Braj Bhoomi, the Shri-Krishna land from Bateshwar to Kosi is now drawing a large number of film makers amd video film producers, who find the regions rich history, cultural and religious traditions - and the terrain a complete package for essaying ambitious projects.
"The era of the dacoit tales shot extensively in the dreaded Chambal ravines, with such memorable films like "Ganga Jamuna", "Jis Desh mein Ganga Bahti hai", "Mujhe Jeene Do" and later "Bandit Queen", is over. Now the focus has shifted to soft stories, religious anecdotes and even family dramas, using the Braj culture and traditions to advantage," says Mahesh Dhakar, who has keenly watched the film scene eveolve in the region.
"I think one reason is the growth of the hospitality industry and better class hotels. Then, you have a variety of exciting locations for shooting. The general ambience of the city has also improved, particularly in the tourist complex area. More importantly, a significantly large number of young local artistes have impressed Bollywood in the past few years, as Agra is now emerging as a happening cultural centre," says Jyoti, the director of the Nritya Jyoti Kathak Kendra named after the danseuse.
The daily "Mohabbat at the Taj" evening audio visual show at the Kalakriti auditorium, started in 2012, has won laurels from the film fraternity for the quality of production and the performances of artistes from all over India.
Dhakar reeled out a dozen names of youngsters who were making waves in Bollywood from fashion photographer Pravin Talaan, to actors Archna Gupta, Yashraj Parashar and Satyavrat Mudgal. The late eminent poet, Neeraj, has been a celebrated name in the Bollywood film industry for a long time.
Sparsh Srivastav of "Chak Dhoom Dhoom fame", as also Akaash Maini and Kartar Singh Yadav have been the latest shining stars of the Taj city. Anil Diwakar, the dance guru from Agra has already made a global impact with his 60-member troupe in the US.
In "Slumdog Millionaire", a local boy gave a good performance as did others briefly in Abhishek Bachchan's "Tera Jadoo Chal Gaya" and "Bunty and Bubly".
A TV serial, "Shubh Vivah" shot in Agra. revolved around a girl from Agra and a boy from Vrindavan, their love story and eventual marriage. "The colourful Holi celebrations, the festivals in the months of Sawan Bhadon, the sweet fragrance of Braj Bhasha, are drawing film makers to Sri Krishna-Radha's leela bhoomi, says Surendra Sharma, senior tourism industry leader.
"If air connectivity from Mumbai could be restored, Agra will benefit a lot. Right now people have to make a road trip to Agra which takes a lot of time and energy. But after the opening of two Expressways there has been a significant improvement in the logistics situation," he added.
The biggest attraction drawing film makers to Braj Mandal is a package of incentives by the UP Government.
After a series of TV serials used locales in Mathura, film makers are now taking advantage of the Yogi Adityanath government's incentives to promote shooting of Bollywood films. Local MP Hema Malini, herself a film celebrity, has also tried to rope in film industry colleagues in several of her programmes.
Recent films like "Toilet ek Prem Katha" and "Tevar" were extensively shot in Braj area, around Barsana and Goverdhan.
Films in Braj Bhasha by Shiv Kumar, Braj Bhoomi and Lallo Ram, were instant hits. Senior journalist of Mathura Ashok Bansal said Mathura was the 'karm-bhoomi' of poet Shailendra who had penned some of his most popular film lyrics here.
Buoyed by incentives declared by UP Government to promote shooting of Hindi movies in the state, the Brij region comprising Vrindavan, Barsana and Govardhan has now turned into a major centre for the Bollywood, with several films being shot here. In five years at least five movies of top actors and production houses have been shot here, and several are in the pipeline.
The Braj region for ages has drawn people from around the world for its temples, culture, festivals and religious congregations.
The Sri Krishna circuit promoted by the Yogi government has drawn the attention of film production houses. Additionally, the lure of incentives like subsidy of Rs 1 crore for films which have been shot for 50 percent of their shooting days in UP and Rs 2 crores for films which have been shot for two-third of their shooting days in UP has further enhanced the attractiveness of the region as a shooting venue. Besides free security arrangements and a friendly ambience offered has made Braj area even more popular among the film units, says Shrawan Kumar Singh of the Braj Mandal Heritage Conservation Society.
According to Tanya Agrawal, Director, Shri Radha Brij Vasundhara Resorts and Spa Centre of Goverdhan, where several film crews of movies like "Tevar", "Toilet ek Prem Katha, "Lukka Chuppi" and others have stayed, "the incentives are so welcome. It adds a new dimension to the economy of the region and benefits the local populace immensely. It also gives a new fillip to tourism of the region and opens an altogether new opportunity for the region."
Agarwal said each month lakhs of devotees throng to Goverdhan hill for the parikrama. Other important shrines connected with Sri Krishna and Radha are close by. "We have the best facilities and security systems in place for the high profile celebrities."
The growing interest of the film fraternity in the Braj region, has added to the fame and popularity of the circuit and opened new employment potential for the youngsters. The spiritual dimension of tourism offers endless possibilities for round-the-year traffic mobility.
"All top babas have their ashrams here and the recent resurgence of interest in Sri Krishna and Vaishnavite traditions will bring in more tourist traffic," said Jagan Nath Poddar of the Friends of Vrindavan.
(Brij Khandelwal can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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