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Locked up abroad - A Guru, a hippie and six kilos of hash

Updated: Jun 13, 2023

Locked Up Abroad, also known as Banged Up Abroad in some territories, is a highly rated docudrama series on the National Geographic Channel. This was our second major project with RAW TV UK in as many years and one of the biggest and most challenging projects we have ever undertaken. The series depicts real-life situations of people who have been arrested while traveling abroad, usually for trying to smuggle illegal drugs in to or out of a foreign country.

The film starts with an Australian hippie, Mark O'Brien, who is dissatisfied with life. He joins an ashram in India, led by the infamous guru Osho, looking for enlightenment. But when a fellow disciple encourages Mark to join her in a plan to smuggle an exotic form of hash known as charis to Amsterdam, it sets off a chain of events that leads him to a very different commune: Pune's notorious Yawanda Central Prison.

Actor Kris Saddler playing Mark O'Brien, stands face to face with another man whose back is turned. They are watched by a group of men dressed in prison fatigues.
Mark confronts another prisoner at Yerwada prison (Screengrab)

Originally meant to be shot in India, the location was switched to Sri Lanka at the last minute due to severe delays in India due to permissions issues. Faced with just a matter of weeks to deliver this film to the edit, the Dreamforge team wasted no time putting together the best local crew we could find to help us pull this demanding shoot off. With a cast of over 200 and a crew of over 50 this was a very logistically challenging shoot. In addition to casting, the story called for hundreds of special costumes and locations as diverse as the Osho ashram, Goa, Manali and Sydney Australia.

Sri Lanka’s hill capital, Kandy was the main location for the filming. Kandy was chosen especially because it gave us access to some unique locations that worked perfectly for this film.

Film crew at work with the Bogambara prison in the background. Kandy, Sri Lanka.
Bogambara prison - A truly imposing backdrop

The most important of these locations was the Yerwada Central Prison, where much of the story is set. The 150-year old Bogambara prison, which was almost a perfect match for this location happened to be right in the heart of Kandy and had been decommissioned just a few years prior. The opportunity to use this amazing backdrop as a location gave the film not only a sense of real visual authenticity, but also a sobering sense of what it must have been like to be a prisoner there.

Film crew filming Hospital scene. Patients on hospital beds in the foreground.
The authentic looking prison hospital

Our fantastic art department led by award-winning veteran art director Rohan Samaradiwakara worked tirelessly to build and transform multiple locations into replicas of real-life locations in India. Entire sets like hospitals and courts were built and dressed to look authentic.

Two women making costumes. One woman on the right is sitting and working on a sewing machine. The woman on the left is standing and cutting patterns for sewing. There are costumes in the foreground.
The wardrobe department hard at work

Our wardrobe department, led by acclaimed designer Marisa Gnanaraj who in 2017 was shortlisted for the Beazley Design of the Year by the London Design Museum, worked tirelessly with her team to design and sew nearly 200 costumes and uniforms for the actors in record time. All this contributed to creating a very authentic look and feel to the film.

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