Producing an average of 1,200 feature films per year, Mumbai, India hosts the world’s largest film industry -– some say its most popular one, too — under the Bollywood brand. These are more than just Indian movies; even though theatrical films are produced in almost each of India’s 30 states, to qualify as a “Bollywood” movie, it must be shot in Hindi by a Film City, Mumbai team.
So how do movie-goers get to learn more about this glamorous business? Film fans who have been to Disney Hollywood Studios in Orlando, Universal Studios in Los Angeles, the Warner Bros. Harry Potter theme park in the U.K. or Hobbiton in New Zealand, are surprised by how few formal Bollywood industry tours exist in Mumbai, the state capital of Maharashtra. New initiatives recently announced by the Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation aim to change that. Until then, there’s Bollywood Tours.
Bollywood Film City Tour
Bollywood Tours is unusual not only because they run guided tours. A partnership between the Multilink Media Company and the Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation, they actually schedule group or individual tours of three different aspects of the Indian film industry and operate most of them twice daily.
Given that films can live or die on their pre-release buzz, it’s not surprising that Bollywood studios have been so restrictive about behind-the-scenes visitors. Not until October 1, 2015 were foreigners even allowed to join the government-regulated Film City bus tour (US$55) that whizzes past Bollywood industry landmarks in the teeming Goregaon East section of Mumbai. (Caveat emptor: I didn’t take this particular bus tour, but heard that the guide points out studios, stars’ homes, a helipad, and other landmarks as you drive by, captive on the bus.)
Bollywood Studio Tour focuses on Actual Film Sets
Really eager enthusiasts can visit the S.J. Studios sound stages, where a dozen permanent sets are dressed to be either hospital E.R.s for a medical procedural series or college classrooms, a royal hotel suite from the Taj Mahal Bombay Palace, or even the county jail (where Jean Valjean’s prison scene from the musical, Les Mis, was shot).
I enjoyed the US$99 two-hour Bollywood Studio Tour program that stretched to five hours in the way that things often do in India. My solo journey included driving from the hotel and back, a lunch in their commissary surrounded by celebrities (portraits but no live stars), and the attentive services of an enthusiastic guide, Frederick, who was happy to indulge my every question. (Note that with car pickup and lunch, my tally surged to US$155, somewhat less per person in a group.)
You don’t have to be a Bollywood devotee; film fans with kids will definitely enjoy this tour, given that there’s a good chance of watching a rehearsal or scene actually being filmed. As the grand finale, visitors can enter the studio’s small museum showcase. In the theatre, another guide shows clips of famous films, plus a promotional film about the studio and its facilities so you can see how sets are transformed. Then, a few Bollywood dance numbers are staged and the audience is invited in.
Some of Bollywood’s greatest stars are honored with life size statues outside; so grab a wedding dress or a biker’s jacket and pose with your hero. Note that there is a new S.J. Studio Bollywood Tour run by the soundstages I visited in Andheri East. It’s given four times per day and has kids rates: 50% off for ages 5-12 and free for kids under 5. If you have trouble booking online, contact them at +91/9699980029 or at [email protected].
Bollywood Dreams Tour Makes Dreams Come True
For the very star struck or the budding idol, the Bollywood Dreams Tour, which highlights the finishing of these projects, is your ticket to stardom.
On this two-hour program, tour a post-production facility and learn about SFX (special effects), Foleys (sound effects) and other tricks of digital video production. The celebrity host (character actor Sanjay Varma, at our visit) adds to the fun with some singing and antics of his own, as you can see in our video that he helped to shoot.
Visitors are taken into a sound recording booth to record their own Bollywood hits. You pick the song, the crew strips the music track and lyrics so you can lip sync Karaoke style, and they’ll record your big hit on your cellphone. There’s also an opportunity to read the lines, or dub the voices, for the dialogue from major films.
If your heart has started throbbing already, any of these tours will be a good option. Go online to book tickets at Bollywood Tours. If you have trouble (and I found it very challenging to do), email them at [email protected], [email protected] tours.com or call 022 42383838 or 91 7710065599 once you’re in Mumbai.
Top Picks for the Bollywood Novice
To prepare for the Avenue of the Stars you’ll find waiting in Bollywood, try to watch a few films that mark the very best of an industry that turned 100 in 2014. Here are some selects for newbies to this art form:
- “Dum Laga Ke Haisha” (2015) stars Ayushmann Khurrana as a young man who’s failed his University English exams and is forced by his family to marry the overweight Bhumi Pednekar for money. See how love enters in the equation.
- “Happy New Year” (2014) stars Shah Rukh Khan, Abhishek Bachchan and Deepika Padukone as a gang of misfits whose attempt to pull off a diamond heist leads them to a world dance competition in Dubai. Lots of fun singing and dancing.
- “The Lunch Box” (2013) stars Irrfan Khan as a reclusive accountant who’s about to retire until the tiffenwalla delivers the wrong lunchbox, giving him a way to connect with its beautiful young chef through notes passed back and forth.
- “Three Idiots” (2009) directed by Rajkumar Hirani is the coming of age tale of college friends who set out to find a long lost buddy. Its humor earned it 25 major film awards and 13 more nominations.
- “Slumdog Millionaire” (2008) is the Academy Award-winning Bollywood film that grossed more than $140 million in the US alone by sharing the story of Dev Patel and Freida Pinto, and their efforts to escape the slums of Mumbai.
Quiet on the set! Roll’em. Action!
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