Romancing in the golden mustard fields, lush green spaces, heritage sites and a vibrant lifestyle - the charm of Punjab is making the state the destination for Bollywood's film industry.
When Yash Chopra captured the beauty of Punjab in the Shah Rukh Khan-Priety Zinta starrer "Veer Zara", he not only made a classic cross-border love story but also broke free from the clichd European destinations of Hindi cinema.
The snow-kissed mountains of Switzerland or the streets of London now have stiff competition as Punjab is the new-found love for filmmakers in Bollywood.
Punjab and Chandigarh seem to be attracting more filmmakers to come and shoot here. In the last five years or more, Aamir Khan, Shah Rukh Khan, Salman Khan, Sanjay Dutt, Ajay Devgn, Saif Ali Khan, Ranbir Kapoor and Akshay Kumar - the A-listers of Bolywood's male superstars - have all shot in Chandigarh and nearby areas of Punjab. Some of them have done it more than once.
"It was 'Veer Zara' which set the ball rolling for shootings in and around Chandigarh and inspired others to come here," Darshan Aulakh, production manager of the super-hit film, told IANS.
"In a way, it paved the path for more Bollywood movies to be shot in and around the city after the militancy days (in Punjab)," added Aulakh, whose production house makes arrangements for most Hindi filmmakers in Punjab and Chandigarh.
Punjab has a strong filial connection with Bollywood - given all the Kapoors, Chopras, Deols, Khannas, Anands and other Punjabis who have made it big over the past five decades.
"I feel Punjab and its culture have become the essence of Bollywood films. No Hindi film is complete without a bit of Punjab in it, be it in songs, language, locations or even a small character," actor Arya Babbar, who has been seen in Hindi and Punjabi films and is the son of actor-politician Raj Babbar, told IANS.
Punjab provides production houses a bevy of opportunities to capture all things Punjabi that reflect in their films' scripts and characters. So, big Bollywood banners and a galaxy of stars are becoming a common sight in the region.
Bollywood actor Govinda, who will soon be seen in a Punjabi movie, shares his love for the state: "I always love coming to Punjab. I make it a point to visit the Golden Temple in Amritsar once every year. People here are so warm and welcoming, which I think is another reason for Bollywood's obsession to shoot here."
Films such as Salman Khan's "Bodyguard", Shahid Kapur's "Mausam", Akshay Kumar's "Joker", Ajay Devgn's "Son of Sardaar", Imran Khan's "Mere Brother Ki Dulhan" and the most recent super-hit, Farhan Akhtar's "Bhaag Milkha Bhaag", have all been shot in and around Chandigarh, Patiala and other locations in Punjab.
"I am a proud Punjabi and to see Punjab being promoted, as so many films are being shot here, makes me really happy. It will definitely help boost tourism in the region," Punjabi actor and singer Gippy Grewal said.
From the "Apne" family saga of the Deols (Dharmendra-Sunny-Bobby) to Kareena Kapoor-Shahid Kapur's refreshing "Jab We Met", the vivacity of Punjab, its rustic locations and vibrant dances have mesmerised one and all.
"For films which require the scenic beauty of rural parts, open green fields and the village lifestyle, Punjab provides a perfect backdrop," says Punjabi film actor Binnu Dhillon, known for his comedy roles in recent Punjabi hit films.
Small budget film "Mere Dad ki Maruti" was mostly shot in Chandigarh. "Rang de Basanti", "Love Aaj Kal", "Besharam" and others were shot in Punjab and Chandigarh.
"Shooting at the locations of Punjab is very cheap. A song shot in the yellow fields of Punjab will look as beautiful as the one shot in a foreign location. Thus, filmmakers prefer to shoot in the region as it saves huge costs," says Darshan Grewal, producer of super-hit Punjabi movie "Jatt and Juliet".
Even Oscar-winning Hollywood director Kathryn Bigelow shot for her latest film "Zero Dark Thirty", based on the hunting down of the world's most dreaded terrorist Osama bin Laden by US forces, in and around Chandigarh.
Be it to show the effervescent culture of Punjab for a script or its rich colours for a song or just to put in some Punjabi flavour in the film, Bollywood's romance with Punjab seems growing fast.
(Jaideep Sarin can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org; Mannat Mundi can be contacted at email@example.com)
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