Blacked-out helicopters and hundreds of film crew workers have been seen in and around Wānaka over the past week, but those involved in the suspected Bollywood movie production are staying tight-lipped about what is being made.
Locally-owned business Aspiring Helicopters is understood to have been transporting some of the crew around Central Otago but the company told the Herald it is unable to provide any further information.
Queenstown Lakes District Mayor Glynn Lewers was also unaware of the large-scale production.
NZ On Air and the New Zealand Film Commission both told the Herald they had no involvement in the production.
A black unmarked helicopter linked to the filming at Aspiring Helicopters hangar. Photo / George Heard
On September 25, Bollywood star Vishnu Manchu posted to X (formerly Twitter), where he has more than 678,000 followers, announcing that filming had commenced on the New Zealand-based production of his self-written film Kannappa, which he would also star in.
It was believed New Zealand based Ki Productions were providing local production service, though while owner Darshan Shetty confirmed to The Herald crew had been working around Wānaka, the South Island leg of the shoot had to be cancelled due to losing days to bad weather in the North and having to catch up on back log, he said.
“In just a few days, a 600-strong cast and crew from around the world will converge in New Zealand to bring Kannappa to life. Their sacrifices, leaving behind loved ones, are a testament to their unwavering belief in this project,” he said.
“It brings me immense joy to reveal that Kannappa boasts a stellar cast of superstars, a list we will unveil shortly. While we have tried our best to keep details under wraps, leaks are proving challenging to contain.”
In an interview with magazine Variety last week, Manchu described the film as a big-budget epic in the vein of The Lord of the Rings, which was also filmed in New Zealand.
“New Zealand is known for Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films... that’s the way I envisioned Kannappa,” he said.
“I wouldn’t say it would surpass Lord of the Rings, that’s a very big measure, but I would definitely love to have the confidence that the visuals we’re trying to bring on to the screen will definitely be some of the best in recent Indian cinema.”
The suspected Bollywood production has been described as a big-budget epic in the vein of The Lord of the Rings. Photo / New Line Productions
Manchu’s film revisits the Indian folk tale of Kannappa, an atheist hunter who became a devotee of Hindu god Shiva and plucked out his eyes in an act of extreme devotion.
The article said the film was being shot across Auckland, Rotorua, Glenorchy, Wānaka, Pukaki and Christchurch locations in New Zealand.
Manchu reportedly chose New Zealand as a location after exploring options in Ireland, Scotland, Minnesota in the US, Australia, Switzerland and Canada.
“[New Zealand] is probably God’s last beautiful painting which is still intact,” Manchu said.
Locations around Wānaka and Central Otago have famously served as a backdrop for several big-budget Hollywood productions, including The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Mission Impossible 6 and A Wrinkle in Time.
A $280 million film studio developed by Silverlight Studios Ltd near Wānaka has been in the planning stages for several years after being given the green light in December 2021 under Covid “fast-track” legislation.
The film park would include 12 sound stage buildings, sets representing Venice, Paris and New York, visitor parking for 518 vehicles, parking for 1545 cast and crew parks, 126 parks for golf carts and a green screen 19.6 metres high and 225m long.
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