MIAMI — Bollywood plans a Miami encore this spring.
Less than a year after two of India's favorite actors decamped for Miami to film a romantic comedy, Bollywood mega-star Shahrukh Khan is preparing to make the same trip to shoot one of his country's first big-budget superhero movies.
Ra.One promises to bring imaginary mayhem to South Florida as Khan's character, a Miami software engineer, accidentally gives life to a video game villain. And while the movie's announced $3 million local budget is modest by Hollywood standards, local production officials see Bollywood's return to Miami as a milestone.
Just nine months ago, production officials were touting Miami's first major Bollywood movie: Dostana, a comedy starring Abhishek Bachchan and Priyanka Chopra that went on to blockbuster status in India.
And though Ra.One won't start shooting until February at the earliest, another Indian movie crew this week was filming in Miami — a far smaller production with an estimated budget of about $300,000 that officials still see as part of an encouraging trend.
Ra.One won't bring the kind of windfall a Hollywood feature delivers to South Florida's production industry. India makes movies for far less money than the United States does, and Ra.One plans on bringing crews from Mumbai to avoid the higher wages demanded by many of Florida's unionized production workers.
Ra.One does plan on some local hires for its cast and crew of about 80, and the hundreds of extras needed for scenes will come from South Florida, producer Prashant Shah said.
Ra.One is slated to start shooting just as Florida's biggest production — the cable series Burn Notice — resumes filming its third season in Coconut Grove.
The two productions will bring a burst of activity for an industry that saw a sharp drop in business in 2009. The culprits: a global recession and cuts in Florida's movie and TV subsidy fund from its 2007 peak of $25 million to this year's $11 million.
Burn Notice is expected to get $4 million of that this year, with none left for Ra.One.
Tourism officials hope the biggest payoff will come not from Ra.One's production dollars, but from its audience. With a growing middle class, India vies with China as the travel industry's favorite emerging target.
And given India's famous devotion to its movies, placing Miami as a backdrop in two Bollywood blockbusters is seen as a global marketing coup.
Past studies credit the "Bollywood effect" for bringing Indian travelers to obscure destinations in Europe and the Pacific picked as locations for Indian films. Now with India's 1.1 billion population increasingly producing affluent families, the Bollywood effect is seen as more lucrative.
"It's a huge market, and language is not a barrier, as it is in China," said Rolando Aedo, senior vice president of marketing for the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau, which is mostly funded by county taxes on hotels. "The fact that we've got this movie that's going to deliver more media impressions than I could ever afford to buy, even in the best of times — the timing is extremely fortunate."
While Dostana portrayed Miami as a glamorous place to fall in love, Ra.One plans a more ominous take on the city. Khan's Shekhar must take the form of a video game hero in order to battle the technological monster he created: a powerful being called Ra.One.
"Superhero films are always take place in a very dark city," Shah said. "Here we'll have the Art Deco, the blue sky, the pastels — that's what I want to capture," said Prashant Shah, a New Jersey-based Bollywood producer behind both Dostana and Ra.One.