Back To Basics

After over-the-top dramas and slick urban stories, Hindi cinema is drawing inspiration from small-town India


Hindi cinema is fast evolving even as the industry grapples with keeping its finger on the pulse of changing audience tastes. Despite this uncertainty, one thing’s certain – larger-than-life dramas that inspired flights of fantasy in the audience are passe. Hindi movies are no longer aspirational, at least, not in the traditional sense of the term.

So, out with dream sequences in foreign locations and uber-cool urban settings as shown in films like Student Of The Year, Jab We Met, 2 States, 3 Idiots, OK Jaanu and many others. It seems Dangal, which released in December 2016, was a turning point. The film seems to have struck a desi chord and set off a trend where stories that are grounded and simple in terms of their setting are capturing the audience’s hearts. Take a look at the success stories that released this year and their performance at the ticket counter.

The year 2017 started with two superstars, Shah Rukh Khan and Hrithik Roshan, coming out with decently successful films like Raees and Kaabil. Both films were not only set against the most basic backdrops but also presented heroes that the audience could easily relate to. These two movies were followed by films like Jolly LLB 2, Badrinath Ki Dulhania, Tubelight, Hindi Medium, Toilet – Ek Prem Katha, Bareilly Ki Barfi, Shubh Mangal Saavdhan and several others.

Interestingly, while almost every filmmaker is trying to elbow their way to the `100-crore club, the top four films in the `300-crore club – Salman Khan’s Bajrangi Bhaijaan and Sultan and Aamir Khan’s PK and Dangal, featured somewhat rustic concepts.

The recent line-up of films makes one wonder whether there is a deliberate shift towards cinema that connects with the Indian audience at a basic level. Or is it pure coincidence that we have a slew of ‘grounded scripts’ making their way to the silver screen in quick succession?

To shed some light on this, we spoke to experts from the industry. Here’s what they had to say:


I have never deliberately placed a film in a rural setting; it has happened naturally. I have made no attempt to ‘Indianise’ a storyline to make it more appealing. It is the world in which the story is set that attracts me. Whenever one forces something, it is bound to backfire. This year, people have been connecting with ethnic storylines and things have been flowing in that direction naturally. But we have to be careful not to push too much in that direction.


Many of our current films have been shot at beautiful locations in our country. For instance, my wife shot major portions of both her films in unseen locations in India. The location of a story in our Hindi films usually turns out to be a character in the film. So, if you want your film to look convincing, it is important to shoot within the country. It helps the audience connect with the film easily.

Our films have always had small towns as their backdrop but it’s only recently that movie-goers have begun to appreciate films with these settings. Perhaps that’s why films like Hindi Medium, Noor, Bhoomi, and Chef have towns as an integral part of their storytelling.


This is not the first time films are being shot in India; we shoot overseas only when we are offered tax benefits. It majorly depends on the script of the film. Last year, we had a lot of films that were shot in India but if the story requires the film to have a foreign country as its backdrop, we go for it. Nowadays, audiences are accepting good scripts. It is more about ‘film following’ than ‘fan following’. People are looking for content. Films like Baahubali have proved that people will watch a film only if it has strong content. No one knew who Prabhas was in other parts of the country before this film released. Recently, Hindi Medium and Bareilly Ki Barfi have made a mark.


I have written and directed 19 movies, of which only four movies were shot abroad. Pardes, Taal, Yaadien and Yuvraaj were films where locations were the part of the stories. In Pardes and Taal, the characters had to travel abroad, and in Yaadien, they were NRIs. I prefer to shoot in India as we tell stories of Indian people. Also, we know these people who are connected with their roots. The fascination for foreign locations is just a personal fascination; it is no longer a fascination with the audience, with social media growing.


For me, it is always the story and the characters that should dictate the location and not vice versa. If the story doesn’t really demand a particular location, then there is merit in setting it up in a location that allows the characters to flourish and the story to be told more interestingly. In that case, small – or mid-town India is getting chosen more often now because it has a distinct and charming appeal that people haven’t experienced much. That adds to the overall freshness in the film.


It’s not a new phenomenon. In the last 5-6 years, films have actually been centred on small towns and real characters. In my films, locations play a very important character.


I think as filmmakers we still do not know what will work but a lot of us have finally begun looking for inspiration from within India. Stories, both real and fictional, articles and anecdotes. I don’t think it’s only about desi versus foreign, even in Baazaar, we are making a film about India, about Mumbai and power, money, rules that are always broken. Once again, as filmmakers, we chose to take inspiration from real life incidents that have rocked the financial markets.


That’s the real India. What connects with the audience is a good story. It’s true that more films are being shot within India. There’s a bunch of new filmmakers who are setting their films in India. People are identifying with those stories more and more because those films are about our problems, our celebrations. So they are more rooted in our society and that is why they are connecting with people better. I have only shot Thathastu in India. Most of my movies have been shot abroad. And I am shooting in India next month. The reason is that I got a little tired of stories that were set abroad. So it happened organically.


I go by the stories I write. Having grown up in Nashik, I am aware of the stories which are based in India and I feel that it helps when you have a connection to these stories. But I also believe that if a story naturally comes from abroad, it should be based there. For me, I try and write stories that are realistic and based on my life experiences or the people I know. And these happen to be from India or ‘small India’ and that’s why I base all my stories here. Also, small-town India has a very nice flavor to their language, which is very exciting. For example, stories that are set in Punjab, UP, Delhi or Rajasthan.

These communities use a very interesting choice of words in their day to day lives, which makes the film quirky and funny at times. Also, small-town people are not diplomatic, they just speak their hearts out. It is exciting for a filmmaker to pick up these characters because there are no filters.


Before the Internet, people knew very little about the world but, now, the irony is that they know more about the world than they do about India! That’s why people are surprised to learn about the Indian heartland. For example, most people in India weren’t aware that people in remote areas of the country still faced sanitation problems till Toilet – Ek Prem Katha released. After Tanu Weds Manu, people realised that women even in small towns smoke and drink. Small-town stories have become a selling point in Bollywood because people are bored of foreign locales. The best part is that the audience can relate to the characters in places like these because they are real.


Content-wise, we want the audience to connect with our films. So, largely, we are making films that are true and fact-based, hence we need to show the actual locations that support the film.


Yes, there is a trend towards making ‘desi films’ and I am extremely happy to see filmmakers telling Indian stories. I think this comes from the fact that, at the end of the day, most Indians prefer daal-roti-chawal to pizza, pasta and sushi. I hope this trend continues because so many Indian families who stopped coming to cinemas for lack of relatable content now have good reason to come back and have a good time watching characters they can identify with.


When we have big stars featuring in a movie and they have limited time, we limit ourselves to shooting within the country, and we try to give our best in that restricted time. Now we shoot abroad where we get subsidies. Earlier, too, we used to go abroad to shoot songs, which was like a vacation for the stars. Nowadays, real stories are been made and the content demands locations in India.


Content always works, regardless of where it is shot. The subject has to be relevant to the audience. And since the Indian audience relates to subjects set in their own country, Indianised content works. And issues in rural areas increase awareness.


The reason filmmakers shoot abroad is to introduce some variety on screen. They want their movies to look good. In stark contrast to this is a movie like Baahubali, which was picturised completely in India. The ultimate objective is for a movie to turn out well, regardless of whether or not it is urbanised. If Baahubali can work, then any good film can work. Toilet – Ek Prem Katha, which released recently, is also based in India and is doing very well. The reason topics relating to India are getting more and more popular because we are finally talking about issues plaguing the country and people are appreciating it.


We are witnessing this trend because there aren’t many other scripts available right now. It is becoming a trend to woo the masses and the classes in a traditional way. People are beginning to enjoy family-oriented movies. Toilet – Ek Prem Katha is a family oriented movie as is Badrinath Ki Dulhania. Kaabil is a drama and a family movie. Jolly LLB 2 can also be watched by the family. It is the time of family oriented movies, and filmmakers are assuming that if they give an Indian touch to their movies, the audience will turn out in good numbers, at least on weekends. The connection with the audience matters more than ever before. Even Baahubali is a movie that you can watch with friends or family. It is a very traditional movie.


Change is constant and is clearly visible in the content of movies. If a story demands overseas locations, the director will go for it, or else, there’s no point spending so much when the quality of the product is not guaranteed. That would needlessly increase production costs, and nowadays everything is driven by budgets. All the movies in question are based on local issues.


Everything depends on the script. Right now, many of the movies that have released recently are based in small towns of Uttar Pradesh and the like. The reason these movies don’t feature fancy locations is that their stories are rooted in Indian culture and small towns. Likewise, when a story is set in a city, it is urbanised. It is the content that makes the audience like these movies. When the audience feels connected to a story, it does not matter where the film has been set .


I think stories are coming out of places like these as opposed to deliberately deciding to set them there. Switzerland has toilets, so you couldn’t set TEPK there. The cities have toilets too, so the choice would be a smaller town or village. Yes, it probably helps to connect with the audience more, although people also like films where the hero hires jets and flies to Europe.

Box Office India
Collection Chart
As on 16th December, 2017
Fukrey Returns146.93CR46.93CR
Sallu Ki Shaadi102.22LK02.22LK
Galti Sirf Tumhari12.29LK2.29LK
Game Over102.97LK02.97LK
Pyar Se Bolo Devaa110.00K10.00K

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