Bollywood - or better still, Kollywood - has come to Malta for the first time and could set the ball rolling for other Indian cinema productions to be shot on the island.
"We're not exactly Bollywood," specifies director, scriptwriter and producer Gautham Vasudev Menon. "The Tamil film industry in the south of India actually makes more films than Bollywood in Bombay." And India has the largest film industry in the world.
Best known for his action films, Mr Vasudev Menon has just shot parts of his latest, Vinnai Thandi Varuvaya, in Malta, breaking the mould in terms of locations for Indian movies. In fact, even before filming in Malta started, his unprecedented move to Malta attracted the Chennei media, where the director comes from, generating publicity.
Many articles were published, asking whether it would open up a new location for other producers, who always go to Switzerland and New Zealand and whether it would be their next stop, he said.
The Chennai Times of India reported "the fierce competition among Kollywood directors to shoot in never-seen-before locations". Mr Vasudev Menon was reported to have "discovered the beautiful islands", making the headlines as the "first director from South India to shoot a film in Malta".
Mr Vasudev Menon believes other directors are likely to follow suit. He too plans to return in December to shoot an entire action feature film, complete with water chases.
"I have wanted to come to Malta for the past five years. When I shot my second movie, we wanted to film a song against a background of lots of water and old buildings but, at the time, we did not have the budget."
A Maltese friend, married to an Indian, kept on encouraging the director and, this time round, being the producer, he had the money...
"I've shot extensively in the US, Durban and Dubai, so this landscape and these colours are totally different," he said, explaining why he chose to shoot two out of six songs - a vital element of Indian movies, together with dance sequences - in Malta.
"We needed lots of churches, water and caves, so what better place to go than Malta?
"It has been quite an experience... except for the weather, which is too similar to Chennai in terms of heat. We expected it to be cooler. "But the locations are fantastic. Wherever you turn, there's a frame!"
The movie was shot everywhere, including Valletta, Mdina, Gozo and Comino, in lanes and alleys, about eight churches and even at a village feast, taking Maltese tradition to India.
"The girl in the movie, traditionally referred to as the heroine, is a Christian, and the boy, the hero, a Hindu. Where I come from, people love these inter-caste sorts of stories," he explained.
The romantic comedy, in the Tamil language, is "another feel-good love story, which is big in Chennai. The only difference is I am working more on the fun element of the screenplay".
Mr Vasudev Menon brought a 26-strong crew over, assisted by 10 locals, and the production company, Producer's Creative Partnership.
Although PCP has come across many attempts from illegal immigrants to obtain entry visas to Europe by posing as film makers, it quickly established the legitimacy of the production and expressed its gratitude towards the Malta Film Commission and the Malta High Commission in New Delhi, who helped process the required documents.
Shot over 10 days, the movie is estimated to have spent about €90,000 in Malta and featured renowned Indian actors, who were asked for autographs by Indian tourists while in Malta.
Vinnai Thandi Varuvaya is being scored by Oscar-winning composer A.R. Rahman of Slumdog Millionaire fame. "Thanks to this movie, the world is noticing Indian film makers. A.R. Rahman has been around for 15 years and we all knew he was capable of good stuff. Now, suddenly, he is recognised by the world!
"But that is the only way it has helped us. It has not portrayed the India we know. Yes, that India exists in pockets, but there is also a very urban, modern and scientifically-advanced India."
At 37, Mr Vasudev Menon already has eight movies under his belt, having started at 29. It has been quite a journey, he says, pointing out that it was the first time he was also producing a movie.
"Malta has so much to offer, lots more than we could do in 10 days. If I am thinking of shooting an entire feature film here, that means there is loads more!"
In fact, he has extended his stay and flown his wife and three little boys over. "We've been driving around," he said, wearing the hat of the relaxing tourist but keeping his director's eye and continuing to view Malta through an imaginary camera lens nonetheless.
Vinnai Thandi Varuvaya should be released in India in September and later also to international audiences, with the possibility of making it to Malta too.
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