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Bollywood Dreams: Can Shah Rukh Khan Make Berlin Sexy for Indians?

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Bollywood Star Shah Rukh Khan is shooting an action film in Berlin this fall, partly financed with German movie subsidies. The city is hoping that its investment and the role it will play in the film can help make the city a destination for Indian tourists.

Photo Gallery: King Khan in Berlin Photos
AP/ Hindustan Lever

It's a point of honor that Shah Rukh Khan is being allowed to smoke in his hotel room. After all, it doesn't pay to be petty when the future of Berlin is at stake.

The Hotel Mandala on Potsdamer Platz normally forbids smoking throughout the premises, but the general manager has issued a special exception for one room, Suite 1107, until the end of November. He's even provided an ashtray.

The hotel wasn't about to tell the man who could be instrumental in improving Berlin's international standing that he couldn't smoke, even with his 30-cigarette-a-day habit. When Khan and his entourage check out again, the hotel will simply have to clean the carpets, sofa covers and mattresses, and repaint the walls, in Suite 1107.

Khan is India's most famous actor. He is as big a star there as Brad Pitt or George Clooney in the West. Some would even say that he's bigger than Pitt and Clooney combined. His fans have even erected a larger than life-sized statue of him in Calcutta -- which isn't much of an achievement, he jokes, because he isn't very tall.

Some call him King Khan. He is undoubtedly the king of Bollywood, the magical world of Mumbai's film industry, which specializes in gaudy films with the kitsch content of a snow globe, films that are now becoming increasingly popular in Germany. The decision by someone like Khan to use the German capital as the setting for one of his films could give tourism an enormous boost -- or at least that's what officials in Berlin hope.

It is Wednesday of last week, and the man on whom Berlin is pinning such massive hopes is sitting on a sand-colored couch, wearing jogging pants, lighting one cigarette after the next and holding his nose up in the air. He caught a cold on the previous day, because he didn't wear a jacket during an outside shoot. He isn't used to these kinds of temperatures, says Khan.

He has connected a Playstation to the television set. In the evenings, he and a few others, the producer, the director and some of the actors, play their own version of the football World Cup, while the female actresses play the role of cheerleaders. The strongest team of the week wins a cup. The world champion is selected after 50 days.

Khan is in Berlin to film the sequel to his action film "Don." At the end of the last film Don, the head of an international drug ring, managed to escape the police. "It isn't hard to catch Don," the most memorable sentence of the film went, "it's impossible!"

Now the villain has resurfaced, making an appearance at a gala event in the concert hall at Berlin's Gendarmenmarkt, where he is recognized despite the mask he is wearing. From there, police detectives chase him around the city until his car flies through the air over several other vehicles at the Brandenburg Gate. The gangsters have their conspiratorial rendezvous at the Berlin Cathedral and the Paul Löbe House, a German parliament office building. Other Berlin landmarks featured in the picture are the Olympic Stadium, the Chancellery and the remains of the Berlin Wall at the East Side Gallery.

Berlin figures prominently in "Don 2." The film's budget of €12 million ($16.2 million) includes €2 million in German funds. Most of that €2 million comes from the German Film Promotion Fund and the Berlin-Brandenburg Media Board, which has also contributed in the past to films like top Chinese actor Jackie Chan's "Around the World in 80 Days" and Quentin Tarantino's Nazi parody "Inglourious Basterds," portions of which were filmed at nearby Potsdam's Babelsberg Studio.

€7 Million in Revenue for German Economy

Kirsten Niehuus, the head of the Media Board, calls the outing by Bollywood star Khan to the German capital a "lighthouse project," and points out that other Indian producers have already expressed interest in working with her organization. Mathias Schwerbrock, the German co-producer, defends the country's financial injection by saying that the shoot will generate close to €7 million in revenue for the German economy. Most of the crew is German, as are some of the actors and almost all of the technology.

Contrary to what the name might suggest, the German Film Promotion Fund isn't focused solely on promoting German film. It also engages in site marketing. Those who contribute funding to a film have at least some say in determining where it will be shot. Farther to the south in Germany, in Heppenheim in the state of Hesse, this unwritten rule is still a source of resentment.

The small city of 25,000 people would also have liked to serve as a location for "Don 2." City officials felt that their chances were relatively good. Bollywood has already made four films in Heppenheim, which, with its half-timbered houses and surrounding vineyards, looks like the quintessential cliché of a German town. Last summer Farhan Akhtar, the director "Don 2," and Ritesh Sidhwani, the producer, were chauffeured around the Neckar River Valley north of Heidelberg, where the town is located. The waiters served up local specialties and locally produced wine at the Goldener Engel, a Heppenheim restaurant, and the two Indians were also taken to nearby Frankfurt to get a taste of the region's most cosmopolitan city -- a perfect setting for a film set in the banking industry.

The plan was, in fact, to shoot the film in Frankfurt and the surrounding area, but to the detriment of the region, Berlin's film and economic promoters also made it their mission to woo the producer and the director. They chauffeured the two men around the city, took them to dinner at the Käfer restaurant at the top of the parliament building, the Reichstag, directly next to the cupola. And because Switzerland happened to be celebrating its national holiday that week, the Swiss Embassy across the street put on a nightly fireworks display.

As soon as the filmmakers had decided on Berlin, Klaus Wowereit, the city's Social Democratic mayor, had his staff write a letter to city agencies and institutions, cordially asking them to do their best to support the filming.

Hardly anyone is as thrilled about all the excitement as Burkhard Kieker, whose office is less than a kilometer from Suite 1107. As the head of the Berlin tourism board, Kieker is paid to make over-the-top statements like this one: "Berlin was like Atlantis: a sunken city. It has just resurfaced, and it's still dripping wet, but now it is in the process of assuming its rightful place among Europe's superpowers of tourism."

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1.
BTraven 11/22/2010
What a nightmare - Bollywood is about to conquer Berlin, and that it is even subsided by the authorities responsible for funding movies. Given Bollywood serves a taste that only exists among Indians I do not understand why they support the making of the movie financially. By the way - it’s great that Indians have preserved their own movie culture.
2. No knowledge of German geography
weltreisender82 12/01/2010
I am quite shocked to see that a news magazine like SPIEGEL appears to have no idea of German geography. Heppenheim is certainly NOT situated in the Neckar Valley. It is in fact 50 kilometeres away from the Neckar Valley. Have a look a google maps before writing this kind of nonsense!
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