The spectacular box-office success of films like Hum Aapke Hain Koun..!, Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai and Dil To Pagal Hai in the mid and late ’90s set in motion a virtual conveyor belt of so-called ‘NRI cinema’.
The essential ingredients of the NRI-friendly recipe comprised romantic subjects, A-list stars, wealthy or upper middle-class characters, melodious music, designer outfits and foreign locations, not just for song sequences but as integral settings for a substantial part – if not the entire duration – of the film. Kal Ho Naa Ho and Salaam Namaste come to mind as good, and successful, examples of the genre.
For long, that formula was considered the safest genre to dabble in and therefore has dominated our cinema for almost two decades. But, as with everything else in life, excess can only cause the law of diminishing returns to kick in.
What we have seen in the last few years or so is a decisive move away from the glossy, candy floss NRI romances to earthier, more localised themes and settings. We need look no further than the 2012 box office as proof of the pudding. From big-ticket films like Agneepath, Bol Bachchan, Rowdy Rathore, Barfi!, Son Of Sardaar and Dabangg 2 to smaller-budget projects like Ishaqzaade, Paan Singh Tomar, Vicky Donor, Gangs Of Wasseypur and Kahaani, the pendulum seems to have swung back to tales that our more likely to be set in Gwalior, Darjeeling or Ludhiana rather than Birmingham, Auckland or Los Angeles.
Of course, there were films that were ostensibly set abroad and still did well at the domestic box office – Housefull 2, Ek Tha Tiger and Jab Tak Hai Jaan. But here again the sensibilities that were sought to be indulged were undoubtedly desi. There can be no denying that the overarching trend in our narratives today is one of a return to roots.
In doing so, Hindi cinema could be said to be falling in line with the larger, macro story of the resurgence of small-town India. The growing purchasing power, voice and confidence of the India that exists beyond the metros and large cities is reflected in arenas as diverse as the nature of our television programming, the sales figures of premium automobiles, the lingo and sales pitch of our advertisements and the composition of our national cricket team.
It is, thus, only natural that our cinema has also evolved to represent – and cash in on – the current socio-economic milieu.