Indian film shoots on the rise in Thailand

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Approximately 1,867 miles (3,005 kilometers) apart, around three hours by air from Bangkok to Mumbai across the Andaman Sea/Bay of Bengal, the two countries of Thailand and India could not be more different or more alike.

With a population of 1.1 billion people, India is a multicultural, multi-ethnic and multi-religious state with a vivid history and a fascinating diversity of geography and landscapes which beckons filmmakers. With a film industry nearly 100 years old (started by Dadasaheb Phalke, who produced Raja Harishchandra in 1913), India has become the largest film producing nation in the world.

Thailand, with a population of 63.4 million and a small blending of ethnicities, is more or less a mono-cultural Buddhist kingdom. But Thailand too has a vivid history and a diversity of backdrops and landscapes that entices filmmakers from all over the world. Thailand's film industry, fostered by royal family interest, began around 1897 and produces movies mostly for its domestic audience.

Interestingly, for the last six years (and certainly into the near future), Indian location shoots and film production in Thailand have increased from 31 in 2003 to 104 in 2009 (end of November), outpacing the traditional number-one Japanese filmmakers who helmed 154 productions in 2003 to 101 last year (to November 2009).

In fact, in November 2009, Thailand was presented with the top locations award at the Locations World Exhibition and Conference held in Mumbai.

The answer to the question of what brings the Indian film industry to Thailand's shores is an easy one: Indian productions in Thailand save time (and thus save money) because of Thailand's proficient production service crews.

The director of the lavishly budgeted Bollywood movie BIue, Anthony "Tony" D'Suza, filmed 55 days on location in Thailand with a crew of 85 from India. He feels that the production services industry in Thailand is better than in India.

"Overall, infrastructure is better here," D’Suza says. "While India has the same or better landscapes, communication, transportation and professional crews are all superior in Thailand. Crews work hard and get the job done in the shortest amount of time. And we all know that time is money...so the money that we have to spend on travel and accommodations here in country is more than compensated for in money that we save in production time."

Asked what he thought about filming in Thailand recently while in Bangkok to make a TV commercial, Indian superstar Akshay Kumar, whose love of Thailand goes back to 1993 when he spent time here learning the martial arts, responded, "Crews are more professional here. Action and stunt people are good at what they do and know what they are doing! Besides, there are fewer disturbances here—fans, agents cannot reach me like they can on set in India. Fewer disturbances means we can focus on the job at hand and get done in a quicker time. More time to go shopping!” he laughed.”

Indian producer Bunty Bahl (Boond) sums up the reasons why India uses Thailand as a prime location destination. "I think it boils down to Thailand having better, more professional crews that cut down production time. Also, infrastructure for getting things done, like traffic control on roads, use of bridges and permits for other road and rail network facilities. These are all advantages to filming in Thailand."

Korean Film Wraps in Seattle
The first Korean movie to film in the USA, Late Autumn, helmed by Korean director Kim Tae-Yong, wrapped in late February after an extensive shoot in Seattle. Starring heartthrob Hyun Bin, a South Korean actor, the movie is looking to premiere at Cannes in May. In another first, although it’s a Korean production, the lead characters speak mostly in English, with just a little Korean and Mandarin.

Avatar Fires Up Anti-Smoking Lobby
When you are successful, everyone feels license to criticize.

Here in Thailand, as in the States, the incredibly successful Avatar has been faulted for encouraging young people to take up smoking. An anti-smoking lobby, the Thailand Health Promotion Institute, held a press conference in Bangkok in February, slamming the movie's producers for showing main character Dr. Grace Augustine, played by Sigourney Weaver, puffing on a cigarette.

Dr. Hatai Chitanont, chairman of the Institute, warned, "It will be very dangerous if Thai teenagers misunderstand that if they want to be smart and meet good-looking women, they must smoke like the character in Avatar."

Dr. Siriwan Pitayarangsarit, director of the Tobacco Control Research and Knowledge Management Centre, complained that Avatar was rated suitable for general viewers age 13 and over even though it included smoking scenes. Movies attracting this rating must be free of any scenes showing the use of addictive substances, she said.

"It is inappropriate for teenagers aged 13 and over to be allowed to watch movies with smoking scenes. Cigarettes are addictive stimulants like amphetamines, kratom leaves and cocaine," Dr. Siriwan stated.

Back when I was a teenager, the only things folks complained about were alcohol, marijuana and LSD. Boy, have times changed.

Film Festival Concludes in North Korea

If you just happened to be in Pyongyang, North Korea, on Feb. 16, you would have taken note of the county's film festival. The Pyongyang International Film Festival opened at the People's Palace of Culture, screening The Great Devotion. Other films shown included A White Gem, The Country I Saw and White Birch of Paektu.

According to a report by the Korea Central News Agency, North Korea's official news outlet, festival-goers “watched documentaries showing the undying feats of General Secretary Kim Jong Il, making an endless forced march for field guidance.”

Actually, film culture has quite a long history in North Korea, with former King of Cambodia Norodom Sihanouk doing most of the post-production there on films he made back in the early 1960s.

Contact Scott Rosenberg with relevant news stories at prdivision@gmail.com. You may also follow him on Twitter: scott_cos.