It is no longer just about Bandra and Bhatinda. The Hindi film industry is finding new turf to spring a change

In the last few months the narrative of Hindi films has moved from Kolkata to Ahmedabad via Wasseypur, with halts at fictional Almore and Bharat Nagar in the heart of India. It is no longer just about Mumbai and Delhi or about certain genres. “Barfi”, which made 100 crores, was set in Darjeeling, and soon Chennai is also going to be a destination for Bollywood’s dream merchants, courtesy Rohit Shetty’s “Chennai Express”.

A new crop of directors and scriptwriters has emerged from smaller centres in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, and they are telling their stories. If Tigmanshu Dhulia (“Haasil”, “Paan Singh Tomar” and “Sahib Biwi Aur Gangster”) grew up in Allahabad and has seen the downfall of the great cultural centre of North India, Anurag Kashyap was born in Gorakhpur and had ingested the best and worst of Hindi literature by the time he was 14. Their cinematic education might be “pulp fiction” but they have gulped enough “Manohar Kahaniyan” to indigenise Tarantino. Juhi Chaturvedi, who wrote “Vicky Donor” says her upbringing in Lucknow taught her the joy of doing nothing. “Those were pre-inverter days and there were long power cuts,” she muses.

Sujoy Ghosh returned to tell his City of Joy’s “Kahaani” after the outlandish “Aladdin”. Habib Faisal, who once wrote the bizarre “Jhoom Barabar Jhoom” earned visibility after telling his own teacher father’s story in “Do Dooni Chaar”, and in “Ishaqzaade” he explored the Hindu-Muslim divide that he has experienced. From house hunting to honour killing, he says the divide is an everyday reality and it is high time a film tackled the subject. Unlike Anurag Kashyap’s characters, Habib’s protagonists don’t indulge in abusive language to put their point across and it becomes all the more chilling because they come across as one of us. When Parma calls Zoya Musalli in “Ishaqzaade” or a videographer asks Shalini in “Shanghai”, “Who you to the accidented man?” you realise you have met these people before.

“There is a lot more conflict in small cities,” says Dhulia, who is now shooting “Bullet Raja” in Lucknow. “How many times can you show a young couple making love in a car in a big city? Love still has many obstacles in small towns.” Anurag Kashyap says when writer-actor Zeishan Quadri came to him with the story of the coal mafia of Wasseypur he expected him to transpose the idea to a big city. “But I felt that in that case it will become just another gangster story of revenge. The fun lies in capturing the local flavour.” He says in Tamil cinema many young filmmakers had done it, and it inspired him to try it in his zone.

Muzaffar Ali, who once adroitly exposed us to Awadh culture with “Umrao Jaan”, agrees partially. “These days politics and violence are the prime concerns of the media. In cities you can only make a different version of ‘Sarkar’ but in smaller towns there are multiple possibilities. However, the way most of them are portraying it, it is more fashionable than realistic.”

There is a business angle to it as well. Centres like Indore, Nagpur, Moradabad and Latur have one or more multiplexes and the patrons need stories they can relate to. That is the reason more and more film stars are going to places like Amritsar and Ahmedabad to promote their films, at times skipping Delhi altogether.

It is a long road, though. Unlike Mani Ratnam, who took his protagonists out of the confines of Chennai and Madurai and placed them in New Delhi (“Mouna Ragam”) and Mumbai (“Bombay”), not many contemporary Hindi filmmakers have tried to take their fish out of familiar waters.

It is not always about authenticity either. “I have seen stories of Bhopal with the city nowhere to see,” comments Ali. Ali has a point, for only last week we had “Zila Ghaziabad” where most portions were shot in Panchgani and director Anand Kumar failed to even morph it. “It is half realistic, half filmy,” quips Sunil Grover, the only actor who stood out in the potpourri. “During the intermission when I came out for popcorn, the usher said you are the one who used to mimic Shah Rukh Khan on TV. The past tense came as a relief,” says Grover, who is hosting SAB TV’s “Kahani Filmy Comedy Ki”. “The acknowledgement,” he says, “is an indication of what people want, for the film has big names like Sanjay Dutt and Vivek Oberoi.”

True. This local flavour has given a new lease of life to actors like Manoj Bajpayee and hope to young actors who are trained in acting because you can get away by spreading your arms in the same way at Trafalgar Square and Manhattan, but you can’t afford to do it in the lanes of Bijnore or Meerut. “I can excel only in a situation where I can tell myself that it happens or it can happen. I entered the industry with ‘Bandit Queen’ but since than I have been waiting for a change, and now it seems it is here,” notes Bajpayee. Referring to his character in Gangs of Wasseypur, he says, “Nobody would have noticed unusualness if a married Sardar Khan had made advances towards another woman in a metro city. It is the compulsions and contradictions of the small town that make his furtive behaviour exciting.”

Bajpayee holds that commercial viability doesn’t come from the place. It comes with the emotions that emerge from the situation. “I need to tell the back story of the character through my expressions even if it is not there in the script. Like in ‘Special 26’, the conservative nature of CBI officer Wasim Khan comes through the way he points to his wife about putting on the duppatta. It was not something that I did impromptu. Neeraj (Pandey) had put it in the script. However, the way Wasim chides his son when he calls him daddy and asks him to address him as Abbu was my improvisation to buttress the conservative psyche of Wasim.”

Last week Raj Kumar Yadav showed similar malleability in “Kai Po Che”. The boy from Haryana who trained in acting at FTII not only learnt Gujarati for the role of Govind, but also spent three weeks in Old Ahmedabad. “I insisted that Govind won’t take off his shirt while jumping into the sea because it goes against his personality. He is not comfortable with dance either, but when pushed his steps are akin to the dance moves of Govinda and Karisma Kapoor, because the film is set in 2000 when the duo’s style was popular,” says Yadav.

From “Mother India” to “Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hai”, our cinematic history is replete with glorious examples of cinema emanating from the grassroots, but what we are seeing today is not an idealistic version of the bucolic India. Ali says there is no idealism or vision about the nation as was evident in the cinema of the ’50s and ’60s and to an extent in the ’70s. “Idealism has given way to sensationalism.”

The point is, the young Turks are asking for the freedom to express and the Central Board of Film Certification is taking a liberal stance in most cases. “But there is a right to oppose or reject as well, and one should respect it,” reasons Ali.