The Evolution of Locations in Bollywood

GUEST COLUMN

The Evolution of Locations in Bollywood​​

– Anish Desai

If any of you have been long-time Bollywood fans like I have been, I am sure you have noticed the evolution of locations in Hindi movies over the last several decades.

I started watching movies as a very young kid in the late seventies and eighties and made it a point to catch up on some of the older ones on our Sony Betamax VCR as well. My memories of the fun movies from the 60s are of a dashing Shammi Kapoor going to hilly locales in India like Kashmir, Shimla, Mussoorie and Nainital, where he would woo a young pretty heroine like Saira Banu, Sharmila Tagore or Kalpana, partake in some melodious songs until the interval at which point a Pran or Premnath would make his entry to make things interesting and then all would be well at the end. So Indian “hill stations” were the go-to places back then and this trend continued well into the early eighties.

Somewhere around the seventies Mumbai (or Bombay back then) became the staple representation of all things urban in the movies. This trend of course started much earlier as witnessed in classic songs like “Ae Dil Hai Mushkil” but Bombay came into its own at around the same time as Mr Bachchan and became synonymous with all things action. Think Deewar, Zanjeer, Majboor, Amar Akbar Anthony, Don and Shaan. The motor-cycle rides on Marine drive, various “bastis”, and Juhu beach are all landmarks in various Amitabh movies that many of us who grew up in that era have etched in our collective memories.

This Bombay became “the” Mumbai somewhere around the eighties (officially in 1995 though) and the city became the backdrop of several crime and mafia potboilers, Parinda being perhaps the most iconic of them all but one can also add Arjun, Satya, Nayakan (or its Hindi remake Dayavan) and several Mahesh Bhatt movies like Naam, Sadak and Kabzaa. 

At around the same time Delhi was popularized (mostly) by Yash Chopra as the place of opulence in movies like Kabhi Kabhie, Trishul, Silsila and Chandni. The wide roads, the local flavor and various historical monuments made for some very scenic background even as recently as in Fanaa.

Talking about Yash Chopra, he arguably has had more influence than any other filmmaker in setting trends for movies as far as locations were concerned. His iconic Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge essentially kicked off two completely separate trends: one was that of Punjab and its “mitti di khushboo” (translates roughly to “feel/flavor of the nativity”), and the other was, of course, the “NRI” movie.

Let’s start with the latter. Starting in the mid-nineties (and for more than a decade since), stepping into a theatre to watch a movie made by Yash Raj, Karan Johar, etc, meant taking a tour of some of the most picturesque locations in the UK and other parts of Europe, as well as later the US, Australia, Malaysia and of course my first home Dubai. In an extreme case, a Tamil song Poovukkul from the movie Jeans was actually shot in China, the US, Italy, France, Egypt and India. And Yash Chopra has single-handedly given such a huge boost to Switzerland’s tourism industry that they have feted him multiple times: including naming a train after him, putting up his bronze statue and giving him the title of Ambassador of Interlaken.

The other trend of course was the Punjab “effect”, which was originally started in the Doordarshan serial by Ramesh Sippy Buniyaad but came into its own in DDLJ. After that every third movie had a “Parjaiji” (sister-in-law) and no-one leaves the house without doing “pairi pauna” (touching the feet) of their elders like in Pyar Toh Hona Hi Tha, Jab We Met, Dil Bole Hadippa, Mausam etc. 

Coming to the most recent trend in Bollywood, the funny-love-story-set-in-a-small-town-in-North-India has become a genre in itself. This was arguably started by Band Baaja Baaraat (YRF again). The most noticeable part of these movies is that they are set in non-metro towns like Kanpur, Bhopal, Varanasi, etc. Also, everyone speaks in the local dialect and there are a whole lot of characters with very strong opinions, witness: Bareilly Ki Barfi, Badrinath Ki Dulhania, Tanu Weds Manu, Sui Dhaaga, Shubh Mangal Saavdhan and Bala. Admittedly most of these movies have some brilliant actors and are generally scripted very well.

So, the question now is what is next? Where will the next set of “trendy” Hindi films be shot? Will there be a lot more of the traditional Bollywood movies, or are we all moving towards Web Series? Personally, I hope that we still get to see at least a dozen movies every year that make the trip to Ithe theatres worthwhile. As to where they actually take us… I am looking forward to finding out.