Until a few years ago, most Bollywood stories were either set in locations abroad (Switzerland and London being at the top of the list), or in Delhi or Mumbai. Our protagonists lived abroad but couldn’t forget their ‘mitti ki khushboo’ or they couldn’t cope up with the fast life of Mumbai/Delhi. Of course, some cities like Varanasi, Kashmir and Kolkata were highlighted once in a while but mostly metros ruled in films.
But 2017 has been different. This year, small cities are a big hit among writers and filmmakers. Starting from Babumoshai Bandookbaaz, which was based in a small town in Uttar Pradesh, Jolly LLB 2 and Behen Hogi Teri in Lucknow, Running Shaadi in Amritsar, Badrinath Ki Dulhania in Jhansi, Anaarkali of Aarah (Aarah, Bihar), Lipstick under My Burkha in Bhopal, Toilet Ek Prem Katha in Mathura, Bareilly Ki Barfi in Bareilly, to Bhoomi in Agra, the list goes on. There are a few other films in the pipeline which too revolve around small towns.
Writers and filmmakers have been highlighting the flavours of these cities, their mannerisms, lifestyle and nuances. Industry insiders say that filmmakers are trying to capture real people and real stories and most of the interesting stories come from smaller towns and cities of the country. Like the scene in Bareilly Ki Barfi, where all the characters are shown chewing paan while conversing with each other (a sight one will find in the North).
Explaining the fascination for smaller cities, director Amit Masurkar, whose film Newton is based in the Naxal-affected area of Chhattisgarh, says, “In the ’90s, we targeted NRI stories but most of us couldn’t afford going to such places. But now because most Indians have access to money and can travel abroad for holidays, they have lost interest in foreign lands.”
Shubh Mangal Savdhaan director R S Prasanna says that majority of the audience today enjoys Indian stories which are rooted. “There was a time when the middle class was pushed to the background but now it is emerging back in our stories. Also, some of the greatest stories come from the roots and we are highlighting those stories now,” he says.
Lipstick Under My Burkha spelt out the definition of freedom for five small town women, Toilet.... highlighted the importance of sanitation for women, Anaarkali... was about a strong small-town erotic folk dancer who stands up against the local corporator for her rights.
Actor Darshan Kumar who has worked in films like Mary Kom and Sarbjit says, “Each of these films has touched upon some subject or the other. Films like Toilet are creating awareness about important subjects, which has appealed to the audience. We need new stories at the end of the day.”
And while these films are based in small cities, they have made huge collections at the box office across India, which shows the interest our audience has in these kinds of stories. A win-win situation for all.