Chalo, Delhi!
By Khalid Mohamed
Friday, May 18, 2012

No one runs around trees in Bollywood movies anymore, they run around monuments — and the ones in the Indian capital are in top demand

Quite clearly, New Delhi, India’s capital, has steadily replaced Switzerland, London and Mumbai as Bollywood’s preferred location for film shootings. In fact, a brand-new genre has emerged — Delhi-centric cinema — which deals with the specific aspirations and anxieties of the middle-class colonies there. These seem to have a national resonance, be 
it a family’s long-cherished dream to own a car, or 
the heartbreak behind 
the planning of a big fat Indian wedding.

Of course, the frontline movie barons continue to zip off to the English meadows, like Yash Chopra did lately for his remake of Daag with Shah Rukh Khan-Katrina Kaif-Anushka Sharma. Salman Khan spent weeks in Cuba for his upcoming action thriller Ek Tha Tiger. And Karan Johar has just returned from Bangkok after a lengthy schedule for Student of the Year, which will present a gifted batch of newcomers. The moneybag producers can still afford to jet off to exotic locations. As for 
the more cash-strapped productions, Delhi has doubtlessly become the prime destination.

Incidentally, the capital and its surrounding areas — Gurgaon and Noida — boast of a higher number of multiplexes than any other part of the nation. Also the dos and don’ts for film units dictated by the central government’s authorities appear to have been relaxed. Once upon a time, it was only Yash Chopra who, after much string-pulling, was permitted to film key sequences in the Lodhi Gardens with Rekha-Jaya-Bachchan for Silsila.

Today, besides the scenic gardens, the capital’s India Gate, Qutub Minar, the 
Metro rail and assorted sites with ancient monuments are open to Bollywood. For sure, hefty payments for a day’s shoot are demanded by the civic authorities, but these are infinitely lower than the fees charged in Mumbai. According to most producers, it is far more expensive to film in Mumbai, the home of Bollywood, than it is in any other Indian city or even abroad. Dubai and the UK are extremely Bollywood-friendly, but with the spiralling price rates in air travel and foreign exchange fluctuations, the capital is the next-best alternative.

The fact that high-profile hits shot in and around 
the capital have caught the audience eye has also added to the chalo-Delhi trend. Among these, the most obvious examples 
are Mira Nair’s Monsoon Wedding, Rakeysh Mehra’s Rang De Basanti and Delhi 6, Kunal Kohli’s Fanaa, Farhan Akhtar’s Lakshya, the Aamir Khan-produced Delhi Belly and Anurag Kashyap’s Dev D. The few which did not effectively use the capital’s backdrop gainfully was the Akshay Kumar flop Chandni Chowk to China Gate and more 
recently, the Saif Ali Khan ersatz Bond flick Agent Vinod, both of which suffered from haphazard screenplays and direction.

Of the successful 
Delhi-rooted hits, Do Dooni Char was a groundbreaker. Featuring senior actors Rishi Kapoor and Neetu Singh Kapoor in the lead 
as a couple who are coerced to keep pace with the materialism of their colony’s neighbours, the relatively small-budget film was remarkable for its witty dialogue, a realistic approach and the gritty camerawork, revealing the pretty as well as gangrenous aspects of a crowded neighbourhood. The look at the bogus coaching classes, fast-food joints and the ingenuous way in which a nuclear family resides in claustrophobic space, instantly connected with a wide all-India audience.

The peppy entertainer Band Baaja Baaraat was an affectionate tribute to the entrepreneurship of a young couple who manage a wedding-planning establishment. The atmosphere was in sync with the daily hustle-bustle in an area like Karol Bagh. Next: another surprise hit Vicky Donor mentioned Lajpat Nagar and Daryaganj as its locations. The eponymous Vicky was typical of the aggressive young men, unemployed but with the gift of the gab and a flair to make a quick buck in any which way feasible. The traditional values of livewire Punjabi men and old ladies were contrasted with the cultural temperaments of the Bengali residents of the C R Park colony. A smart move by director Shoojit Sircar: this cultural conflict had the audiences in splits.

The recently-released Jannat 2, despite its abundant flaws, was impressive for exposing the untold crimes which go on beyond the closed doors of the capital — in this case, gun-running. One of its most effective passages depicts a boozed-out cop torturing a suspected criminal on 
the India Gate stretch as cars just whizz by indifferently. A song picturised in and around Qutub Minar may not have been extraordinary but it did convey 
the point that Delhi’s monuments can be as striking 
as the Eiffel Tower or the Alps, which have been ceaselessly photograph-
ed for song interludes. No one runs around trees anymore, they run around monuments.

Mumbai’s movie units are all over Delhi streets, farmhouses, subway trains and chrysanthemum gardens. A welcome change at last.

(The writer has been reviewing Bollywood  for decades, has scripted three films and directed three others.)

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