My Yahoo! Movies column, first published here.
As John Abraham navigates protest groups to start his battle against Sri Lanka-based terrorist groups, a Café named after an erstwhile Indian city seems to be the epicentre of it all. It is, therefore, opportune for us to look at other Indian cities which have made it to titles of movies.
The capital of Bollywood has several notable films named after it – the latest one having a rather curious history. Love In Bombay was directed and produced by Joy Mukherjee in 1971 – at a time when his value as a romantic hero was seriously undermined by Rajesh Khanna – to bring back the glory of his Love In Tokyo and Love In Shimla. The Bombay episode never found a release when it was made but Joy’s sons managed to release it in 2013. The film had some of the frothy charm that made the 1970s romantic musicals famous but it was quite dated and did not get a wide viewership.
Also starring Waheeda Rehman and Kishore Kumar, the film had a convoluted plot involving a shipwreck and a deserted island before landing up on Marine Drive.
Long before Mr India graced our screens, we had an invisibility caper – Mr X In Bombay. Starring Kishore Kumar, it was about a scientist discovering an invisibility potion and the jilted Kishore drinking it to ‘commit suicide’. He became invisible while people (especially his lady love) heard him and thought it was his bhaTakti aatma which was singing Mere mehboob qayamat hogi.
By the way, the above hit song was supposed to be his swansong as he sang it while mournfully walking around Taj Hotel and Gateway of India.
Mumbai Express was Kamal Hassan. Before you think that Kamal put on prosthetic makeup and played a train (which, I am sure, he is capable of) – I have to divulge that Mumbai Express was merely his nickname and he was a deaf bike stuntman in the movie.
Made in both Tamil and Hindi, it was the story of the stuntman kidnapping a wrong boy and getting chased by all and sundry. Starting from the slums of Dharavi, it made the usual twists and turns (and some unusual ones as well) in anonymous parts of the city before settling down to become a flop.
Four of India’s most successful filmmakers – Karan Johar, Dibakar Banerjee, Zoya Akhtar and Anurag Kashyap – came together to make a portmanteau of short films, all celebrating the impact of Hindi movies on our lives. And the film couldn’t have been set anywhere except Bombay. And it couldn’t have been called anything except Bombay Talkies.
An executive out of love with his wife but in love with Madan Mohan. An out-of-work chawl-dweller finding meaning in a bit part. A boy who wants to be a dream girl. A small-town boy who wants to meet Amitabh Bachchan. Bombay was a bewitching, bewildering, heartless, heartbreaking presence in all four stories.
Delhi is fast replacing Bombay as the city of choice for filmmakers to set their stories in.
Kishore Kumar acted in a film called New Delhi in 1956, known for the Nakhrewali song.
Jeetendra also acted in a film called New Delhi in 1987, known for having no songs. Jeetendra played the editor of a newspaper who used an undercover journalist to get back at his enemies with devastating effect.
While on the subject of newspapers, we can also count Ramesh Sharma’s New Delhi Times, written by Gulzar and acted in by Shashi Kapoor and Sharmila Tagore. Shashi played the editor of the newspaper, who starts investigating a series of hooch deaths and ends up unravelling a lot more.
Diamonds and shit made a lethal combination as three Delhi boys went about covering their asses in Delhi Belly. Imran Khan, Kunal Roy Kapur and Vir Das navigated through typical Delhi settings like Gurgaon high-rises, Daryaganj jewellery shops and boisterous farmhouse parties.
While you can argue the story could have been set in any other city, the director made the Delhi connection abundantly clear when a seemingly cool dude pulled out a gun at the slightest provocation and chased our hero’s Santro in a SUV. All this while Sweety sweety sweety tera pyaar chahida blared on the soundtrack!
While on the topic of high-rises, we have Delhii Heights – a movie about the residents of a posh apartment block called Sea Rock. (Sigh. Of course not, yaar!) Marking Rabbi Shergill’s debut as a Bollywood music director, it had another Shergill – Jimmy – as the male lead opposite Neha Dhupia. They were a DINK couple who worked for ‘rival companies’ and grappled with all the attendant tension that brought about. Add to that a boisterous Sardarji (is there any other kind?), a cricket bookie and a flirtatious husband suffered by a long-suffering wife – and you pretty much have all the Delhi stereotypes all stitched up.
Delhi’s oldest and most distinctive quarters were immortalised in the title of Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s Delhi 6. A foreign-returned offspring of an old-timer clashed with the residents as the history of the serpentine alleys clashed with the modernity of the Delhi Metro snaking underneath them. Abhishek Bachchan was very good as the outsider while Sonam Kapoor was very good as the insider waiting to get out. The show was taken away by the character artistes who populated the grimy yet sweet scenery of Chandni Chowk.
While Calcutta has been the setting of many Bollywood movies, not many have named the city in the title. Except for Calcutta Mail, I am hard pressed to think of another one (unless you count Howrah Bridge). Sudhir Mishra directed Calcutta Mail, a thriller in which Anil Kapoor played a harried dad looking for his son in Calcutta before actions of his past life catch up and force him to escape. The seamy underbelly of Calcutta was photographed brilliantly even though the initial tensions dissipated somewhat towards the end.
Timetable Alert: There cannot be any train called Calcutta Mail because there is no station by the name. The metropolis is serviced by two large stations – Howrah and Sealdah.
In Bhopal Express, Kay Kay Menon played an auto driver, plying his three-wheeler in 1980s Bhopal as the world’s worst industrial accident ticked like a time-bomb in the background. His life, his love for his wife, his grudging liking for his city were brought about nicely in ad filmmaker Mahesh Mathai’s debut film – an offbeat effort of the late 1990s.
Illustrious Crew Alert: Noted adman Piyush Pandey and his brother Prasoon Pandey wrote the film while Zoya Akhtar did the casting of the junior artistes. Homi Adjania (of Cocktail and Being Cyrus fame) was the Assistant Director.
Strictly speaking, it is not a town. It was a suburb of Dhanbad town in Jharkhand, which has now come to become a part of the town itself. Zeishan Qadri, a boy who grew up in the suburb, went to Mumbai to try his luck in films and in the free time between auditions, he wrote a story about his hometown. As luck would have it, his story got heard and then picked up by Anurag Kashyap. That’s how, we got to know about the Gangs of Wasseypur.