Bollywood could emerge as a colourful catalyst for promoting Russia as a tourism destination for travelling Indians, especially with the Indian outbound tourism market expected to grow to $40 billion by 2020, according tourism industry experts.
With nearly a million Chinese tourists flocking annually to the country, Russia, which is grappling with an economic downturn, appears to be keen on bolstering tourism ties with India as a failsafe measure.
Senior officials like Valery Korovkin, head of the International Development division of the Federal Agency for Tourism, believe that thanks to the legacy of cooperation across sectors between the two countries, a tourism-hungry Moscow is already "keeping India on a special shelf".
"We are looking the Bollywood way, not Hollywood way, because we have a lot of Hollywood films on Russian TV everywhere... It is a point where we (India and Russia) can maybe start and build up some promotional ground," Korovkin told this visiting IANS correspondent.
Korovkin hinted that there had been talks about Bollywood film shoots in Russia, but added that Russia was still in the process of creating infrastructure to facilitate hassle-free film shoots in the country.
"(Film) shooting teams need time, need things from the technical and organisational point of view. I think we are going to that point where we will build it.
We have to arrange things properly," Korovkin said.
Indian films already have an immense brand recall in Russia, thanks to Raj Kapoor's iconic song "Mera Joota Hai Japani" from "Shree 420" which has a reference to Russia, and Mithun Chakravarthy's "Disco Dancer", whose song "Jimmy, Jimmy" still has a cult following in the former Soviet Union.
In more recent times, films like "Agent Vinod", "Chori Chori Chupke Chupke" and "Players" were shot in Russia. Even as late as in 2010, then Russian president Dmitry Medvedev met Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan on the sets of "Ra. One", during his visit to India.
In the past, Indians have flocked to destinations featured in popular Bollywood films, such as Switzerland, New Zealand, Ireland and Austria, among many others.
Bollywood apart, it is the sheer quantum of projected Indian outbound tourists over the next few years which promises an attractive opportunity for Russia to earn foreign currency as well as create entrepreneurial and job opportunities in its travel and tourism industry.
According to World Bank statistics, 18.33 million Indian tourists travelled abroad in 2014.
Another study conducted by US-based market research and consultancy firm Renub Research said Singapre tops the list of tourism destinations for Indians, followed by Thailand, the US and China.
The number of outbound tourists are expected to swell to 30 million by 2018 and 50 million two years later -- clearly, numbers which Russia hopes to tap into.
Russia hosted nearly 32 million foreign tourists in 2014, out of which Indians accounted for around 50,000.
"Some of the top places frequented by Indians are the Kremlin, Red Square, the Old Tsar houses, Cruise along Moscow river and a lot of outdoors," said Sergei Sokolov, general director Indigo Tour, who handles Indian inbound tours in Russia.
Paresh Navani of the Russian Information Centre said that a variety of factors from Raj Kapoor to nuclear co-operation to shared value systems could help the Indo-Russian tourism ecosystem prosper.
"Exchange rates between the Indian rupee and the Russian rouble is identical, almost 1:1, making the cost factor very favourable to travel between the two countries," he said.
Nearly 200,000 Russian tourists visit India, most of them lured by Goa's sun and beaches.
"India has overall a very positive image with Russia for many, many decades. It is a good basis to build what you want, in a tourism business at least... any big or small operation, whatever you want," Korovkin said.(The writer's visit was at the invitation of the Russian Information Centre, India. Mayabhushan Nagvenkar can be contacted at email@example.com)