New Delhi, June 3 : Varanasi, which has taken centre stage in the country's electoral politics since Prime Minister Narendra Modi made it his Lok Sabha constituency, has become an exciting place for filmmakers to explore.
The filmmakers also feel that the Uttar Pradesh government's film policy has contributed in a huge way to ease out their woes.
Megastar Rajinikanth also shot for his movie "Petta" in the city, said to be one of the oldest in the world. Its beauty attracted Puri Jagannadh for his next Telugu film and Zaigham Imam's latest release "Nakkash" was also shot in Varanasi.
While its picturesque ghats, iconic temples and the expanse and serenity of the Ganges have for long attracted Indian and international filmmakers, Imam pointed out multiple factors that have helped it to emerge as a preferred filming destination.
"It is the constituency of Prime Minister Narendra Modi... From 2014 itself, Varanasi has been in the news whether it is for political or other reasons. People have been saying Uttar Pradesh itself has come up as a political centre. But what is interesting is that whenever there is a social change in India, it reflects in Benaras (Varanasi) in a prominent way because the cultural values there are different and very interesting," Imam told IANS.
In "Nakkash", Imam explores the story of a Muslim craftsman who uses his skills to engrave Hindu temples in Varanasi. His first film "Dozakh - In Search Of Heaven" (2012) told a story of Hindu-Muslim clash and was also set in the same city.
"There is an interesting social, internal layer in Varanasi," explained Imam, who feels that the box office success of Bollywood films set in small towns is also contributing towards how filmmakers are looking this way.
According to Vikramjit Roy, Head, Film Facilitation Office, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Uttar Pradesh's film-friendly policy has also helped.
"There are incentives for films to shoot in UP and a single window mechanism. Varanasi is therefore attractive to shoot for filmmakers and its locations - backed by heritage legacy and mysticism - make it that much more appealing.
"Varanasi as a location is perfect for films that seek the old world Indian charm or a blend of culture and contemporary India. The various ghats, temples, the river Ganga, the old havelis, the mohallas and the narrow winding lanes make it fascinating and picturesque."
The state's film policy was unveiled in 2015, offering tax exemptions and incentives as well as subsidies to movie makers.
Dinesh Kumar Sahgal, Planning officer, Information and Public Relation Department, Uttar Pradesh, said a subsidy of up to 25 per cent of total budget was given to filmmakers.
If 50 per cent of the shoot is done in Uttar Pradesh, a subsidy amounting to Rs 1 crore is given to production houses. If two-third of a film is shot in the state, then a subsidy amounting to Rs 2 crore is given. And if makers take actors belonging to the state itself, they will be provided with additional Rs 25 lakh subsidy, Sahgal told IANS.
"Earlier, many people did not even know about our ghats and markets, but with films being shot, people have started knowing about the places and it ultimately led to increase in the tourism level.
"The Modi government has made shooting of film projects easy in Varanasi. There is definitely a growth in the number of films being made in Uttar Pradesh after Modi came in power. Now, we, along with the government, are planning to introduce film schools in the city."
Imam said the quality and availability of equipment and manpower in Varanasi was not as conducive to Bollywood filmmakers.
"Their cameras are different from ours, and local manpower is there but not of the level we need... That manpower comes from Mumbai, Lucknow or Delhi.
"But there's a lot that's different from the time I shot my first film in 2012. There were a lot of problems back then. But the film policy has been executed well. There's no problem in getting locations or permissions for shoot."