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Netanyahu says 'Shalom Bollywood' in bid to woo India to film in Israel

Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan and former actress Aishwarya Rai welcome Netanyahu to Mumbai
Amitabh Bachchan with Netanyahu and wife Sara at the Shalom Bollywood event in Mumbai (Reuters)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with senior figures from India's film industry in a bid to woo Bollywood and convince it to film movies in Israel.

Netanyahu met with India's biggest film stars at a star-studded event called Shalom Bollywood in Mumbai - home of India's film industry.

India's film industry is the largest in the world and worth billions of dollars. 

Among the attendees of the event were Bollywood veteran Amitabh Bachchan, former actress and Miss World Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, and talk-show host Karan Johar.

Rai and Johar welcomed Netanyahu and gave his wife, Sara, a bouquet of flowers at the start of the event. 

Bachchan thanked the Israeli premier for his visit and said: "May cinema further fructify the strength of ties between India and Israel." 

The Israeli premier later asked the Indian film stars and local government ministers to come on stage to take a selfie. 

Senior figures from India's government were also present to welcome Netanyahu and his wife.

In preparation for the event, Israeli diplomats from its consulate in Mumbai met with Bachchan earlier this week.

Yaakov Finkelstein, Israel's consul general in Mumbai, tweeted a picture with Bachchan, and thanked him for his "active role in the cooperation between #Bollywood and Israel".

Filmmaker Anand Patwardhan, who was involved in the "Netanyahu go back" protests in Mumbai, questioned Bollywood's embrace of the Israeli prime minister. 

"Real India will remain the real friend of the real people, be they Muslim, Christian or Jew," Patwardhan told Al Jazeera.

Before the event, Netanyahu also visited the site of the 2008 Mumbai attack carried out by a Pakistani militant group.

The event was part of the Israeli premier's six-day visit to India. He is the second Israeli premier to visit India after former prime minister Ariel Sharon in 1992.

However, some Bollywood figures questioned the visit.

On Wednesday, Netanyahu confirmed to a local Indian TV channel that a defence deal with Israeli defence company Rafael worth half a billion US dollars was "back on the table".

Netanyahu gave a wide-ranging interview with TV host Rahul Shivshankar on Indian news channel Times Now, where he described Israel's relationship with India as "very emotional and deeply signifying".

He added: "Indian Prime Minister Modi and our officials spoke and he confirmed that this deal is back on the table. I can't say more than that." 

Netanyahu told Shivshankar that India's decision to vote against a UN General Assembly motion supporting Jerusalem as being the capital of Israel did not "cast a shadow" over his visit.

The event signifies the growing relationship between India and Israel. During his trip, Netanyahu held several meetings with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and local government ministers in a bid to foster stronger relations between the two countries.
The Israeli premier is touring India with senior businessmen, including Rafael CEO Yoav Har-Even alongside other defence industry leaders from Israel. 

Modi made history last year when he became the first Indian prime minister to visit Israel. India formally established full diplomatic relations in 1992. 

Bilateral trade between the two countries is worth billions of dollars, with diamond and defence being the key drivers. 

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