Some Hindi films seem to have traded the chiffons and opulence for a middle-class ethos

In between delightful vignettes in Ritesh Batra’s The Lunchbox, the main characters Ila, Shaikh and Saajan all return to typical suburban dwellings; matchbox sized apartments crawling with neighbourod children and overwhelming aunties.

In real life, none of this would be out of place, but in the mostly escapist realm of the Hindi film industry, it’s almost surreal. We’re not used to blackened pots and pans, dusty scooters and peeling walls on the big screen.

What’s even more shocking is the fact that one of the backers of the film, Karan Johar, is the patron saint of the uber designed candy floss movies. Palatial mansions teeming with servants, multiple vehicles, designer outfits, and shimmering jewelry: all of these dutifully fit into place in the story arc.

Before Hindi cinema’s new wave, that would have been the norm. But in the last decade, the tide has turned in favour of realism with films like Mani Ratnam’s Yuva (2004), Vikramaditya Motwane’s Udaan (2009) and, more recently, Anand Gandhi’s Ship of Theseus (2013) receiving both critical and commercial acclaim. The characters work for a living, shop at the local market and, for all intents and purposes, could be your next door neighbour.

Law student and film buff Laksha Kalappa ranks Udaan as one of her favourite films but admits watching films such as Kal Ho Naa Ho and Karan Arjun.

“I love the over the top drama that the heroes and heroines portray,” she exclaims. And that’s something that seems to find favour with a lot of people. The delicately nuanced shades to Irrfan Khan’s Saajan or the endearing qualities of Nawazuddin Siddiqui’s Shaikh fall by the wayside to the monotone opulence of the Rahuls and Rajs.

Copywriter and former film studies student Joseph Thomas has a different take on the characterization in the new wave films, “Ship of Theseus had a rationale behind it, coincidence, whereas Batra’s film had elements of the irrational. How can two adults in 21st century Mumbai not pick up the phone to talk to one another? But in spite of that, it did seem honest. And of course, while I loved Nimrat Kaur’s Ila, the unseen Bharati Achrekar as the capable aunty stole the show.”

And while 2013 may have seemed like a bumper year for middle class protagonists with films like Special 26, Bhaag Milkha Bhaag and Bombay Talkies, the future looks no less promising.

Hansal Mehta’s Shahid traces the life of the late Shahid Azmi, a terrorist-accused turned lawyer who fought on behalf of innocent people wrongly accused of being criminals. And then there’s Siddiqui as Dashrath Manjhi in Mountain Man, hand carving a road for an isolated village. The middle class protagonist is here to stay.