The story of how a minimally armed unit of Indian soldiers fought and beat the Ottoman army to win Haifa on Sept. 23, 1918, will soon be made into an action-packed, feature-length film by top producers from Bollywood. The movie will be made in Israel.
Golden Ratio Films (GRF), the digital content production arm of Vistas Media Capital, announced the project on Sept. 22 at a ceremony in Haifa. “Heroes of Haifa” will be co-produced by GRF and Yalestar films, in collaboration with Hundred Films.
Indian soldiers from the Jodhpur Lancers, Mysore Lancers and Hyderabad Lancers fought in the battle, which is considered one of the most successful cavalry charges in the history of modern warfare. The men were armed only with lances and swords, yet they outclassed Ottoman, German and Austrian troops who were equipped with machine guns, cannons and other modern weapons.
“This is such a substantial event that is important to Indians and Israelis, yet few people know about it,” Hundred Films co-founder Atul Pandey said. “This is a story that needs to be told to the whole world.”
He said that a lot of research has been conducted on the “minute details and considering the nuances of the battle. . . The shooting of ‘Heroes of Haifa’ will be set in the actual theater of the First World War in the Middle East, which will enhance the friendship between the two nations through cinema.”
‘A story of exceptional bravery’
The Battle of Haifa was little known in India or Israel for decades, except for in the small Indian district of Jodhpur, in Rajasthan state, where it has been commemorated every year for the last century. Eight soldiers from the district were killed on the battlefield.
However, in 1993, a Jewish-Israeli cardiologist based in New York took a trip to India and happened to stay at a hotel in Jodhpur. In the lobby he found a statue of the “Hero of Haifa.” Haifa is the Israeli city in which the cardiologist was born.
When he inquired at the hotel, they did not have much background to share. So he wrote to the UK War Memorials Trust.
After a few months, he received a lot of information, which he turned into an article that was published in the Hebrew daily Haaretz in 1993. Since then, others have taken up researching the battle, too.
In recent years, an annual ceremony has been held in Haifa to commemorate the fallen Indian soldiers and their victory against the Ottomans.
“The emotional value of this story is very high for the Indians,” Pandey said. “It is a story of the exceptional bravery of Indian soldiers in a foreign land fighting an impossible battle and winning it. But also historically, their liberating the city played a crucial role in the creation of Israel years later.
“If the city had not been liberated from the Ottomans, the creation of Israel after WW II would have been a different scenario.”
Today, Haifa is Israel’s third-largest city with a population of around 280,000 people.
Film could cost $50 million to make
The concept for the film was several years in the making, according to Piiyush Singh, the co-founder & group COO of Vistas Media Capital. India and Israel signed a co-production treaty back in 2018 during a visit by then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Mumbai. During that trip, Netanyahu held an event with several Bollywood leaders. Since then, Singh said, there have been many efforts made and discussions held but little has emerged — in part because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The film represents the first large-scale film collaboration in decades.
Move crew members spent time in Jodhpur and Istanbul to gather background information for the story and worked with contacts on the ground in Israel before coming on their first visit last week.
The movie is expected to feature authentic early 20th-century Middle Eastern architecture, clothing and culture in an effort to portray “a real and chilling picture of the Great War,” a release explained. It will be a “fast-paced war drama with realistic action intermingled with world geopolitics at the time. It will share experiences of raw horrors and those of the glories attained by the Indian soldiers.”
The cast will be mixed, including Indian, Israeli and other international actors. The script is in development.
“We will mount an international film that can cross language barriers,” Singh said.
He noted that it will take another two or three years and around $50 million to make the movie.
Ashwini Chaudhary, president of Golden Ratio Films India, called the endeavor “most ambitious.”
Haifa Mayor Einat Kalisch-Rotem also celebrated the project.
“I’m positive that the movie will proudly show our beautiful city and its importance in the history of India,” she said. “This large-scale production will showcase Haifa to millions of viewers, not only from India but from other countries, and will bring the city thousands of new tourists.”
While in Israel last week, the producers met with representatives of several ministries, all of whom encouraged the production of the movie and began the process of granting them the permissions needed to film at the locations in Israel where the battle went down.
The Israel Foreign Ministry said in a statement that it held a wonderful discussion with the Bollywood producers on Indo-Israel films and media collaborations. Joint projects like this will help strengthen the close ties between the two countries that recently celebrated 30 years of diplomatic relations, it said.
‘More to come’
Recently, the Israeli government took applications from foreign film and TV series producers for a special rebate project that could grant up to 45 million shekels ($12.9 million) towards the production of their work in the country over the next two years. The project, the Culture and Sports Ministry said, is aimed to positively brand Israel and improve the economy.
The Bollywood producers said their film is not part of this project, but that they hoped to participate with future endeavors.
Upon learning about “Heroes of Haifa,” Fortune Galit Wahba Shasho, director of culture for the ministry, said: “I warmly welcome Bollywood producers to the City of Haifa, noting that we will not always have only Haifa but also many other Israeli cities where movies and TV series will be shot.”
Singh said that Vistas Media Capital has several business lines all primarily focused on content development and that “we have longer and bigger plans for Israel. There will be more to come.”