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?