For us, by us...

For us, by us...

Earthy films

For us, by us...

Real connect: Kangana Ranaut in ‘Tanu Weds Manu’The old man of the house sits on the terrace of his house in his white vest and pyjamas, reading a newspaper to the sound of Ameen Sayani’s scratchy voice on Vividh Bharati.

Shining red chillies dry on an old bed sheet. A cavalcade of cycle rickshaws groans its way through narrow bylanes where halwais fry jalebis in large iron kadahis. A smoking kachua chaap keeps mosquitoes at bay while a young man sprawls on a charpai on the chatt under a pale yellow moon, and listens to Mohammad Rafi’s caressing voice singing Teri aankhon ke siva duniya mein rakha kya hai. These are vignettes of the middle class India you and I grew up in. They have somehow escaped the D drive of our memories and are now showing at a cinema hall nearby.

Creativity unleashed

A handful of new Bollywood film directors, who grew up in India’s small towns, have stormed the suffocatingly sophisticated bastion of Karan Johar and Aditya Chopra and are telling us our own stories, set in our own galis and mohallas, in a time that still ticks in our consciousness and will probably be lost forever after age and Alzheimer’s claim our generation. This is democracy at its most creative. And though most of us have migrated a long time back to air conditioned offices and foreign shores, we can never forget where we came from.

Not only are these maverick directors extending a friendly arm across our shoulders and taking us back to a railway station called Kanpur Central, a bhangra blaring wedding at Kapurthala, a sitting room with ceramic sinks and flaking plaster in Sahibabad, a narrow kitchen with plastic casseroles and a steel filter dispensing drinking water in Lucknow; they are also documenting sociological change. In a scene from Tanu Weds Manu, when the bold and ‘I-feel-I-am-irresistibly-beautiful’ Tanu corners her friend’s brother, demanding a hard drink, he incredulously asks: “Kiske saath lengi? Soda ya cold-drink” (sic) (What will you have it with? Soda or cold drink?). She takes a swig from his bottle and answers: “Neatahi nahin suna kya!” (Haven’t you heard of drinking ‘neat’)  

There is also a Hindi film hero we have only recently been introduced to in reel life (we’ve met him a dozen times before in real life but just didn’t feel he was hero material). He is far removed from the Aston Martin driving scion of a rich industrial family who holidays in the Swiss Alps with a white cashmere sweater draped around his neck and lands his twin engine Cessna in his dad’s private villa. This guy pronounces business as “bin-ness”, has family owned sugarcane fields in Saharanpur, refers to flirting as “line maarna”, calls a one night stand with the heroine a “kaand” and talks (mostly nonsense) with his mouth full of bread pakora. Both this far-from-perfect leading actor, as well as the director of his film, have risen from India’s 50 million strong middle class, and we’re meeting them, thanks to this refreshing wave of relatively realistic cinema.

The vocabulary of Vishal Bhardwaj, the west Delhi imagery of Maneesh Sharma, the sensibility of Anurag Kashyap and the small town humour of Aanand L Rai is delightful to those who can identify with it. De ke batayen, ya le ke (shall I tell you by stealing one or giving on) says Deepak Dobriyal’s flirtatious Pappi (which means kiss in Hindi) when a comely beauty asks him his name in the film Tanu Weds Manu. Cheap roadside humour (said in the nicest possible way) can only come from someone who has ridden a cycle rickshaw, sampled a kulfi from a thela and made a second sleeper train journey to Jammu (for Vaishno Devi) singing songs with his joint family. These are amongst the many experiential prerequisites for directors who can stake claim to the creative power to take us to weddings where dusky Heers and boisterous Ranjha’s flirt over antakshari, where romance is conveyed via stolen glances over packets of wafers and folk songs like Jab Kanpur ka chaand, chamki hai Dilli ke raat pe; Tab manu bhaiya ka kari hai (When Kanpur’s moon shines on a Delhi sky, what will Manu bhaiya do) in crowded compartments of chugging trains that uncoil like massive red snakes over flat green fields.

No way could anyone who does not come from the middle class have made these earthy films where nobody air kisses, calls each other “dahling” and sings songs about broken emotional ties in designer clothes before gilded family portraits. Salman Khan’s Chulbul Pandey (could Karan have even come up with the name, leave alone the film) compliments his Dabbang heroine by telling her “badi jabrat dikhti ho”  (‘you look smashing’ just can’t convey the raunchy emotion). Kangana Ranaut’s totally wild Tanu calls a sultry song playing in the car “tharki” much to the embarrassment of Madhavan’s cultured NRI looking for a bride in Tanu Weds Manu. And hero Ranveer Singh — Bitto — cheekily hurls a “Fakkad Kakkad” (bankrupt Kakkad) at heroine Anushka’s Shruti Kakkar in Band Bajaa Baaraat when he is annoyed.  

The reason why we, the middle class, identify more with these reassuringly imperfect people than with Mr Richie Rich in Amsterdam is not difficult to guess. They have grown up in the same towns that many of us did, they have studied in the same colleges, they hold the same values and aspirations that we do. And probably the same goes for the directors of their films. Many shabaashs to this new breed of story tellers. Some of your films may flop, some may bomb, you may falter, but do walk some more.

Continue to take us by the hand to the India where we came from. Nudge us back into the towns where we belong. Or where we belonged — once upon a time, not too far away in our memories. Bring on the fluttering kites stuck in electricity wires overhead, the jalebis and the kulfis, the Mohammad Rafi songs, the Tanus and Manus and the Pappies. Bring on the nostalgia. We’re all suckers for small town India.