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Wooed by Israel funding, Bollywood movie filmed in Tel Aviv

Government offers support to promote Indian tourism; lead actress says she always wanted to visit Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Nazareth

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter.

Promotional image for the new Bollywood movie 'Drive,' being partially filmed in Israel, March 18, 2017. (YouTube screenshot)
Promotional image for the new Bollywood movie 'Drive,' being partially filmed in Israel, March 18, 2017. (YouTube screenshot)

Bollywood superstar Jacqueline Fernandez was in Israel this week with a crew of 80 to shoot scenes for an action-comedy film opposite Indian heartthrob Sushant Singh Rajput, in the first Bollywood movie to be filmed in the Jewish state.

“Drive,” described as an Indian version of Hollywood’s “The Fast and  the Furious” franchise and likely to be seen by some ten million movie-goers on the Indian subcontinent when it is released in March 2018, brings a couple to Tel Aviv to spend their illicit gains from a high-stakes robbery in India, Channel 2 TV reported Monday.

The scenes, to be shot over three days in coastal Jaffa and Tel Aviv, were partly funded by the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office and the foreign and tourism ministries to boost Israel’s tourism profile in South Asia.

A similar initiative in London prompted a 28 percent increase in tourism from the Indian subcontinent in one year.

Deputy Diplomacy Minister Michael Oren, a former Israeli ambassador to the US, posted on Twitter this week that he was in Mumbai “inviting Ballywood (sic) to Israel,” with the goal of creating jobs and fighting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel.

In Israel, Tourism Minister Yariv Levin welcomed the crew with a traditional Indian greeting, according to the report Monday.

Tourism Minister Yariv Levin (right) welcomes Bollywood actor Sushant Singh Rajput to Israel with a traditional Indian greeting, October 9, 2017. (Channel 2 screenshot)

Fernandez, a Sri Lankan former model and one of the most popular actresses in India, told the TV station the couple in the film decide to go on vacation and “we choose Israel because there’s parties, beach life, there’s so much to do here.”

Fernandez said she had known about Israel from a young age and had always wanted to visit Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Nazareth.

“It’s so crazy that now, my work has actually brought to me to a place I’ve been dying to come to,” she added.

Sushant Singh Rajput has already posted pictures of Tel Aviv on his Instagram and Twitter accounts and said he would be coming back to the country for a private visit with friends.

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