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Prime Minister Stephen Harper talks with Bollywood actor Akshay Kumar before the start of the Canadian premiere of the film "Thank You" in April. (CHRIS WATTIE/REUTERS)
Prime Minister Stephen Harper talks with Bollywood actor Akshay Kumar before the start of the Canadian premiere of the film "Thank You" in April. (CHRIS WATTIE/REUTERS)

Toronto poised for Bollywood boom Add to ...

If all goes according to plan, Hollywood North might soon become Bollywood West.

Toronto’s film industry is hoping that continuing talks between Canada and India will result in a federal co-production treaty that will bring more Bollywood production work here.

Discussions initially began between the two countries last September, but the arrival of the International Indian Film Academy Awards (IIFA) later this week is adding to the buzz. Film industry and government leaders from both countries are expected to continue negotiating at the IIFA Global Business Forum on June 24.

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If an agreement is hammered out, Bollywood’s growing interest in Canada could fill some of the demand for more work in Toronto, said Peter Finestone, the city’s film commissioner.

“We haven’t had a lot of Bollywood productions here yet, but we’re more on the radar because of the IIFA awards,” Mr. Finestone said “I think IIFA will catapult us to the very top of the list as a destination for foreign shooting.”

Toronto has attracted considerable Hollywood work with U.S. feature film productions spending roughly $350-million in 2010 in Toronto. But the figures have yet to go back to pre-SARS levels of $560-million in 2002. Now Mr. Finestone is hopeful that the $2-billion Indian domestic film industry might fill some of that gap.

Bollywood certainly isn’t new to Canada. In recent years, the red carpet was rolled out for the international premiers of Bollywood films, such as Guru, Dhobi Ghat and Chandni Chowk to China, with crazed fans lining up to catch a glimpse of celebrities like Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Aamir Khan and Akshay Kumar.

Mr. Kumar is probably the most familiar to Canadians – he played the lead in last year’s Bollywood romantic comedy Thank You, which was shot mostly around Toronto, Niagara Falls and Vancouver. He even danced a bit with Laureen Harper at a special screening of the film for Prime Minister Stephen Harper in Brampton, Ont. Mr. Kumar, also the Canadian Tourism Commission’s ambassador for India, is co-producing a soon-to-be released Bollywood hockey drama set in Toronto suburbia and starring Brampton comedian Russell Peters.

Already, North America audiences contribute on average roughly 25 per cent of a Bollywood film’s international revenue, said Sabbas Joseph, director of Wizcraft, which produces IIFA annually.

“Canada has such a captive ethnic community and I can guarantee you, after IIFA comes to Toronto, Bollywood productions [in Toronto]will grow by leap and bounds,” he said.

Just look at the past for examples, he says. Shortly after the IIFA awards were held in South Africa (2001 and 2003), Malaysia (2002) and Singapore (2004), Bollywood producers spun out films set in those countries, including the wildly popular blockbusters Race, Krrish and Don.

This unquenchable desire for foreign location shooting can be linked to the growing South Asian diaspora, Bollywood industry critic Taran Adarsh said.

“Almost every second film has a foreign location shoot – whether it’s a song-and-dance number or the whole film is set abroad,” Mr. Adarsh said. “It’s catering not only to a global audience but also the desi [Indian]audience who like the fantasy of living abroad.”

Bollywood films shot outside the country also function like travelogues, Mr. Joseph said. “When you shoot a film abroad, then the fans want to go where the stars went,” he said. “After IIFA was in Singapore, tourism increased by 30 per cent to that country.”

The advantages to Bollywood producers are clear: Co-productions are recognized as domestic productions in their respective countries, providing access to federal and provincial tax credits offered through the Canada Media Fund and Telefilm Canada’s Canada Feature Film Fund. Canada’s large South Asian communities in cities such as Vancouver and Toronto also make it easy for Indian producers to hire extras, back-up dancers, crews and even familiar catering services for their homesick production crews.

Karen Thorne-Stone, president and chief executive officer of Ontario Media Development Corporation, says the province will benefit tremendously from the extra input from India.

“A co-production is extremely valuable, not only because it creates employment for Ontarians, but also opens up markets around the world. And co-productions won’t be limited to just the film industry. We would see a boost in co-productions for gaming, special effects, television and documentaries,” she said. “The bottom line is there is a lot of potential for work here.”

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