From time to time, the Indian economy throws up new classes of travellers with the leisure and wherewithal to visit destinations of their choice. Among these, over the years, have been those that have felt inspired to visit exotic foreign locations. Playing a major role in acquainting them with these places has been the Bollywood film industry. Beginning with songs shot in the scenic locales of Switzerland, Bollywood has forayed into the most distant realms based on the demands of script, foreign exchange availability (in the earlier days), facilities available locally, tourist friendly environment and attitude towards Indians. The tourists have followed in increasing numbers to the point that it is often an overwhelming experience for local communities. Even so, the potential is much greater. This can be seen from the yet small numbers as compared to the Chinese (in the present context).
Bollywood has had a similar impact on local destinations beginning with, of course, Kashmir. Even so, much of India’s beautiful destinations remain unexplored simple because of the failure of states and host communities to develop the necessary facilities and culture. If seen in the context of a state like Uttarakhand, or the North-East, the first problem is with connectivity. This primarily has to do with the failure of policy at the Union Government level, with almost no appreciation of the possibilities. The state governments have been no better, with no understanding at all of the business of tourism. With mostly stodgy bureaucrats in control and a totally ignorant political leadership, the tourism sector has languished. The consequence has been seen in the unregulated spread of private enterprise with extreme outcomes even, as seen in Uttarakhand in June 2013.
From the earliest days of Uttarakhand’s formation, film-makers and others had demanded the formulation of a proactive policy on films in the state. A number of the state’s natives working in the industry had made practical suggestions in this regard, most of which were ignored. As a result, even those film-makers most inclined towards Uttarakhand lost interest. Uttarakhand could not be marketed as an upmarket destination, with only a few traditional hill-stations attracting visitors from a narrow slice of the travelling public. Sadly, an entirely ‘artificial’ destination like Dubai – in the sense that everything is manmade and contrived – provides a much more satisfying experience and receives many more high-spending footfalls.
All of this is despite the fact that there are innumerable places and potential activities in Uttarakhand that could be developed to match the best anywhere in the world. All the film-makers had sought was availability of high-quality equipment for hire in the state so that it did not need to be transported here; a ‘film city’ kind of set-up where shoots could be held in various backdrops; as also a film-friendly government and bureaucracy providing single-window clearances in a prompt and encouraging manner. This was not delivered in spite of the potentially large human resource base within the state, itself, for film-making. An initiative in this direction could have generated a large number of jobs, with an initial boom in ‘video album’ making also languishing owing to changes in taste and technology.
Of late, some evidence has been seen of a change in policy and approach, ironically sparked by the need to recover from the June tragedy. The challenge of the tragedy brought forth a younger lot of bureaucrats that got the opportunity to exhibit ability and will power; not unlike that nurtured by former Chief Minister ND Tiwari in his day. Hopefully, these officials will grasp the nettle and implement policies in the coming days that are forward looking in terms of improving tourism facilities in the state and marketing them intelligently.