By Yudhishthir Raj Isar
David Vashadze’s eyes lit up when I mentioned Ketevan the Martyr to him. The iconic 16th-century queen of Kakheti (part of current-day Georgia) represents a direct link between the Caucasus region and the subcontinent. She was martyred in Shiraz (current-day Iran) in 1624, and her remains were smuggled by Augustinian monks to the city now known as Old Goa. Earlier this year, the Archaeological Survey of India confirmed it has found her bones after a decade-long search.
As director of Georgian Film Center in Tbilisi, Vashadze’s mission at IFFI is to attract Indian film makers to shoot in Georgia. “We see film production as a tool of development,” he told me while waiting through a logistical delay, “great economic benefit comes from the inflow of money through film production and its offshoots, including tourism, as when Switzerland got more Indian visitors after Bollywood started making movies there.”
In dialogue with producer Manoj Srivastava (former CEO of Entertainment Society of Goa) at the IFFI 2016 seminar on Indo-Georgian co-production moderated by Saibal Chatterjee (editor of the IFFI 2016 International Catalogue), Vashadze laid out multiple incentives offered by the ‘Film in Georgia’ programme (www.filmingeorgia.ge). These efforts are part of a reformed Georgia that ranks 24th in the World Bank’s ease of business index, where a limited bureaucracy works fast and on the ‘one stop shop’ principle with foreign investors, alongside a visitor-friendly visa system.
Meanwhile, Georgia nurtures its own vibrant cinema tradition, with a strong contemporary presence of women directors such as Rusudan Glurjidze, whose ‘House of Others’ (2016) is in this year’s International Competition.
In production terms, cash rebates are the key. This scheme ensures 20 percent return on expenditures incurred in Georgia for a minimum of $250,000 for feature films, TV films and drama series, and a minimum of $150,000 for documentaries, commercials, animated film, reality shows and music videos. An additional 5% can be earned through Georgian hires, or post-production, and also the insertion of Georgian references. Seven Indian film projects have already applied.
“It is one of the world’s best schemes”, says Srivastava, “with a little intelligence, 23-24 % of the cash rebate could be easily attained. It is really simple and it is so easy to shoot everywhere.” He cited a chase sequence involving the Kalka-Shimla ‘toy train’ which was entirely filmed in Georgia, and at a fraction of the cost that would have been incurred in India.The soon to be released historical action movie ‘Gautamiputra Satakarni’ (Telugu) written and directed by Krish, was partly shot in Georgia. An added coincidence for Goa is that the first name of the Deputy Minister of Economics, who strongly backs Vashadze’s work, is ‘Ketevan’!
More importantly, as observed by Shreeppriya Gopalakrishnan of Qube Wire (featured in yesterday’s The Peacock), the policy challenge of transnational co-production that governments should address means moving from “foreign locations to show to our audiences, but something that’s incidental to the story line” to “involving characters from those locations and how those audiences in a globalized world receive our productions.” Are those audiences receptive and interested?
Yudhishthir Raj Isar, who divides his time between Paris and Goa, is an international cultural policy expert.