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Business to movies: Serbia emerges as a gateway to Central & Southern Europe

Serbia has been fascinating Indian filmmakers and producers in recent years with 10 Indian films being shot in Serbia over the past four years. The list of blockbusters include ‘Uri: The Surgical Strike’ –– the Bollywood blockbuster on the 2016 surgical strikes by the Indian Army across the border –– and ‘Baahubali 2: The Conclusion’ (2017).

, ET Bureau|
Updated: Nov 28, 2019, 07.38 AM IST
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The crucial game changer for Serbia’s soft power has been the introduction of a 25% cash rebate for films.
NEW DELHI: When foreign minister S Jaishankar recently visited Belgrade on a standalone trip, it surprised many in India’s national capital who were unaware of the fact that Serbia has quietly emerged as a gateway to Central and Southern Europe for everything from business to movies.

Serbia has been fascinating Indian filmmakers and producers in recent years with 10 Indian films being shot in Serbia in the past four years. The list of blockbusters include ‘Uri: The Surgical Strike’ –– the Bollywood blockbuster on the 2016 surgical strikes by the Indian Army across the border –– and ‘Baahubali 2: The Conclusion’ (2017).

The list also includes Amitabh Bacchan and Aamir Khan starrer ‘Thugs of Hindostan’ (2018), ‘Soorma’ (2018), ‘Kotigobba 3’ (2018), Rajnikanth starrer ‘2.0’ (2018), ‘Kaatru Veliyidai’ / Into the Wind (2017) – also directed by Maniratnam and Vivegam (2017).

The crucial game changer for Serbia’s soft power has been the introduction of a 25% cash rebate for films. The minimum expenditure to qualify for cash rebate for feature films is $350,000 (approximately Rs 2.3 crore).

Film incentives support feature and documentary films, TV series and postproduction. Serbia is also one among a handful of countries to give access to cash rebate to TV commercials which has so far been applied to 60 projects.

The visa free entry for Indians into Serbia has further spiced up its attraction. Maniratnam shot Tamil movie ‘Chekka Chivantha Vaanam’ in the pristine locales of Serbia.

With decades of international filmmaking tradition, Serbian locations and talented crew have started winning the hearts of Indian filmmakers and audiences who have enjoyed the breath-taking action scenes in films like ‘Oopiri’ and ‘Vivegam’ shot on the streets of Serbian capital Belgrade. In ‘Soorma’, all European scenes were actually shot in Serbia, including some on stadium matches.

“Serbia is showing more and more prominently on Indian radars. This is true when it comes to political exchanges. The recent visit to Belgrade of S Jaishankar, the minister of external affairs of India, is the best testament to that fact. We were honored to host an Indian external affairs minister after 30 years or so, which is immensely important for us. This is also true of Serbia as a new travel destination with more than 10,000 Indian travellers expected to visit Serbia in 2019. It is true that Serbia is becoming an increasingly important destination for the Indian film industry. The biggest Bollywood movie of this year so far –– ‘Uri: the Surgical Strike’ –– was shot in Serbia. ‘Baaghi 3’ is being filmed there as we speak. There are several reasons for this. We have excellent crew and studios, our government offers rebates of up to 30%, and we also abolished visas for Indian citizens for stays of up to 30 days. This makes it a lot easier for location scouts to travel there, pick locations and organise quick shoots,” Vladimir Maric, Serbian Ambassador to India, told ET.

Shooting for ‘Uri’ lasted for 41 days, with more than 300 crew members and 700 extras from every part of Serbia. ‘Uri’ is a debut film of director Aditiya Dhar, who also penned the script. Dhar, originally from Kashmir, was quite surprised by the incredible similarity of the Serbian mountain ranges to Kashmir.

“We are very proud of every new film that we serviced in Serbia, and ‘Uri’ has been the biggest accomplishment so far. Production demanded enormous efforts regarding production design, stunts and SFX. The production designers once again confirmed their talent and professionalism. Sets made in Serbia managed to portray Kashmir successfully. This would be impossible without the support of the Serbian local authorities, the Serbian Army and the Ministry of Defense, which once again demonstrated their expertise and readiness to cooperate with foreign film producers at any time,” said Djurdja Vitorovic, production manager of ‘Uri’.

Diverse lakes, forests, fortresses and as yet undiscovered locations have fascinated filmmakers. Smederevo Fortress is an all-time favourite for any medieval theme project as one of the largest and best-preserved fortifications in Europe.

The Golubac Fortress has dreamy towers lying on the bank of the Danube, just before the Iron Gate –– a future hotspot for any fantasy film.

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