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Wales mesmerises Bollywood
Thursday, 03 July , 2003, 09:05

Wales: Amongst the ruins of a 13th century castle, perched on a rock between Mount Snowdon and a slate quarry, Bollywood queen and former Ms World Aishwarya Rai is dancing to the sound of taped Hindi music.

The quintessential Welsh backdrop, glistening in the late evening sun, has been chosen for a dream scene in "Kyon! Ho Gaya Na Pyaar", a romantic comedy to be released next year.

Directed by Sameer Karnik and produced by Boney Kapoor, it the latest high-profile international film to be shot in Wales, which is staking its claim as a global moviemakers' mecca.

"Tomb Raider II" was made in the midst of Snowdonia in late 2002, while the most recent James Bond thriller "Die Another Day" was shot in part on Penbryn beach, on Wales' west coast.

"Our marketing is focused on trying to increase awareness of what Wales has to offer -- convincing people that Wales has the range of fantastic locations that they need," Mike Wallwork, national co-ordinator of the Wales Screen Commission (WSC), told AFP.

Rai's co-star and Bollywood heart-throb Vivek Oberoi was certainly enjoying the views on his first visit to Wales.

"Absolutely gorgeous, breathtakingly beautiful," he raved as filming began last weekend in Dolbadarn Castle -- now just a single tower after years of wear and tear.

No doubt he was thinking the same about Aishwarya Rai, the beauty queen, stunning in a flowing burgundy robe in the midst of the highest peak in Wales and the national park that surrounds it.

Karnik and Kapoor picked Snowdonia and the forests in South Wales for their latest Bollywood offering after being enticed by the WSC to come to Wales following a trade fair in Mumbai, India in November.

That was the same month in which the WSC was formed, after the Welsh Assembly in Cardiff decided to improve on what had been a trio of rival regional film commissions.

"The assembly decided it would be sensible to have one organisation in terms of external marketing of Wales as a location rather than three separate bodies that are competing against each other," Wallwork said.

"Wales in a relatively small country and we need to promote Wales to the outside world as a single entity."

Attracting even bigger film producers than those behind "Tomb Raider" and James Bond could become a reality sooner rather than later, should ambitious plans to build Britain's biggest studios in South Wales bear fruit.

Dubbed "Valleywood", the 582 million dollar project is being steered by the celebrated British actor and movie director Richard Attenborough.

Planning permission for a 160 acre site was granted last December, and building work on the project could begin at an opencast mine before the end of the year.

"You could see Hollywood production companies making use of the studio and then taking advantage of Wales' fantastic mountains and great beaches," said the WSC's co-ordinator for North Wales, Arwyn Williams.

Today Miss World. Tomorrow, maybe it will be Oscar winner Catherine Zeta-Jones doing a jig in a crumbling castle. After all, she is Welsh.

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