Bollywood Comes to Tulare County

Bollywood filmmaking at the Mooney Grove museum.
Bollywood filmmaking at the Mooney Grove museum.

The ducks that make their home in Mooney Grove Park in Visalia are used to being the center of attention when visitors from throughout the Central Valley come to play and recreate in the park, but last week the local mallards drew an international audience – and played minor roles in some action scenes for a Bollywood movie being filmed in Tulare County.

“These birds are beautiful!” exclaimed Jaswant Dev Shrestha, first assistant director of the K R Films production “Mera Watten” – which translates to “My Country” in Punjabi. Shrestha’s film crew was shooting long shots of the film’s lead characters as they strolled across the Freedom Bridge that spans the large pond in Mooney Grove, while half a dozen colorful waterfowl flapped across the foreground.

“My Country” is the story of an Indian couple who meet by chance and develop a relationship when an attractive young woman’s car breaks down, and she is rescued by an Indian truck driver. The film’s cast and crew traveled here from India, Canada and the Los Angeles area to film the tale of love along the highway as the couple visit one truck stop after another. Of course, in true Bollywood fashion, there is music, dancing and lots of mystical moments – on a scale not commonly seen in American films since the Golden Age of filmmaking in the ’50s and ’60s.

Bollywood is to Indian cinema what Hollywood is to American filmmaking – center stage. Strictly speaking, Bollywood refers to the Hindi film industry, and draws its name from the B in Bombay (or Mumbai) combined with Hollywood. But Bollywood has come to symbolize the whole of the Indian film industry to many, including Punjabi film production.

Punjabi is spoken in the northern regions of India and Pakistan. The Indian film market is one of the largest in the world, and Punjabi films are increasingly popular in North America, where Indians have settled in large numbers throughout Canada and America, including the Central Valley.

“The United States is an important film market for Indian filmmakers,” said Shrestha, who contacted the Tulare County Film Commission when choosing locations to film “My Country” with his partner on this project, the film’s director Kavi Raz, himself a well-known Indian actor, director and writer who has appeared in more than 250 movies and television shows. Shrestha and Raz inquired about shooting in many locations in and around Traver, and in Mooney Grove Park.

Within Mooney Grove, the film crew shot scenes both around the park in various locales and in the History of Farm Labor & Agriculture Museum.

My Country is expected to be completed by late summer and released in theaters this fall. Impressed by the ease of receiving permits and the help finding suitable locations, Shrestha is already talking to the Tulare County Film Commission about directing more projects to this area.

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