Noida Film City rose from a little-known area to a bustling hub for media and arts in a few decades
As a youngster, Sandeep Marwah was fascinated with creative arts, especially drama and acting. But he was dismissed by filmmakers and studios in Mumbai when he went there in search of a job. “They told me I had a bad voice,” he told Khaleej Times at his office in Noida Film City. “I went through all the tortures that an artist beginning his career undergoes.”
He recalls that he was lucky to have been offered roles in three films, but unfortunately, before the shooting could begin, the film-maker at the time passed away. Marwah returned to Delhi and got into his father’s business of electronics and exports. He also did several courses at the time, including creative arts and business management. “But I always had that ‘never-die’ feeling for arts,” recalls Marwah, who is the founder of the Film City in Noida, and Director of the Asian Academy of Film and Television and the Asian School of Media Studies.
He realised that most filmmakers, actors and creative folk from north India headed to Mumbai for work but no one had even considered setting up something in and around Delhi. “I’d approached several bodies in the capital, including the Delhi Development Authority, Municipal Corporation of Delhi, the New Delhi Municipal Corporation and even the Delhi government,” he recalls. “But they dismissed me as a foolish film buff and drove me away.”
But one day in 1986, he had accidentally met the chairman of the Noida Authority in Delhi and suggested that the new city the Uttar Pradesh government was planning on the outskirts of Delhi could also have a film city. The idea struck the Noida chief, who called him to what was then a little-known town far from Delhi. The official sent a proposal to Lucknow, where government officials sat over it for a year, but cleared it by December 1987.
“That was the turning point in my life,” recalls the 58-year-old Marwah. “I proposed this piece of land away from the hustle-bustle of cities and close to the Yamuna.” There were people who dismissed his ideas about the film city in Noida. “Some people said Noida means ‘no idea’,” he recalls. “I changed it and said it is a ‘new idea’. Others told me UP meant ‘ulta-pulta’, and I told them it means ‘thumbs up’. I became an ambassador for UP.”
The state government decided to allocate 16 plots for 16 film studios in the upcoming satellite city of Delhi on 100 acres of land. “Today, it is the fastest growing film city in the world,” boasts Marwah. “Four hundred television channels are broadcast from here to 162 countries around the world 24/7. There are 17,000 media professionals working in Film City in three shifts of eight hours each.”
About 150,000 people earn their living thanks to the film city. With the film industry in Mumbai facing problems – including strikes by employees and others – many filmmakers decided to pack up and headed for Noida over the past few years. Noida today churns out feature films and TV programmes, and has a bustling media, while also attracting other players. It has also emerged as an IT hub that extends all the way to Greater Noida and Yamuna. “We are an almost 10,000-acre setup now,” he says.
Marwah’s film studio began operating in 1991. It has churned out over 5,000 TV programmes for more than 50 channels, has been associated with 150 feature films, done 5,000 training films and 2,300 short films and also created 10 major film festivals. The Asian Academy of Film and Television, which has now been declared as a film university – with Marwah as its chancellor – has trained top actors, film producers and directors, journalists and even politicians.
Marwah is also fascinated with Dubai and the UAE. “My younger son got married in Abu Dhabi, and the older one is in Ras Al Khaimah,” he points out. “We would like to open a branch in the UAE soon.”