Bollywood's long-standing love affair with Switzerland
Switzerland and its mountain scenery are hugely popular in India, mainly because of the Bollywood blockbusters filmed there. Indian filmmakers' passion for Switzerland has helped make it one of the most popular destinations for Indian tourists seeking the locations of some of their favourite film scenes.
Dancing in the snow wearing a sari, against a backdrop of breathtaking mountain tops... it's something of a Bollywood cliché – straight out of Switzerland! Indian film directors have been shooting scenes against its Alpine panoramas since the 1960s. Bollywood films tend to be up to two hours long, interspersed with numerous song and dance sequences. They are often set in different countries, and Switzerland is a popular spot with many filmmakers. There are literally hundreds of films with their most romantic interludes shot before Swiss snow-capped mountain tops, Alpine lakes, medieval castles and traditional villages. The trend was particularly strong in the 1990s.
In presenting this side of Switzerland, Bollywood has helped boost the country's popularity among Indian tourists. For them, Switzerland is associated with tranquillity and romantic landscapes.
Bollywood's leading filmmakers have popularised Switzerland for over 50 years
One of the first Bollywood directors to film in Switzerland was Raj Kapoor, who went on to shoot many scenes in the Swiss mountains. One of these was for 'Sangam' (1964), a feature-length colour film set in London, Rome, Venice, Paris and Switzerland. Before that, Indian filmmakers went to Kashmir for most of their mountain scenes. After that region became unstable, the film industry looked further afield, and found what they were looking for in Switzerland.
Renowned film director Yash Chopra discovered Switzerland in 1970. He was particularly captivated by the landscape around Interlaken and shot many of the scenes from his films there. There is even a mountain lake in the area nicknamed 'Yash Chopra Lake'! One of the most famous Bollywood productions featuring Switzerland is his 'Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge', which has remained a favourite among fans since its release in 1995. In fact, many of the classics are still shown in cinemas years after their release – particularly in Mumbai, the home of Bollywood. Yash Chopra, who died in 2012, was named honorary ambassador of Interlaken, and a statue of him holding his camera was unveiled there in 2016.
Guided tours of Bollywood's filming locations
For some years now, a number of operators have been offering Indian travellers guided tours of the locations used for Bollywood scenes. One of these is 'Guides Gstaad-Saanenland', who started running their tour four years ago at the suggestion of an Indian tour company, following requests from their own customers. Every year the tours attract some 500 tourists, eager to see Bollywood hotspots like Gstaad, the churches of Montbovon (canton of Fribourg) and Rougemont (canton of Vaud), or the bridge of Saanen, where a particularly famous and tearful farewell scene was shot.
"Visitors get to see the sites and locations from films they know by heart. These places are very romantic for them," explains Anita Roth-Reuteler, who chairs the association of tour guides. "They are really touched when they see these places, re-enacting some of the poses, dances or dialogues from the films, and of course filming some scenes for themselves." The customised tours take between one and five hours – and are of course not just for Indian tourists.
A Bollywood star chosen as Interlaken's ambassador for 2017
The blockbusters filmed in and around Interlaken have made that area of particular interest to many Indian tourists. "You need only look at the 10 or so Indian restaurants we have here," smiles Andrea Schneider, vice-director of Interlaken's tourist office and responsible for promoting the destination in India. She is looking into some new types of Bollywood-themed guided tours for the future, particularly for newly-weds – ideas which are still under wraps for now...
This year Switzerland Tourism has taken a somewhat different approach to promoting the destination among Indian tourists, choosing as their ambassador Ranveer Singh, one of Bollywood's biggest stars. Promotional videos on social media and the web show him enjoying various outdoor pursuits in Interlaken, such as paragliding and water ski. One of the aims of the campaign is to present not only the romantic side of Interlaken but also its scope for adventure holidays. In doing so, it wants to attract a different sort of public and showcase some of the other sides of Switzerland, now that fewer films are being shot there.
Given the cost of bringing an entire film crew to Switzerland, many Bollywood filmmakers have had to reconsider their relationship with the Swiss mountains. Some productions have now turned elsewhere to shoot their mountain scenes, such as Austria, eastern Europe, or Canada. This certainly lowers the cost, and film-goers may well assume (and even be led to believe) that it's Switzerland. Also, some of the other film locations are now enticing Bollywood's filmmakers with financial incentives. In any case, the number of Swiss hotel rooms booked by Indian tourists continues to rise...