Image: Fabrizio Morra

APEX Insight: Feature films and TV series are inspiring audiences to take the show on the road. In this section of the multipart feature, we explore how director Zoya Akhtar is making Mediterranean sunbathers out of Indian filmgoers.

Filmmaker Zoya Akhtar has arguably done more for the outbound Indian tourism industry than fathers do for their unwed sons in Bollywood matchmaking comedies. At the helm of two major blockbusters set in Europe, Akhtar has unwittingly honed the silver screen into the travel marketer’s biggest dream. By exporting Bollywood’s cultural lexicon to European ground, she presents a template for Indian transnational mobility. In doing so, she’s influenced a growing subset of the country’s tourists, of which the United Nations predicts there will be a total of 50 million by 2020.

Akhtar’s most recent success, Dil Dhadakne Do (DDD), brings us the Mehra siblings aboard a 10-day Mediterranean cruise to celebrate their parents’ 30th wedding anniversary. The film presents a vision of first-class travel and consumerism that is out of reach to the majority of its Indian viewership, but according to Nandana Bose, professor of Film Studies at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, this is at the heart of what makes DDD a box-office success. “[Akhtar’s] cinematic representations of elitist recreational consumption tap into aspirational and competitive tendencies of middle-class India,” Bose writes. Several Indian travel agencies reported a marked increase in demand for cruise vacations following the film’s release in June 2015, suggesting that Bose isn’t out to sea with her analysis.

Several Indian travel agencies reported a marked increase in demand for cruise vacations following the film’s release.

This isn’t the first time Akhtar has made waves in the tourism industry. Her 2011 film, Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara (ZNMD), about three friends on a road trip across Spain, has been credited with nearly doubling the number of Indians visiting Spain in the year following its release: India’s ambassador to Spain at the time, Vikram Misri, notably said the film “was single-handedly responsible for making Spain a household name in India.” And travel agencies still advertise tours to locations featured in six-year-old ZNMD, offering tailored packages combining many of the tourist activities seen in the film.

The film “was single-handedly responsible for making Spain a household name in India.”

Be it a cruise liner or a Buick Skylark, modes of transportation are central to Akhtar’s films; and so viewers could interpret the younger Mehra sibling’s fascination with flight, in DDD, as a clue to how Bollywood fans will explore the Mediterranean next.

“Setting the Scene” was originally published in the 7.3 June/July issue of APEX Experience magazine.