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Bombay Velvet in Sri Lanka – an Interview with Vivek Agrawal

April 14, 2014 Lifestyle No Comments Email Email

To start off with, can you describe the movie/the storyline?

I won’t be able to tell you much about the storyline, but Bombay Velvet is one of the most awaited films of the year. In fact I would say it’s been spoken about for the last 8 years, because Anurag (Anurag Kashyap, the director) has been developing the script over that period of time, and it’s gone through multiple cast options and always the biggest names were spoken about. Currently, it’s been made with in my opinion the strongest cast possible – with Ranbir Kapoor, Anushka Sharma and Karan Johar, who plays one of the most pivotal roles in the film for the first time, K.K. Menon and others – so it’s got a good cast and a huge budget as you can see we put up a set in Sri Lanka. I can’t get into numbers, but it’s one of the most expensive sets put up.

In terms of story, it’s a story about Bombay set in the 50’s and 60’s and I’m quite sure people will see a different side of Bombay which today’s generation hasn’t seen.

On the topic of Sri Lanka, why choose the country over much larger India or any other country?

There were several factors. Anurag when he finished the script and was looking for locations to shoot the film, India was definitely the last option for him simply because the way Bombay looked in the 40’s and 50’s is nowhere the same now.  The multi-high rises were not there, it was more a city of mills, where they played a huge factor in providing employment and it wasn’t the big cosmopolitan city it is today. All that changed in the late 60’s and 70’s, so you wouldn’t get the architecture; because especially in Bombay you have some of the old art deco buildings in South Bombay, but next door you’ll find a glass structure… virtually impossible to shoot on location.

It was a priority to get that particular period into the picture?

Absolutely, otherwise how are you going to recreate Bombay in the 50’s and 60’s with glass structures around you? We explored several cities in India; such as Calcutta, Delhi, Gujarat, Goa, but logistics were driving us crazy. Then, Anurag thought of exploring abroad, and he travelled to a lot of countries such as Italy, Brazil – Sao Paolo was suggested to him, he travelled to the East but nothing was falling into place. Someone suggested to me about Sri Lanka, especially Colombo for some interior scenes because I heard that the architecture in Colombo is similar to Bombay’s at the time because it was built by the British and a lot of of it is restored. While we were starting our recce, at the end of 2012 we made a small trip to Colombo thinking we can do a 10-12 day shoot here. See some houses, and some streets, and some stuff – when we came here, we were in shock!

Fort, Colombo what you have here is exactly the same as a place called Fort in Mumbai. The buildings are the same, the architecture is the same, and nothing is changed at all. The good thing in Sri Lanka, for us and for the film was that there is a law that you cannot change the architecture of a building or break it down – you have to restore it. This was perfect for us, as we got the art deco we needed.

So, suddenly from a 10-12 day shoot we explored doing a 20-25 day shoot because most houses we included in the film we were able to see it in different locations in Colombo. After that, I got in touch with the Ministry through Hon. Namal’s office, and he suggested that we see and explore more in Sri Lanka and which is when the Film Team who I work with here suggested the studio in Tissamaharama called Ranmitihenna. Once we came here, I realized that this belongs to the government and Hon. Namal had offered as much help as he could. We needed to build some part of the city on a set, which would compromise almost 50% of the film. I was thinking of building it in Mumbai or Hyderabad, when the ministry suggested building it in the studio land itself – 12 to 15 acres. It was a great idea, but logistics drove me up the wall initially! It would require 500-600 workers for 10 months, and Indian technical expertise to come from there, and they would have to live here, getting extras, etc. I started doing a little homework in terms of what more is there in Sri Lanka which can swing my decision, so we started researching small things such as period vehicles which are available. We then realized that there were more than ten times vintage vehicles here than in India, and maintained very, very well!

That was a huge bonus, simply because we were struggling to obtain such vehicles back in India. The minute I realized that the cars here were maintained so well, the quality was so fab – how do you create a period? You create with the architecture, and with the vehicles, and with the clothes. Clothes we’d create, and would have had to no matter where we shot but cars we can’t manufacture. Immediately, everything shifted to Sri Lanka’s favour – as it’s a huge bonus to have that era’s cars running in the streets. We then decided to take up the challenge, in May 2013. We finished constructing the set in January 2014, and started shooting in February. We shot one schedule in Colombo, Galle, and a 40 day schedule here in Yala. From an initial estimation of doing 10-15% here in Sri Lanka, we finally ended up doing 90% here.

It’s a big bonus to Sri Lanka, because India is a filmmaking country. It produces the highest number of films in the world, and is a separate industry in itself. There is a huge history behind film making and tourism, whichever country India targets as a shooting destination there results in a huge burst in tourism. I remember two years ago, a film was shot in Spain, and the tourism – a film with Hrithik Roshan – the tourism changed by 80% the following year after the movie was released. I know that Sri Lanka has one of its biggest tourism markets from India, and trust me – Bombay Velvet is going to change it completely. It’s also going to help most of the hotels we stayed in – for example Jetwing Yala, all the stars stayed here such as Anurag Kashyap, Ranbir Kapoor, Anuskha Sharma, Karan Johar, etc. They love the hospitality of the hotel, and if we weren’t shooting here it would be difficult to arrange accommodation. People will want to see where Bombay Velvet was shot – I’m leaving behind the set, which can be used for future films once ours is released.

How do you see Sri Lanka growing as a film making destination after the release of Bombay Velvet?

I think not just for India, but for the world film making segment it’s huge. The set we’ve constructed here is at par with anything else in the world. We’ve hired some American and British technicians, and they are all amazed at what we’ve accomplished here. I think for Sri Lanka, it’s another source for revenue by marketing the country as a film making destination.

Any thoughts about your stay here in Sri Lanka?

I’ve had a fabulous stay at Jetwing Yala, Jetwing Blue and Jetwing Lagoon. The hospitality in the entire Jetwing group is unbelievable. My stars over the past 40 days have been constantly telling me that they’ve had the best shoot of their lives! After working at the studio which is around 45 minutes away and coming back to just relax is necessary and vital. They love the place! Personally, I’m not going back with any bad memories at all – I’ve made 30 trips over the last 10 months and I can’t remember a single bad incident I’ve had. The people in Sri Lanka are generally very warm, and polite. In totality, they are simple and humble people – for example the technicians we worked with were very disciplined and committed to what they were doing despite working long hours on some days. It was a good experience; it was peaceful even though it was like having a 40 day wedding with 600-1000 people every day!

Bombay Velvet will be released in the fourth quarter of 2014, and features Ranbir Kapoor, Anushka Sharma and Karan Johar with Anurag Kashyap as director.

Family owned and in the tourism industry for the past 40 years, Jetwing Hotels has surpassed expectation at every aspect. Building on their foundation of being passionate, as well as the experience of true, traditional Sri Lankan hospitality, constantly pioneering discoveries captures the essence of the brand. Such a strong statement and direction have enabled Jetwing Hotels to imagine, create and manage marvels and masterpieces, where distinctive design and elegant comfort complement each other and the environment. Considered a priority, sustainable and responsible practice is implemented through the award winning Jetwing Eternal Earth Programme; with energy efficiency, community upliftment, and education of earth saving measures to schoolchildren being a few tenets of the Programme.

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