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Mumbai Vs Delhi In The Movies

Mumbai Vs Delhi In The Movies

January 14, 2011

A common coffee table debate, now also a consideration for film shoots.

Mumbai was always Bollywood’s muse. Being the film capital, it was but natural that most films were centered in Mumbai. For years, film makers shotwed the sweeping skyline of Marine Drive, their lenses made love to the waves crashing against its shores and many first shots were about the lead character landing up at the iconic Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus. They explored its myriad moods and sang odes to its complexity.

The 80’s hero was a classic Mumbai tapori (street ruffian) with his street smart ways and Bambaiya Hindi. The 90’s was all about the city’s infamous underworld. This trend continued into the next millennium with the Company and Sarkar series in 2000. Oscar nominated films like Slumdog Millionaire and Salaam Bombay were all about the Mumbai’s underbelly. To add a dash of colour, filmmakers threw in a fisherwoman dance sequence or a song shot in the famous Dhobi Ghaat of Mumbai (remember Aa Dhoop Malun Main from Fiza?). Most college romances were filmed at either Xavier’s, Sofia’s or Wilson college campuses.

In times gone by, the location was just incidental. In contrast, today’s movies use the location to tell a story. So if your story is about terror or the underworld, now filmmakers distinctly show the shades of the city and how the character of the city lends itself to the particular story. So a Black Friday has a brilliant chase sequence showing the slums of Mumbai, and Aamir has to show the character of the Muslim neighbourhoods to show the lead character’s conflict around the faith he grew up with. Both movies show the city in a raw form, just as it is. The latest Kiran Rao movie though takes it to a new level, with shots of the city as seen through a handycam - the perfect way to show the city with all its rough edges.

While Mumbai and Delhi have always competed in all other fields, Mumbai’s supremacy as a film location had remained unchallenged till now. Yes, there were the detours to Switzerland and Kashmir for love songs, but the basic location was predominantly Mumbai. But in the last few years, with the advent of filmmakers like Rakeysh Om Prakash and Dibakar Bannerjee, Delhi has suddenly become a huge draw for film shoots. In fact, Delhi has become the new location for love. With its wide roads and iconic monuments, it provides the perfect backdrop for romantic songs.

Perhaps the film that first presented a modern, stylised Delhi was Rang De Basanti. The film being a political one, inevitably had to be based in India’s political capital. Delhi 6 on the other hand, shows a romanticised version of Delhi. A city caught in the glory of its past and inching towards a globalised future, a reality of all Indian metros today. Dibakar Bannerjee’s movies however present the underbelly of Delhi effectively. Khosla Ka Ghosla is a brash depiction of the land mafia nexus. In Oye Lucky, Lucky Oye, Bannerjee explores the attitudes of South Delhi’s middle class, a perfect example of which is Archana Puran Singh’s character. While Love, Sex aur Dhokha talks about the everyday crime and sex rackets in the capital.

Another film maker who swears by Delhi for his romantic outings is Imtiaz Ali. His Love Aaj Kal explores the city in a lovers’ day out song. Most of his films have centered around North India. But its not just the beautiful monuments and old neighbourhoods that capture the attention of the filmmakers. Delhi with its distinct Jaat lingo presents a unique auditory experience. The recent Band Baaja Baarat is a perfect example of the joy of Dilli lingo. In fact most of the recent hit songs are the typical brash Punjabi numbers. Thought unlike in the 80’s, these are not folksy Bhangra numbers, but songs with the kind of sound you would hear emanating from a car speeding by on a Delhi highway.

Filmmakers maintain that they do not have any favouritism when it comes to which city to shoot in. They of course say it was influenced by the demands of the script. However, in the last few years, there seems to be a clear divide with many experimental filmmakers choosing Delhi as their base, whereas Mumbai still gets the lion’s share of commercial masala flicks. The winner here of course is cinematography, as filmmakers now prefer to let their cameras linger on the character of the city, using the city as a means to take their story forward. With many future projects planned in Delhi, one wonders which city would be the future film capital of the country.

Which is your favourite city and which movie do you think depicts it the best?


  • Saik
    16.07.11 01:01 PM
    It's definitely Delhi, for the moment. Mumbai as a backdrop for movies has been done to death. It's only in the last decade or so that film makers are portraying Mumbai in it's true form, and not in a glamourous, sugar-coated, upmarket location. Think Black Friday, Mumbai Meri Jaan, Kaminey, Aamir, Dhobi Ghat. Delhi, however, has a flavour of it's own, especially the punjabi-haryanvi accents, the facade of arrogance and of course, the loud and boisterous marriages. Khosla Ka Ghosla, Dev D, Oye Lucky Lucky Oye, Do Dooni Chaar, LSD, Band Baaja Baraat... all of these were populated with characters you would actually see in the streets and localities (especially middle class) of Delhi. Other than these, I remember Iqbal had a hint of Hyderabadi flavour. It must be the story that goes with locations... A Khosla in Mumbai would have seemed as out of place as an Aamir in, say, Delhi.
  • sumeet
    16.02.11 03:39 PM
    Interesting article. I am from Mumbai but have got tired seeing Mumbai in films. Delhi with its better roads & greenary is better draw for me.
  • Jassi
    14.01.11 08:54 PM
    It's great that Delhi is getting used more and more as a movie location. Not only does it add to the storyline but also the flavour, feel and language of the film. It would be even greater if other Indian cities also got a look in. I'm sure Chandigargh, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Varanasi, Cochin, Shimla, Kolkotta etc all have something fresh and interesting to offer filmmakers, writers and audiences.
  • Sourav Roy
    Sourav Roy
    14.01.11 09:05 AM
    Nice article!

    It is difficult to claim which city is my favourite. However, I loved the depiction of the city in Delhi 6.

    I'd love to see more films set in the other urban cities of the country, the way Udaan was set in Jamshedpur. I'd like to see more films based on cities like Bangalore and Hyderabad. With majority of films based in Delhi and Mumbai, we tend to overlook the urban life in the other parts of the country :)
  • satya
    14.01.11 08:46 AM
    this is very interesting perspective ... i love watching movies but it makes more sense now how the city is chosen ... excellent writeup ... thanks for sharing

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