As France contends with a drop in tourist numbers following a series of deadly attacks, the government is hoping that a new Bollywood romantic comedy can help it lure Indian visitors. From the golden beaches of the Cote D’Azur to the roof of the Paris opera house and the historic bridges of the Seine, the blockbuster movie Befikre – which means “Carefree” in English – is filled with picture postcard scenes of France.
The makers of the blockbuster movie, which hit Indian screens on Dec 9, say it is the first Bollywood production to be shot entirely on the French mainland.
For French ambassador to India Alexandre Ziegler, the new movie, which features Bollywood star Ranveer Singh and Vaani Kapoor, is worth “all the marketing campaigns in the world”.
“In a country like India, the impact of movies on the dreams people have of visiting an unknown place and on the desire to discover is absolutely huge,” said Ziegler.
“It is without doubt the biggest influence over travel today for the Indian middle classes.”
Top tourist hotspots around the world have recently focused on Chinese visitors, but are increasingly setting their sights on neighbouring India. The country’s burgeoning middle class is travelling abroad in growing numbers, with 50 million forecast to do so by 2020, up from just 20 million in 2014.
Last year 524,000 Indians travelled to France, a figure dwarfed by the number of Chinese and Japanese visitors but which is growing rapidly.
Sophie Lacressonniere, marketing director of the promotional agency Atout France, says the Indian client base is also “resilient to security fears”, a key factor in the wake of recent attacks in France.
Other European countries have already enjoyed the Bollywood effect – the number of Indians visiting Spain doubled in 2012 after the release of the hit road movie You Won’t Get This Life Again, parts of which were shot there.
Switzerland, meanwhile, has long loomed large in the imaginations of Indian travellers.
Its snow-capped peaks and quiet rural villages were immortalised in the cult films of the Bollywood director Yash Chopra, who died in 2012.
All of which meant the French authorities pulled out all the stops when they were first contacted by the makers of Befikre last year.
As with most Indian movies, the schedule was tight and the crew spent around 50 days shooting in France in the spring. Lacressonniere says she is now working with French operators to try to organise tours that take in the places where the film was shot.
A model of Ranveer Singh will make its debut at Paris’s Grevin wax museum next year, and more Bollywood projects are said to be in the pipeline.
Ambassador Ziegler believes that in the future, France may even get as many Indian visitors as Chinese – 1.7 million of whom travelled there in 2014. – AFP Relaxnews