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Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Bollywood Goes 'Regional'


Move over, New York, London, Goa and Mumbai. Hindi cinema has discovered romance, thrills and drama in the Indian hinterland. Small towns are all the rage on the big screen
SAIBAL.CHATTERJEE | Issue Dated: February 23, 2014, New Delhi
Tags : Bollywood Goes ‘Regional’ | Shuddh Desi Romance | Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi | Singham | Arjun Kapoor | Gunday | Ranveer Singh. Priyanka Chopra | Irrfan Khan | Madhuri Dixit | Dedh Ishqiya | Gulaab Gang | Raanjhanaa | Tanu Weds Manu | Kai Po Che | Gangs of Wasseypur | Bullett Raja | Indian multiplexes |

Bollywood is going ‘regional’ with a vengeance. Popular Hindi cinema appears to have appreciably toned down its obsession with the bright lights of New York and London, the pretty vales and peaks of Switzerland, the balmy beaches and party zones of Goa and the mean streets of Mumbai’s underworld.

Hindi cinema is instead increasingly finding its way into the midst of the heat and dust of India’s small towns in search of the inimitable intonations of shuddh desi romance. A whole new world is unfolding on Indian screens.

Not that films made in Mumbai have stopped retreating into the middle class localities of Delhi, the mafia dens of Mumbai and the farmlands of Punjab, but they are now embracing a much wider swathe of this country than has been the norm over the past two decades or so.

Jaideep Sahni, scriptwriter of Shuddh Desi Romance, is on record that “these small towns are more interesting because they have one foot in the future and one foot in the traditional”.

 Many other Mumbai screenwriters, like Sahni, believe that places such as Jaipur, Vizag, Kochi and Chandigarh are seeing more action than the metros these days because the youth here are breaking out of their shells and exploring aspects of life that were out of bounds for them in the past.       

Significantly, Hindi cinema’s sharply altered perspective on life is being driven not merely by makers of unconventional entertainers, but also, with equal zest, by the big Bollywood banners who until recently would not even think of looking beyond the shores of India and at the lives of singing and dancing émigrés for inspiration.

So, when the men behind Yash Raj Films conceive a modern-day love triangle today, the banner heads out either to a Punjab town (Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi) or to Jaipur (Shuddh Desi Romance). Manhattan and Trafalgar Square no longer figure in their plans.

Or, when Rohit ‘Singham’ Shetty plans a big-ticket action flick with a box office A-lister, he boards Chennai Express (instead of an Boeing or an Airbus) and travels into a Bollywoodised version of the Tamil heartland, where conversations between the hero and the villain are coolly conducted in the local language. Even the female protagonist in the film does not sound like a typical Hindi movie heroine.

Sonakshi Sinha, who was seen in last year’s Lootera, a film that had two distinct halves set in rural Bengal and Dalhousie, was back in Rajasthan’s Sambhar district recently for the shoot of Tevar, a Hindi remake of a Telugu hit from a decade ago.

Between shots, the actress lost no opportunity to mingle with local women and pick up tips from them on their cuisine, attire and dialect. The appeal of real India is spreading.

This film is about a small town kabbadi champion played by Arjun Kapoor. Being produced by Sanjay Kapoor and directed by debutant Amit Sharma, Tevar will be shot in Agra, Indore and Jaipur.

Arjun Kapoor’s latest release, the Yash Raj Films production Gunday, was, besides Kolkata, was shot in the coal belt on the Bengal-Jharkhand border, in places like Durgapur and Raniganj.

Directed by Ali Abbas Zafar and co-starring Ranveer Singh. Priyanka Chopra and Irrfan Khan, Gunday, a period actioner, is also being released in dubbed Bengali, which is a first for the YRF banner.

The fast urbanizing small towns yield tales that contain elements of surprise, something that love affairs or gang wars in Mumbai cannot. These stories have therefore emerged as big reference points for a new breed of Bollywood filmmakers who are now foraying into parts of the country that most people would still probably struggle to point out on the map.

Time was when only the likes of Shyam Benegal and Govind Nihalani, celebrated votaries of a different, more realistic stream of Hindi cinema, made ‘regional’ films in the national language, setting their narratives in clearly defined geographical locations where people looked and sounded unique.

Prakash Jha, too, made a few remarkable films about Bihar’s feudal society (Damul, Mrityudand) and then lost his way somewhat especially when he began making star-studded films about the political class but in a sweeping style that wasn’t quite as rooted as his approach in his early work.

Mainstream Bollywood filmmakers, in the wake of the runaway success of Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge, overwhelmingly preferred either foreign climes or the Indian metros, triggering two separate narrative genres – the star-studded NRI romance and the dark, gritty underworld saga. While Karan Johar spearheaded the former, Ram Gopal Varma was the high priest of the latter. While Johar has moved on somewhat, Varma has gone completely off the boil. The resultant vacuum was crying out to be tapped.

Hindi cinema has veered off in a new direction as a result. The first major Bollywood release of 2014, Dedh Ishqiya, was a love letter to the culture of Lucknow and its environs, redolent with poetry and romance heightened by the presence of the resplendent-as-ever Madhuri Dixit.

Large portions of Dedh Ishqiya, director Abhishek Chaubey’s second venture, were filmed in Mahmudabad palace near Barabanki, UP. For promoting Uttar Pradesh as a filming location, the producers of Dedh Ishqiya received a subsidy from the state government.

According to first-time director Soumik Sen, “in visual terms, urban films are as good as dead”. His Gulaab Gang, starring Dixit opposite Juhi Chawla, is an unusual film in more ways than one.

Gulaab Gang, slated for release on March 7, a day ahead of International Women’s Day, has no major male character. Madhuri is the ‘hero’ and Juhi the “villain’ in this tale of confrontation set in the Bundelkhand region of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh.

“The film isn’t located in a specific place. I was looking for a part of India where a certain kind of Hindi is spoken,” says Sen. “The vast vistas of central India provide Gulaab Gang its visual sweep.” When the colour of rebellion changes to pink, it is only natural for the backdrop, too, to undergo a transformation. 

Cinematic tales with a regional flavour is serving the purpose of breaking down the divide between the metropolitan multiplexes and the single screen theatres in the smaller towns. Not only are these films making it to major international film festivals around the world, they are finding ready takers on the domestic circuit as well. 

Vikramaditya Motwane’s Udaan, an intense coming-of-age drama filmed entirely in the steel town of Jamshedpur, premiered at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival, before making it to the multiplexes.

Motwane followed it up with last year’s acclaimed Lootera, a tragedy-tinged period saga that unfolded in parts of the country that are rarely seen on the Indian screen.

Habib Faisal’s Ishaqzaade, a robustly realistic reinterpretation of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, played out in a fictional Uttar Pradesh town where two political families slug it out for control. It was filmed in Hardoi and locations in and around Lucknow.

Much of Anand L Rai’s Raanjhanaa (2013), a lively story of star-crossed lovers, was set in Varanasi. The director’s previous film, Tanu Weds Manu (2011), was a romantic comedy shot in Kanpur.

Abhishek Kapoor’s buddy film Kai Po Che (2013) was an out and out Ahmedabad story set during the days of the Gujarat riots.     

In 2012, Anurag Kashyap’s Gangs of Wasseypur transported audiences to Dhanbad, Dibakar Banerjee’s Shanghai to the fictional small town of Bharat Nagar and Tigmanshu Dhulia’s Paan Singh Tomar to the ravines of Chambal and the barracks of Roorkee.

Last year, Dhulia’s Bullett Raja, a crime drama, was shot primarily in Uttar Pradesh, often on real locations. The badlands of Uttar Pradesh are beginning to replace Mumbai’s dockyard as the breeding ground of larger-than-life screen crime lords.

Besides Gulaab Gang, numerous other upcoming Hindi releases will transport viewers to regions that are, both physically and culturally, miles away from the locales that Indian audiences are familiar with.

Among them is Imtiaz Ali’s much anticipated road trip movie Highway. It has been filmed in seldom exposed north Indian locations like Kashmir’s Aru Valley, Punjab’s Nur Mahal, and Himachal Pradesh’s Kaza.

The much anticipated Highway had its world premiere at the recent Berlin Film Festival. When it opens in the Indian multiplexes, it will be a ticket to parts of the land that Hindi cinema has long ignored. But no longer, for the narrative landscape of Bollywood movies has changed dramatically. 

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017