Issue 17

And ACTION! Towards a greener Bollywood?

Aritro Sarkar

Like most Hindi blockbusters, making Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara cost thousands of tonnes of carbon dioxide. Ten years on, is the industry ready to move towards sustainable film production?

Hundreds of people packed into a street. All of them, bathing in tomatoes. Some climbed onto trucks and stomped on yet more tomatoes. Squishing them. Chucking them at the eager crowd. The Spanish harvest festival of Tomatina. 

An arresting sight. But this was a staged event by the people of the Spanish city of Bunol. Zoya Akhtar and her crew were shooting them for her film, Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara. The film cost 60 crore according to trade reports and made approximately 90 crore in just domestic net collection.

A hit in 2011, it became the travel watch, ik junoon, ik deewangi for a whole generation of Indian cine-goers. 

In mid-2021, it celebrated a decade.

Tomatina might be a household name today but it also offers a segue to the big-budget Hindi film process. To paint it red, team ZNMD brought in sixteen tonnes of tomatoes from another country. Portugal, in this case. After the shoot, it had to be pulped, to avoid clogging the Valencian town’s drains. 

As per data curated by World Bank, an Indian in 2010 would emit, on average 1.34 tonnes of carbon annually. A single Bollywood blockbuster, approximately, could end up having a carbon footprint of around 10,000 tonnes

A 2020 report published and submitted to the UK Parliament by the British Film Institute, ARUP, and Albert, an environmental action group, offers some context. A Screen New Deal, says one blockbuster film with a budget of more than $70 million, produces an average of 2,840 tonnes of carbon dioxide, on production. A figure equivalent to the amount absorbed by 3,700 acres of forest in one year.

In air mile terms that is eleven one-way trips from the earth to the moon. ZNMD takes the protagonists from Barcelona to Pamplona, through Costa Brava, Bunol, and Seville. A  total travel distance of 2200.9 kilometres across the five towns and cities. The Albert report clarifies that transport is the single largest carbon emitter at 51% of the overall carbon emissions in a big film production. 30%  is by air and 70%,  land travel. The fuel used up by a film, on average, could be equivalent to 3.4 million miles driven by a passenger vehicle. 

This is not to single out Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara particularly, but to perhaps use its anniversary to begin a climate-conscious conversation across the Hindi film industry. Like Pippa Harris, Chair of the Film Forum in the UK says,

This report is being published at such an important moment for our industry. We have all felt the devastating economic and cultural effects of the pandemic, so now is the time to regroup and come back stronger. We cannot continue to create films, in the same manner, we did before with no long-term plan for the environment around us. It’s time for our industry to lead the way both on and off-screen and rebuild for a cleaner, greener future.

If the Albert report has provided the means for a consensus on reporting actual emissions to the British film industry, a similar study was first published by UCLA, in 2006 for Hollywood. While no such comprehensive work has been done for the many film industries in India, it remains the world’s biggest producer of cinema by quantity. In 2018, for instance, a combination of the film industries in India produced 1813 films. The US and the UK, together made 778 movies that year. 

So what are some of the changes that “need to be made to the whole ecosystem”? Here are some reccos Bollywood could begin thinking about.

Reusing production material for different films. Maybe when they are under the same production banner? Sourcing these locally, instead of importing and then transporting them across long distances, would also bolster local economies. This would help them gain materially from film shoots in their area. Back in 2003, Matrix 2 and 3 planned for this and were able to recycle almost 98 % of its set material.

Using renewable energy on set and light sensors, given that studio lights and air conditioning are heavily used on set. Large production houses in India could afford to lead here. The Hollywood study shows how Warner Brothers has been doing this with an Environmental VP at the helm. 

Thinking about what can replace diesel generators emitting 15% of a film’s carbon footprint. Digitization of on-set logistics would cut down paper use too, enabling greater flexibility in daily schedules. It’s something Bollywood struggles greatly with.

Currently, catering service and quality on many high-end productions are determined by tiers. With the highest tier being the star names, directors, and producers. Centralized catering services and shared transport, to and from frequently used film production hubs can reduce the transport part of the emissions. 

Assamese film director Biswajeet Bora’s 2015 debut film in Hindi, Aisa Yeh Jahaan shows it is indeed possible to move towards more eco-friendly filmmaking in India. It claimed to be India’s first carbon-neutral film collaborating with the Centre for Environmental Research and Education (CERE). CERE’s carbon footprint of this film’s production came to around 78 tonnes. To offset it, the unit planted 560 trees, attempting carbon neutrality in the process. Got done at a fraction of the production cost of the full-length feature film, set in Mumbai and Guwahati. 

Stars who often tell the rest of India to save energy through sponsored ads must at least begin the conversation to clean up their home turf. Perhaps, a desire to break new ground, not just in storylines, but also in production?

As Farhan Akhtar celebrated Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara’s tenth anniversary (and Dil Chahta Hai’s twentieth) another road trip movie in the same mold Jee Le Zaraa is hitting the production floor in 2022. Can it herald an era of sustainable filmmaking in Bollywood, singing a sequel to Der lagi lekin, maine ab hai jeena seekh liya? 

Featured Image credit: primevideo, via Google Images

Aritro Sarkar is a fourth-year student of history, international relations, and media studies at Ashoka University. 

We publish all articles under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives license. This means any news organisation, blog, website, newspaper or newsletter can republish our pieces for free, provided they attribute the original source (OpenAxis).  

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