Switzerland is one of the most visited countries in the world. Among Indians, it ranks among the top international destinations.
One of the main reasons stems from the fact that Switzerland's landscape is very different to that of mainland India. Barring the Northern states, few Indians can relate to what they encounter when they chance upon this Alpine country.
What Indians once read about Switzerland, namely about its calmness, its quest for perfection, the mountains and green hilly pastures, has become a treat for the eyes through cinema. This year marks fifty years of the partnership between Indian cinema and Switzerland.
Indian movies: A golden partnership
It is hard to imagine that this non-English speaking country in the heartland of Europe would be synonymous with Indian cinema's fascination for romantic songs and dreamy sequences. In fact, Switzerland is a favorite destination for pristine backdrops.
Sangam (converge), the first ever color film of the late Indian filmmaker Raj Kapoor, was a magnum opus in many ways. Released in 1964, this movie had a screen time close to 200 minutes, filled with an emotional storyline and songs starring Raj Kapoor, Vyjayanthimala and Rajendra Kumar.
For the first time, an Indian movie had gone beyond the national borders and had the story line scripted in locations like London, Vatican, Rome, Venice, Paris and Switzerland. The movie was a hit - and not just for the songs!
So Switzerland and its snow-capped mountains were first showcased in Indian cinema through Sangam. This was at a time when nobody anticipated that this tiny country would soon become the most frequented destination for film shooting.
Early Bollywood movies shot in Switzerland
Then came Shammi Kapoor's thriller, An Evening in Paris (1967). It was shot entirely abroad. Paris being the focal point, the movie also had some significant part shot in Switzerland, Lebanon and Canada.
In his directorial debut Prem Pujari (1970), Dev Anand followed the trend. He shot several scenes and a famous song inside Switzerland.
Yash Chopra was the game changer for Indian movies in Switzerland
Yash Chopra, one of India's well-known film directors, chose Switzerland as his honeymoon destination and toured the country with his wife Pamela in 1970. Mesmerised by the landscape, he turned to Switzerland regularly for his movies which he produced under his banner Yash Raj Films.
No one would argue against the fact that Yash Chopra - through his movies – has single-handedly promoted Switzerland to wider audiences of cinema lovers across India. Soon, Switzerland became a destination for the romantics, honeymooners and for nature travellers.
For many Indians, a European trip was incomplete without a visit of Switzerland!
Since the 1980's, many film directors have chosen Switzerland. And none managed it more (and better) than Yash Chopra. Along with Hindi movies, there are many regional language film makers who have chosen Switzerland as their go-to place when it came to outdoor locations.
Dilwale Dulhania (1995)
Hundreds of Indian movies have been shot to this date, but the 1995 hit Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (produced by Yash Chopra) happens to be the most famous movie shot in Switzerland.
The famous bridge scene was shot in Saanen.
Indian Tourists and Switzerland: A Love Affair
Since then, there has been a steady flow of Indian tourists visiting Switzerland. And for those who also happen to be cinema fanatics, Bollywood packaged trips to places like Gstaad are arranged.
In 2013, a total of 467'967 overnight stays were logged by tourists from India. The trend of Indian tourists frequenting Switzerland did not go unnoticed by the Swiss tourism industry:
- Yash Chopra was nominated as the Ambassador for Interlaken;
- a lake where Chopra shot many of his scenes (Lauenensee) is famously known as Yash Chopra Lake;
- a Swiss government award for rediscovering Switzerland;
- a Jungfrau Railways train named after Chopra - an honor which not too many Swiss can claim!
Copra's last movie as a director, Jab Tak Hai Jaan, also had Switzerland in its original screenplay. The project had to be cancelled due to his sudden demise in 2012.
The Future of Indian Cinema in Switzerland
Interlaken, Geneva, Zürich, Bern, Gruyere, the Rhine Falls, Jungfrau, Schiltorn, Gstaad, Grindelwald, Engelberg, Titlis, Montreux, Lucerne and many of the Alpine passes happen to be the popular choices for many Indian movie directors. Due to the constant use of these locations, they sometimes become quite repetitive.
These same places also happen to be sought after by many of the tourist operators. In my opinion, Switzerland as a tourist destination will be popular among the touring population of India for years to come.
However, I am not entirely convinced the Indian film industry feels the same. While the tourism industry from India has maintained their numbers, the aura of showcasing Switzerland in Indian movies is gradually fading.
Because in spite of many advantages and facilities the Swiss government provides, there is a certain degree of saturation. When it comes to shooting future movies in Switzerland, I predict that numbers will not be as huge as in the previous three decades.
Download: Bollywood Filming Locations in Switzerland
Download an exclusive list of all Bollywood filming locations in Switzerland! Included with each location is a link to a YouTube clip of that scene.
Watch a clip of Sangam, India's first movie shot in Switzerland