MUMBAI, India — Hobnobbing with Bollywood bigwigs, Israeli officials pinned their hopes on massively ramping up tourism to the Jewish state with a Mumbai gala designed to lure an Indian film production to Israel.
Joined by actor Amitabh Bachchan, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu capped his five-day visit to the subcontinent by talking up India Israel ties and promising to incentivize Indian productions in Israel.
“If you come and you want more, we will give your more. We want Bollywood in Israel,” Netanyahu told a ballroom of Israeli and Indian diplomats, businesspeople and film industry figures.
He added that a $4 million fund meant to bring Indian film productions to Israel had not been fully utilized.
Producing over 1,500 movies a year for a population of some 1.3 billion, Bollywood is seen as a major driver of so-called soft power and an avenue for Israel and India to grow closer ties, a major theme of Netanyahu’s visit, which was also meant to boost trade between the countries.
Bilateral trade stands at about $5 billion annually, most of which is wrapped up in defense and diamonds.
Israeli officials surmised that a successful Bollywood production in Israel could push tourism several times higher than its current level of about 50,000 people per year, a tiny fraction of the million-plus visitors to the Jewish state annually, and an even more minuscule slice of India’s growing middle class.
The initiative has precedent. In 2011, Spain successfully lured a Bollywood production, “Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara,” which was produced in close collaboration with the Spanish tourism promotion agency, Turespana, with a major boost in tourism following soon after.
The film about three friends on a pre-marriage road trip across Spain includes scenes at the ‘La Tomatina’ festival in the town of Bunol as well as at Pamplona’s San Fermin bull running festival.
With scenes also set in Barcelona, Seville and the beaches of the Costa Brava, the movie was the first major Indian production to shoot extensively in various locations in Spain.
It was also the highest grossing Bollywood film of 2011.
“There was an immediate impact in the number of people requesting entry visas to travel to Spain,” the director of the London office of Turespana, Enrique Ruiz de Lera, who led the agency’s talks with the producers of the movie, told AFP last year.
The year after its release, 60,444 Indians visited Spain, nearly double the 2011 figure, according to the industry and tourism ministry.
Switzerland, which for 50 years has been a backdrop for several Bollywood films, has also managed to turn Indian film-goers into alpine tourists.
Bachchan, the actor, who joined Netanyahu and other Bollywood figures for a mass-selfie on stage, noted that Mumbai’s film industry made four times the number of movies per year than Hollywood, touting cinema as a way to “solidify” the bond between the countries.
— Benjamin Netanyahu (@netanyahu) January 18, 2018
Attendees were shown a video meant to pitch them on the idea of filming in Israel, highlighting the country’s scenery and culture.
Abhishek Kapoor, who has produced Bollywood films “Rock On!!” and “Fitoor,” said he had already visited Israel several times, and could envision filming in the country, though it would take a push to make it a reality.
“An invitation, that’s all we are waiting for,” he said.
AFP contributed to this report.