India’s business capital, Mumbai, could lose its dominance over movie-making, television and entertainment as rival states angle for a share of the lucrative industries.
Bollywood, which draws its popular name from Mumbai’s earlier name of Bombay, is the crown jewel of India’s most industrious metropolis and is the national center for trading in stocks, bonds, commodities, diamonds and gold.
Movie-making provides scores of other spinoffs including studios, fast-growing television, online gaming, digital media, music, radio and other multimedia businesses. It generates hundreds of thousands of jobs in allied and dependent industries. Above all, it creates the glitz and glamor that attracts people from all over the country and in non-Covid times worldwide.
Smaller entertainment hubs have sprung up in other parts of the country, especially for India’s southern languages including Tamil. This has not happened in north India because Hindi and Urdu are the main languages for Bollywood movies as they are widely understood across the country. Movies in Tamil, Telegu, Malayalam and Kannada are typically produced in Hyderabad, Bangalore, Chennai and elsewhere in south India.
But the north now has its own Bollywood dream. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has committed to develop Uttar Pradesh and eastern states to reduce migration to developed states in western India. And UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, a member of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, is one of Modi’s handpicked favorites.
On Wednesday, Adityanath listed the state’s first municipal bond and invited industrialists to set up industry and Bollywood celebrities to take part in a new 404-hectare film city in Noida, adjacent to Delhi and part of the National Capital Region (NCR). A dozen-odd top actors and producers professing allegiance to New Delhi flocked to the minister in Mumbai.
Noida is India’s second-biggest information technology hub after Bangalore. It is also home to almost all of the television studios operating out of Delhi, along with allied operations and services. It also boasts India’s only Formula One Indian Grand Prix race track, called Budh International Circuit, and will have a new international airport by 2024.
Noida is just 190 kilometers from the Taj Mahal, connected by the Taj Expressway. Most critically, it can provide unlimited land and open fields for studios, post-production processes and shooting.
Mumbai, being an island, faces a severe land shortage which makes real estate prohibitively expensive for commercial buildings, housing and public infrastructure such as roads, railways, and open public space. Parts of the city get flooded during the four-month monsoon. Key locations in Mumbai are among the costliest in Asia.
The National Capital Region, being a natural magnet for all of north India, could also help attract movie-making business from states like Punjab in the north to Bihar and Bengal in the east. Bihar and eastern UP have a vibrant Bhojpuri-language movie industry that can conveniently move from a distant Mumbai to nearer Noida.
But is moving an entire film industry feasible?
“Someone taking away Bollywood, is it a joke?’’ Sanjay Raut, spokesman for Shiv Sena that leads a coalition running Maharashtra, asked. Raut may be right despite taking into account the realities on the ground and Mumbai’s drawbacks.
Mumbai is probably India’s only melting pot in a real sense. Movies have been made there since the Second World War and India’s partition in 1947, which brought many to Mumbai from across the subcontinent. It also marked the terminal decline of the film industry in Kolkata, formerly known as Calcutta.
As in the case of other muses, cinema requires an atmosphere, synergy and bonding between artists at every level, from the beginning to the end. It also needs a back-up industry that understands the requirements and provides ready solutions.
The world’s most prolific movie-making industry has seen a proliferation of individuals and families from more than three generations of film culture who can be tapped and can fit in effortlessly.
Mumbai has scores of studios, well-oiled machinery and a system of making movies, television programs, digital media, and a deep and large reservoir of talent, and vibrant formal film making venues with back-up facilities.
Despite being the capital of Maharashtra, more than 40% of Mumbai’s 18 million people speak Hindi as their mother tongue. And it’s a city with a true cosmopolitan culture.
Most importantly, Mumbai has the best civic sense and respect for law among all major cities in the country. Delhi and Noida are infamous for scant respect for the rule of law and its enforceability, which could scare away sensitive artists.
Have industries been successfully moved en mass before in India?
Modi, when he was chief minister of Gujarat, made audacious attempts to woo Mumbai’s financial services and banking industry to a new financial center named Gujarat International Finance Tech-City (GIFT).
The GIFT City provides seamless supplies of almost all essential urban infrastructure facilities including readily available real estate, telecom services, and electricity, among a host of others.
Still seven years after its inauguration, Mumbai retains its core and remains the magnet for most finance professionals from across the country. A city needs much more than just cold steel and concrete. It requires an atmosphere, work ethics, culture and a soul for it to become and remain vibrant.