Bollywood movie ‘Bombay Velvet’ is one of the most awaited films of the year. 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 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.
Currently the ‘Bombay Velvet’ film crew is in Ranminithenna, Tissamaharama, Sri Lanka shooting a story about Bombay set in the 50’s and 60’s. This is a short interview with the producer Vivek Agrawal. 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 40s and 50s 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 60s and 70s, 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.
Was it a priority to get that particular period into the picture?Absolutely, otherwise how are you going to recreate Bombay in the 50s and 60s 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 race, 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. Film Team, who I worked here, suggested the studio set in Tissamaharama called Ranmitihenna. We went there and thought it was the ideal place to work on our film. 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 authorities 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. 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. You create with the architecture, and with the vehicles, and with theclothes. 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.
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.
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.