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Travel Bug by Bollywood

Switzerland comes to India

Yash Chopra, the romance goes, promised his wife during their honeymoon in Switzerland that every movie he made would have at least one song or scene set in the Alpine land. He kept his promise and in the bargain did more for the country’s tourism than the government or the tourism body could accomplish: the number of Indians visiting Switzerland has doubled the past decade. Surely, these numbers are also about the democratisation of air travel and higher disposable incomes. Before Yash Chopra Raj Kapoor had shot parts of his poignant ‘Sangam’ of 1964 in Switzerland in addition to Paris and Venice. So while air travel remained out of bounds for the average Indian, cues were taken from more accessible locations featured in landmark movies of yahoo-man Shammi Kapoor’s ‘Junglee’ and ‘Kashmir Ki Kali’ both shot in Kashmir.

Shikaras rocked since

Both the movies went a long way in setting the Valley – before strife set in – as the ideal location for nuptial consummation. Gamboling about in the snow, holding hands and staring into each others’ eyes in the perfect idyllic surroundings, humming a verse or two; the mood had been set as The preferred destination of honeymooners. Posing for photographs in local festive garbs, canoodling a lamb, shikhara rides followed by dinner by the fireplace or over candlelights, Kashmir was the go-to for all newly weds. The position of hill stations in honeymooners’ itinerary was cemented with ‘Aradhana’ starring Rajesh Khanna and Sharmila Tagore released in 1969 which showcased Darjeeling like a tourism reel. With the carnage and resulting exodus of the Hindu Pandits from Kashmir in the 80s, the state lost out completely to Darjeeling, Shimla and Manali. Kashmir continued to be plagued by tensions of all kind which continue unabated maybe pausing for a brief breather. Naturally honeymooners had to look elsewhere and not unexpectedly, Bollywood once again came to the rescue.

Darjeeling rises

If the origin of the custom is anything to go by the destination should be the last thing to be revealed in the case of a honeymoon. There are several plausible explanations about the genesis of this form of travel, the widely accepted one is of Northen European folk origins which goes that after abducting a wife from a neighbouring village, the husband would then go into hiding with the woman till the time her family and relatives call the search off. Their location would be a closely guarded secret with only very few among the groom’s relatives or trusted friends knowing their whereabouts. The location today does not enjoy discretion. In fact, it comes with many qualifiers. It is no more “Let’s go to Goa” but “Let’s go to Goa like in ‘Dil Chahta Hai.’”

Well-heeled boy groups from India want to do Spain like in ‘Zindagi Na Milegi Dubara’, bull run included.

Braveheart and bride: Montbovon Village

No true-bred Indian can visit Switzerland and not pay homage at the Montbovon village in Fribourg where some crucial scenes were filmed for ‘Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge’ the cult hit of 1995 produced by Yash Chopra and directed by his son Aditya. While in Alpine territory, travel agents tell the story of a besotted honeymooning couple from India who was hell bent on finding the church ‘with the pointed steeple’ – the way they remembered from the movie. They hired a taxi – quite expensive in the country, mind you – and went around in circles till they found it. But upon entering, they found that the interiors were different from what was shown in the movie – where Kajol kneels down in prayer hoping to find true love, as Shahrukh goes about as if on speed in the neo-Gothic alleys – the altars were not the same! Having come so far, they continued their investigation and getting some local help, reached the nearby church of St Grat. The discovery must have been as gratifying as everything else during their honeymoon.

(Buoyed – and possibly moved – by such stories, Yashraj Films joined hands with Switzerland Tourism and started their own travel company Enchanted Journeys. Attractions included hassle-free visits to locations of DDLJ, Chandni and Lamhe but was shut down recently.)

Other movies that influenced itineraries

Renewed interest in Rajasthan

‘Dor’ a film by Nagesh Kukunoor released in 2006 extensively shot in Rajasthan also featured life in a typical haveli of the desert state. A critically received film, ‘Dor’ (Strings) revived tourists’ interest in the culture and tradition of the state which otherwise centred around the desert and the many touristy festivals.

Though it bombed at the box office, the sweeping cinematography and engaging narration of ‘Delhi-6′ presented the crowded and gutter-strewn old Delhi (Dilli) in a new light. Suddenly there was more to explore and experience in these parts than paranthas and kebabs.

The vendor-choked back alleys of Kolkata became more alluring – or sinister, depending on how you look at it – after the 2012 hit ‘Kahaani’ starring Vidya Balan.

The scenic Pangong Lake in Ladakh continues to draw crowds – and not just motorcyclists on the Khardung La run – after the phenomenal success of the 2009 film ’3 Idiots’. The brackish waters which flow all the way into Tibet is usually beyond reach for any kind of activity as parts of the water body itself forms disputed territory with China.

Gujarat tourism gets a boost

Another recent buddy drama ‘Kai Po Che’ (a Gujarati phrase meaning ‘I have cut the kite’) released in 2013 was shot extensively in the state capital Ahmedabad and captures the city’s many little seen and heard nuances; travel companies have reported a surge in demand from tourists headed for the city following the movie’s release.

It goes without saying that the success of a movie is also intricately tied to how the featured location is perceived by the audience/potential travellers. If the storyline is wafer thin or the telling style falters, then however breathtaking the location is, at best what it will attract are wondrously-raised brows and no serious query. Save for the initial default-hype that comes with a superstar release, Salman Khan’s ‘Ek Tha Tiger’ failed to roar after the first weekend. The tourism board of Turkey had roped in Salman to promote the country’s many wonders in India; more was accomplished by Salman’s sound bytes at press conferences than by the movie itself.

‘Agent Vinod’ starring Saif Ali Khan released in 2012 was shot across half a dozen countries but tanked so bad that audience remembers it for the whacky dub ‘Travel Agent Vinod’ than for any of the countries it was shot in.

India by truck, anyone?

A personal favourite: Of the many movies released in India that spurs one to travel my favourite is the almost ‘Road, Movie’ a Dev Benegal film released in 2009 with Abhay Deol. Here Abhay drives a battered 1942 Chevy truck across the harsh desert; en route he discovers love, adventure and freedom. I wonder why nobody makes movies like that or there isn’t – yet – any travel agency that gives you a taste of the ‘trucker life’ which dominates the Indian highways.

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