Bangalore woos filmmakers

Kerala movie producers find contemporary space in city

Bangalore woos filmmakers

Bangalore becomes  logical choice with Malayalam-speaking people having a good time.    


It’s tempting to reimagine “Bangalore Days” – writer-filmmaker Anjali Menon’s genre-defining Malayalam blockbuster of the year– as set in another city. If market patterns of the Malayalam film industry are any indication, we could be in for a flurry of eager pretenders; films that celebrate rom-com staples while treading new ground that this film has so convincingly broken.

An Evening in Chennai or Kochi on the Road may sound fancy as titles but, arguably, they come with a built-in handicap: their setting could lack the percei­ved young, cosmopolitan cool that Bangalore is inva­riably tagged with.

“Bangalore Days” tells the story of three cousins who find life and love in a new city. Divya (Nazriya Nazim) looks for warmth and companionship in a meticulously arranged marriage that progresses in a high-rise flat like a two-actor play with long pauses;

Krishnan (Nivin Pauly) carries a fistful of home while he hesitantly blends in with the excesses of an alien city he sees as too fast; for cynical, rebellious Arjun (Dulquer Salman), Bangalore doubles as a freer of spirit – “What a rocking city!” he gushes before moving in – and getaway from ghosts of a troubled past. It’s a breezy, coming-of-age story that could work in any metropolis; for the Malayali film viewer, perhaps, it works best in Bangalore.

Since the 1980s, Bangalore has been a natural choice for Malayalam filmmakers and screen writers who look for a young and contemporary space to set their stories in. It’s still an outsider’s take that often endorses the stereotypes of a beer-guzzling city that sleeps late; a green city with foggy mornings and a bustling high street, but it’s a portrayal that has found takers.

Roshni Harish, a Kochi-based PG student, says that at times it works like a tourism video that provides a glimpse of a bit of everything that the place is about but “that’s fine” as long as the backdrop doesn’t become intrusive.

“Bangalore has what it takes to be the perfect setting for a romance or a light-hearted entertainer. It’s strikingly different from a city like Kochi or Thiruvananthapuram but it’s also a city where anyone of us can find a place. As a film location, it probably holds that advantage of being a very different metro while at some levels, it also remains close and accessible for a viewer in Kerala,” she says.

Rekindling life

Johny Walker (1992), a Mammootty-starrer set in Bangalore, is about a young-at-heart planter getting back to college and rekindling life. Priyadarshan’s Vandanam (1989) has an under-cover cop (Mohanlal) romancing the daughter of a fugitive criminal he’s chasing (the city’s parks and its markedly less crowded roads provide backdrop for the songs).  In Naaduvaazhikal (1989), another re-telling of The Godfather, Mohanlal’s Arjun is the son shut out from the other life of his gangster father. He is shown riding bikes and generally having a good time; there is also a random mention about a course he’s doing in, of course, Bangalore.

These are settings and plot points that don’t quite call out for Bangalore but it’s perhaps the idea of local, Malayalam-speaking men and women having a fun in an alien city that makes Bangalore a logical choice. Having a good time, again, makes the critical difference.

“It’s all about perception. Malayalam films set in Bangalore have showed their characters as having fun at parties or hanging out in happy groups. It’s a half-reality that gets peddled while a large population of migrants who struggle to keep afloat here don’t always find themselves in these films,” says Bangalore-based IT professional Shiva­kumar Nair. “Bangalore Days”, he says, while reinstating popular perceptions on the city, also showcases it in fresh shades.

There are Malayalam films set in New Delhi, Mumbai and Chennai but the content comes decidedly darker; it feeds contention that filmmakers are only extending perceptions of viewers about cities they are not familiar with. The films with Mumbai as a backdrop – Aryan, Abhimanyu, Indrajalam, Orukkam and many more – invariably deal with crimes and cornered migrants who morph into gangland heroes.

The Delhi-centric films drift to politics while the ones set in Chennai derive humour from caricatures and cultural differences. 

Tarun J Thomas, product designer at a Thiruvananthapuram-based social enterprise, says the stereotyping in films also draws from life. “For the average Malayali, Bangalore is a city that represents everything fun and trendy and on that count, it’s the closest Metro he has access to. In fact, the stereotyping works both ways; there are suggestions in recent films that Bangalore offers an independence to the migrants that also encourages them to stray,” he says.

For him, “Bangalore Days” stands apart because the city is not set in monotone here and it means different things for the three male protagonists of the film: Arjun, Krishnan and Das (Fahadh Faasil).

Some of the more recent films set in Bangalore including 22 Female Kottayam (2012) – a dark, hard-hitting tale of a wronged nurse and her revenge – have tried to look beyond the parties and prettiness but the staple Bangalore fare continues to be a draw in Malayalam films. The stock shots of Vidhana Soudha and the MG Road promenade from older films have made way to RJs, coffee shop banter and Namma Metro.

As Bangalore transforms in popular imagination, it’s perhaps time for a tribute on film, says Roshni – an inclusive, bitter-sweet anthology of stories from the city that captures the many cities within.

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