This article is part of our 2017: A Year In Review series
Since the past few years, the location in popular Hindi cinema has almost become a character unto itself. In fact, without the location, the narrative of contemporary Hindi films might very well end up losing much of its exclusivity. Some of the most memorable films of 2017 not only took the element of the location to greater heights but also got small-town India to shine unlike before. It was after a long time that places such as Amritsar, Aarah, Varanasi, Bhopal, Mathura, Bareilly, Lucknow, Jhansi and Kota to name a few become the mainstay of popular Hindi cinema.
Traditionally, unless specified, the location of a typical Hindi film would more often than not assumed to be Mumbai, or if the film were set in a rural area then it would be the nameless typical Indian gaon. Between the 1940s and 1960s, (then) Calcutta came a close second as an urban setting — Do Bhiga Zameen (1953), Devdas (1955), Pyaasa (1957), Howrah Bridge (1958), Kabuliwala (1961) and Sahib, Bibi Aur Ghulam (1962) and even 36 Chowringhee Lane (1981), but the universe Hindi films operated within was mostly limited to Bombay. At times films traveled out of Mumbai to set a story — Ab Dilli Door Nahin (1957), Himalay Ki God Mein (1965), Love in Tokyo (1966), An Evening in Paris (1967), Johar Mehmood in Hong Kong (1971) and such where the terms were mostly dictated by the novelty factor in the title.
This began to change in the 2000s when the place a story became more than a location. Films such as Kabul Express (2006), Manorama Six Feet Under (2007), Dev D (2009), Ishiyqa (2010), Paan Singh Tomar (2012) are some examples where the setting played a critical role. It was around this period that Kolkata too began to make a comeback of sorts with Mani Ratnam’s Yuva (2004), and Pradeep Sarkar’s Parineeta (2005) and Sujoy Ghosh’s Kahaani (2012), which to a great extent initiated the era of the location as a character. Kahaani’s visual narrative manically mirrored the sentiment of the protagonist and everything right from the locations, the people on the streets, the iconic symbolism in the form of tram, traffic jams, Metro, hand-pulled rickshaws, Kumartuli craftsmen making clay idols, luchi and chai on the streets managed to capture the passion of Kolkata. It was in the same year, 2012, when Anurag Kashyap’s Gangs of Wasseypur, a revenge saga set in a locality in the mining city of Dhanbad, now Jharkhand but formerly Bihar and before that West Bengal, infused small-town India as a potent story-telling tool.
If the hinterland added an extra layer to Ishqiya, the setting of Jaipur tried to do the same in Suddh Desi Romance (2013) as Benaras in Raanjhanaa (2013), Kashmir in Haider (2014), the local politics of Gwalior in Revolver Rani (2014) and now in 2017 the small town has come into its own.
Ranging from a small nondescript town (Babumoshai Bandookbaaz) to the state capital Lucknow (Jolly LLB 2, Behen Hogi Teri), Uttar Pradesh found itself at the heart of this year’s popular Hindi films. Other popular cites of the state Jhansi (Badrinath Ki Dulhaniya), Bareilly (Bareilly Ki Barfi), Mathura (Toilet: Ek Prem Katha) and Varanasi (Mukti Bhawan) were also instrumental in creating the perfect ambiance. Unlike films like a Karm (1977) or a Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak (1988) where the setting of Chandigarh and Delhi was mostly perfunctory, a Mukti Bhawan and a Badrinath Ki Dulhaniya, which also featured Kota prominently, made full use of their settings. The emergency of Anaarkali of Aarah might not be as immediate had Aarah, Bihar, not been the setting or the town of McCluskieganj an element in Konkona Sen Sharma’s A Death in the Gunj. Take Bhopal out of Lipstick Under My Burkha and you’d see how it would rob the film of an extra dimension that makes it organic. Small-town India is the new landscape that is telling a whole new story both in terms of people and what makes them unique. It is said that any place is only as good (or bad) as the people in it but when a place becomes an idea, the journey then transforms into a mesmerizing experience.