Smriti Jain
Executive Producer known for Cocktail, Agent Vinod

In the last decade or so, all these countries have been inviting India and Bollywood. There are certain rebates and subsidies that have made places like Serbia accessible for films like Uri and Rocketry. And in Serbia, they give a fixed incentive, a percentage of the total expenses that you make in that country is refunded to you. So what happens is that given Bollywood’s huge following, tourism is encouraged. People want to know, where did you shoot this? And then they discover, Oh, these are not such expensive places. Or they’re worth going.

When we go anywhere, there’s a huge percentage of the crew that’s hired locally. So that’s also generating employment for a lot of local people. Then it works beautifully for them as well as for us because we get to shoot in a new location—sometimes virgin, sometimes exposed. It opens the film. These spaces are very aspirational for Indians even today. So it’s good that you watch a film that is not in Delhi, or Bombay, or UP.

Unlike the 90s, where big Bollywood producers would go for shooting songs, like, for example, in Rohit Shetty’s film, Dilwale—the song Gerua—there are those dream sequences where they’re transported—which was more of a 90s thing. Then, in the last 10–15 years, stories started being written for overseas locations. So it was no longer the transportation of a song. It really was also about germinating from a particular location.

There was Rocketry, where we had the scope to cheat and make a location stand in for another. Take the creative liberty to say this is Princeton. For example, we shot the exterior in Princeton, the actual university but we cheated the interiors at another European university. So it’s creative to a certain extent—that’s where it starts from. But eventually it boils down to money because there are different rebates and subsidy structures that each country is willing to provide.

There is a script. There is a story that tells you that these are the three characters, this is how they’ll meet, and this is what will happen. Then the process of fine-tuning the story starts. So the minute you set your characters in a certain economic background, you sort of know where they will be eating, what they will be wearing, what kind of car they will be driving, and where they will be moving. In Cocktail, Diana is somebody from Delhi. Deepika’s character is from London. So their whole appearance is an indication of where they’re coming from. Then they bump into each other at an eatery, so then you’ve got to follow the journey of the character. And then arrive at the locations. It cannot be random because Diana may not go to a disco when she’s just arrived in London. And Deepika will not take someone so easily. So it usually starts from there.

In Cocktail, Deepika’s house was actually a set in Hyderabad. So all the windows are green. And then we actually shot the plates in the UK. And then that was composited against the green. Because it was many days of work, it didn’t make sense to do it there. Also, a set gives you more flexibility in lighting, movement, etc. A green screen is put up, and then the actual shots are placed over the green screen. So when you’re looking outside the window, you’re looking at London.

We do go on reconnaissance and scout places. We actually get photos of the location. The production designer gets pictures of what people use, what they drink, and what kind of Coke bottle they have. So everything is picked from the milieu of the places you’re shooting. Whether you cheat is a secondary thing… It’s not just a plain creative process. It’s a long process. Because of her references, you do a floor plan, then you involve the FX. You realise how many plates you will need, so shoot. How many windows should you have? How many times are you going to expose London? What are the dimensions? What is the exterior? Because the exterior of the house is shot in London. So when they enter, it’s London. When they come in, it’s Hyderabad. And then you match the two. It’s a fairly well drawn-out process that works really well. I think Cocktail is one of the most nicely shot films to expose London, better than most films that you may have seen that are shot in London… And this is a Homi Adjania trait. It’s not over the top, plus the city becomes a character. And not just ki London shoot kartey hain… You’re getting a flavour. In the song, you’ll get a sense of the bar, you’ll get a sense of the market, you’ll get a sense of the park, the street. It’s not random. The film gets elevated because locations are used as tools of storytelling, and not just pretty visuals. Where films really use the location to their advantage, then it becomes that much more impactful. Which is why, even when I go to the UK today, people say Cocktail is one of the best shot films, because it shows London the way London is… There’s a palette, and then there’s a graph. All of this is discussed well in advance. A lot of effort goes into it.

For Rocketry, we first put together reference pictures, or actual pictures, if available. We asked Nambi sir to give us photos of his geometry, or the lamp, or whatever else. So you get actual pictures, you get references, and you put it together. Then you send it out to various countries. And you say, You know, these are the kinds of locations that we’re looking for. Can you match it? Can you give us something like this? And then they come up with their own available options. Then you tweak it.

The good thing about shooting abroad, especially during this period, or even all these beautiful locations is that they really take care of their heritage, of their structures. So when you enter a place like that, you will believe it’s ‘period.’ It’s so well kept, and it is from that period.

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