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Why global cruise lines are waiting for Zoya Akhtar’s 'Dil Dhadakne Do'

The film, set aboard a ship, could just persuade Indians to start taking expensive vacations on the high seas.

Zoya Akhtar’s 2011 movie Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, a romantic adventure set in Spain, is credited with considerably boosting Indian tourism in the Iberian peninsula. Will her latest film, Dil Dhadakne Do, set aboard a luxury ship sailing around the Mediterranean Sea, similarly float the fortunes of the cruise-liner industry?

Dil Dhadakne Do, whose star-studded cast includes Anil Kapoor, Priyanka Chopra, Ranveer Singh and Anushka Sharma, opens on June 5, just in time for cruise season. “The numbers of Indians travelling on cruise liners is miniscule, around 1.2 lakh every year, and even assuming that there are 10 million Indian tourists who travel abroad every year, the number is dismal,” said Ratna Chadha, Indian representative of Royal Caribbean, one of the big-name international cruise companies operating in India. “We are hoping the movie will boost some interest in the sector.”

Since cricket and Bollywood are two of the biggest influences on Indian consumer habits, added Nalini Gupta, head of Costa Cruises in India. “I think cruise liners will benefit from the movie,” she said.

Indians are generally not very adventurous about travelling abroad because of the costs involved, so it isn't surprising that cruise liners, which can cost $500 a day or more, are at the bottom of their to-do lists. One of the biggest hurdles faced by companies offering cruise packages to Indian tourists is the fact that outbound Indians need to fly to other countries to begin their journey – one of the first inhibiting cost factors. India is only a designated port of call rather than an embarkation and debarkation centre, which means that ships can sail into our waters but passengers cannot get on and off board. Dubai and Singapore are the nearest ports of call for Indian travellers.

“The numbers that India can produce haven’t happened because we don’t have ships leaving our shores,” Nalini Gupta said. “People have to fly to a specific point, and that is an extra expense.”

Poor infrastructure

Cruise liner infrastructure is too poorly developed in India for the international cruising trade, added Ratna Chadha. “Even at the ports, the emphasis is on cargo ships, so if foreign companies have to invest here, there simply isn’t enough infrastructure,” she said.

A 2005 report by the Ministry of Tourism acknowledged the challenges. It stated,
“Ports constitute the core infrastructure requirement of the cruise sector. If India wishes to integrate her position in this market Indian ports would have to meet internationally accepted standards of port infrastructure, passenger services, linkages, other conveniences and amenities...Whereas the major airports in India are designed to international standards, most of the Indian ports lack dedicated facilities for cruise tourism and do not offer the basic standards or the amenities expected.”

India’s inability to follow up on its own insights has been China’s gain. Chadha cited a recent study conducted by students of the Duke College of Management that explored the potential of the Indian and Chinese markets. “China had zero cruise liners in their backyard but today, China is one of the largest markets for every cruise liner,” Chadha pointed out.

It helps that Chinese tourists are what Chadha calls “group oriented” and prefer to travel in groups rather than just family units. Tour charter entire ships and reorient the entertainment and catering to suit their clientele’s tastes. “India has got left out, and Dubai and Singapore have emerged as embarkation hubs,” Chadha said. "The sad part of the story is that India is the largest source market for Singapore, but despite being strategically placed between East and West, and despite the fact that every ship that comes into Singapore crosses India, you cannot board a ship here.”

Cruising on the high seas

When Indians do take the sea route, their favourite destinations include Europe, Alaska and Singapore, Nalini Gupta said. The short-haul trips suit tourists best, and there is an added business from organisers of business conferences and company bosses wishing to gift their dealers a vacation.

For those can afford it, travelling by sea can be the best way to have a relaxed holiday and see the world at a leisurely pace. Pune architect and art dealer Ramprasad Akkisetti and his partner have been on several cruises in the past few years, including along the Baltic Sea and around the South American coast and the Iberian Peninsula.


Ramprasad Akkisetti at the Falkland islands.

“Because of the cruise, we have been to places where we hadn’t been before and where we wouldn’t normally go, like the Falkland islands and Santiago in Chile,” said Akkisetti, who is headed on a sea trip from Rome to Istanbul in August. “The cruise liner takes care of everything for you, you are in a new city every other day, and you don’t have to worry about food or on-board entertainment. It is complete relaxation and for the price you pay, you really get pampered.”

A cruise is ideally suited for travellers who prefer to take in a sight or two in a day rather than cram up their itineraries. Besides, a cruise liner has enough activity on board to keep boredom at bay. Mumbai couple Jason and Donabelle Samuel went on a Carnival cruise in 2013 from New York City to Halifax and back, and they say they could not experience all that their vessel had on offer. “It was great fun, and you can spend your whole day without getting bored,” Jason Samuel said. “There are casinos, karaoke bars, various entertainment shows, a mini-golf course, a swimming pool, and a sauna.”

Donabelle Samuel added. “A cruise is especially fun if you like to mix around and meet other people.”

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“My body instantly craves chai and samosa”

German expats talk about adapting to India, and the surprising similarities between the two cultures.

The cultural similarities between Germany and India are well known, especially with regards to the language. Linguists believe that Sanskrit and German share the same Indo-Germanic heritage of languages. A quick comparison indeed holds up theory - ratha in Sanskrit (chariot) is rad in German, aksha (axle) in Sanskrit is achse in German and so on. Germans have long held a fascination for Indology and Sanskrit. While Max Müller is still admired for his translation of ancient Indian scriptures, other German intellectuals such as Goethe, Herder and Schlegel were deeply influenced by Kalidasa. His poetry is said to have informed Goethe’s plays, and inspired Schlegel to eventually introduce formal Indology in Germany. Beyond the arts and academia, Indian influences even found their way into German fast food! Indians would recognise the famous German curry powder as a modification of the Indian masala mix. It’s most popular application is the currywurst - fried sausage covered in curried ketchup.

It is no wonder then that German travellers in India find a quite a lot in common between the two cultures, even today. Some, especially those who’ve settled here, even confess to Indian culture growing on them with time. Isabelle, like most travellers, first came to India to explore the country’s rich heritage. She returned the following year as an exchange student, and a couple of years later found herself working for an Indian consultancy firm. When asked what prompted her to stay on, Isabelle said, “I love the market dynamics here, working here is so much fun. Anywhere else would seem boring compared to India.” Having cofounded a company, she eventually realised her entrepreneurial dream here and now resides in Goa with her husband.

Isabelle says there are several aspects of life in India that remind her of home. “How we interact with our everyday life is similar in both Germany and India. Separate house slippers to wear at home, the celebration of food and festivals, the importance of friendship…” She feels Germany and India share the same spirit especially in terms of festivities. “We love food and we love celebrating food. There is an entire countdown to Christmas. Every day there is some dinner or get-together,” much like how Indians excitedly countdown to Navratri or Diwali. Franziska, who was born in India to German parents, adds that both the countries exhibit the same kind of passion for their favourite sport. “In India, they support cricket like anything while in Germany it would be football.”

Having lived in India for almost a decade, Isabelle has also noticed some broad similarities in the way children are brought up in the two countries. “We have a saying in South Germany ‘Schaffe Schaffe Hausle baue’ that loosely translates to ‘work, work, work and build a house’. I found that parents here have a similar outlook…to teach their children to work hard. They feel that they’ve fulfilled their duty only once the children have moved out or gotten married. Also, my mother never let me leave the house without a big breakfast. It’s the same here.” The importance given to the care of the family is one similarity that came up again and again in conversations with all German expats.

While most people wouldn’t draw parallels between German and Indian discipline (or lack thereof), Germans married to Indians have found a way to bridge the gap. Take for example, Ilka, who thinks that the famed differences of discipline between the two cultures actually works to her marital advantage. She sees the difference as Germans being highly planning-oriented; while Indians are more flexible in their approach. Ilka and her husband balance each other out in several ways. She says, like most Germans, she too tends to get stressed when her plans don’t work out, but her husband calms her down.

Consequently, Ilka feels India is “so full of life. The social life here is more happening; people smile at you, bond over food and are much more relaxed.” Isabelle, too, can attest to Indians’ friendliness. When asked about an Indian characteristic that makes her feel most at home, she quickly answers “humour.” “Whether it’s a taxi driver or someone I’m meeting professionally, I’ve learnt that it’s easy to lighten the mood here by just cracking a few jokes. Indians love to laugh,” she adds.

Indeed, these Germans-who-never-left as just diehard Indophiles are more Indian than you’d guess at first, having even developed some classic Indian skills with time. Ilka assures us that her husband can’t bargain as well as she does, and that she can even drape a saree on her own.

Isabelle, meanwhile, feels some amount of Indianness has seeped into her because “whenever its raining, my body instantly craves chai and samosa”.

Like the long-settled German expats in India, the German airline, Lufthansa, too has incorporated some quintessential aspects of Indian culture in its service. Recognising the centuries-old cultural affinity between the two countries, Lufthansa now provides a rich experience of Indian hospitality to all flyers on board its flights to and from India. You can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalized by Lufthansa to the extent that they are More Indian Than You Think. To experience Lufthansa’s hospitality on your next trip abroad, click here.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.