SA Bollywood deal hangs in the balance

2013-12-22 14:00

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Blockbusters will rake in millions for SA, but films may be pulled because of the dti

South Africa is on the brink of securing its biggest Bollywood deal in history.

Durban is the confirmed location for two star-studded films with a combined budget of R220?million?– and many more huge films to follow.

But that’s only if the department of trade and industry (the dti) signs a crucial letter in time.

If they don’t, powerful Indian producer Gaurang Doshi has threatened to pull his two films from South Africa and shoot them in Australia instead.

Early next year, a pack of Bollywood legends that includes Amitabh Bachchan, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Abhishek Bachchan and Priyanka Chopra is scheduled to fly to the KwaZulu-Natal coast, where they will stay for several weeks while shooting Happy Anniversary and Aankhen 2.

Happy Anniversary is Rai’s much-hyped comeback after a break to give birth to her daughter.

In director Prahlad Kakkar’s film, she is cast opposite her husband, Abhishek, and his father, Amitabh?– playing roles that match their relationships in real life.

Aankhen 2 is the sequel to the hit thriller Aankhen, which was also filmed in South Africa and was produced by Doshi.

Because of that history, Doshi signed a deal with local company Mindblowing Productions to line-produce the films and recreate “the magic” of shooting his Indian hit in Durban.

The films, which are to be produced back to back with an almost entirely local crew, are scheduled for a total of 186 days of shooting, beginning on January 15 next year.

South African producer and owner of Mindblowing Productions Javed Aboobaker says he has seven more Bollywood films lined up from a variety of producers.

He adds that the films can “inject massive capital into Durban’s film industry, create employment and promote tourism at the same time”.

His next project to facilitate in South Africa is Roi, starring heart-throb Ranbir Kapoor, alongside Arjun Rampal and Jacqueline Fernandez.

But Aboobaker confirms that none of this will happen without the dti’s written confirmation that Happy Anniversary, for starters, has been approved to receive the government subsidy for foreign films.

The incentive scheme rewards foreign producers with a rebate that is a percentage of a film’s budget as a way of attracting their projects to the country.

“We were given positive signs of support and the go-ahead,” says Aboobaker. Now he is awaiting the signature from the director-general of the dti.

Sidwell Medupe, the dti’s spokesperson, says that “the department is considering the request of Mindblowing Production Company”, but that the rebate request is for a higher percentage than usual, “which is outside the current department’s film and TV guidelines”.

Aboobaker says there was such interest from Durban film bodies, which had offered to try to help raise the extra percentage being requested. The standard rebate is 20% to 25% on foreign productions.

Doshi has become increasingly frustrated, saying that he has provided endless paperwork to Mindblowing in the application process for the rebate.

“Australia and the UK have already given me the green light,” says Doshi.

He adds that other countries are offering him a higher incentive than he is requesting from South Africa.

Aboobaker says the shoot “can’t be rescheduled because the stars have been signed and their dates locked down. We are just hoping the letter arrives within the next few days.”

The young line producer and his associates have travelled to India several times. They have been negotiating to bring films to South Africa instead of letting Bollywood films go to other countries.

“We have come together to boost our industry and grow the economies of South Africa and India. If this deal fails, then all our hard work will have been for nothing?–?and the local film industry will not have this opportunity to grow,” he says.

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