saanerhof Hotel in Saanen, India has taken over. The guests have occupied the entire facility, including the kitchen, which hotel operator Juerg Neuenschwander turns over in the evenings.

"This is good business. It fills up the rooms during the off- season," he says, while in the restaurant, where the scents of exotic spices fill the air, a cross-cultural event is underway: a local town singing group is practicing, while the Indian guests don\'t quite know what to make of the yodeling.

Neuenschwander has entered the Indian film history books, having played the role of a Swiss hotel owner. Not every film director tries to convince the Indian film public that the movie was actually made in India. Switzerland already is well known in India as a heaven on earth for honeymoons and dream sequences.

This means dividends for the Swiss tourism industry. The number of overnight stays by Indian guests has doubled since 1995 to almost 166,000 per year.
"Among the future markets, India is one of the most interesting," comments John Geissler, a marketing research for the Swiss tourism industry.

But for the Indian film-going public, the mountain pasture in which Rani and Aftaab look with deep yearning into each other\'s eyes must certainly be Kashmir. The story takes place in 1947 and the plot is like this:

The Hindu maiden, in the confusing aftermath of the division of the Indian subcontinent, most flee to India from Peshawar. Her entire family gets killed in the process. During her flight, she gets to know a Muslim youth. The two fall in love despite their religious barriers. The youth puts his life on the line in order to deliver his beloved one safely to her homeland...

How does the story end? Indian film-goers will find out in the spring of 2001 when the movie comes out.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)