The reason I liked last week’s release Ishqiya was because it presented a refreshing slice of new old India that is only now becoming popular in Hindi cinema, after decades of two-dimensional films set mostly in Mumbai.
Ishqiya: Widows don’t wear white in Vishal’s World.
Our Hindi films have always been about rich people or impoverished farmers, their worlds either glitzy or stripped down. Skyscrapers or slums. Manish Malhotra or Khadi Bhandar. The only reason Hindi movie directors even ventured into the badlands of Uttar Pradesh or Bihar is if they wanted to depict bandits or rapist thakur politicians. Mostly though, they preferred New York and Switzerland.
Whether it was the gritty, parallel cinema movement of the 1970s or the over-the-top universe inhabited by the likes of Manmohan Desai or the immaculately coiffed, chiffon cosmos and canvas of the Yash Raj school of film-making, over the years, Bollywood’s Indias have become largely predictable.
That is, until directors such as Vishal Bhardwaj, Anurag Kashyap and Dibakar Banerjee gave us a glimpse of the middle Indias that influenced them and that Bollywood has thus far pretended don’t exist.
Think about it. Whoever heard of a Hindi movie director born in the heart of west Delhi, as was Banerjee? And whoever heard of a director brave enough to shoot his second film in that neighbourhood? The first time a character yelled “Oye Lucky” in Banerjee’s brilliant 2008 film, the friend I saw the movie with couldn’t stop laughing. He grew up in Rajinder Nagar (next to Patel Nagar), an area in west Delhi familiar to many of us now because the Delhi Metro hurtles through it. “This is exactly how we called out to each other when we were growing up,” my friend said.
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Banerjee clearly recognized and acknowledged this tiny authentic detail of his India when he named the film Oye Lucky, Lucky Oye. It was a detail, along with many others, we hadn’t seen on the big screen before.
I now refer to this phenomena as Vishal’s World because no director has used the influences he grew up with in a more authentic manner than Bhardwaj. Of course Bhardwaj didn’t direct Ishqiya, but he wrote its dialogues and was definitely a huge influence on its debut director Abhishek Chaubey.
In college I was always envious of the students from Rajasthan—their world at the intersection of the historic, masculine kingdoms of Mewar and Marwar seemed so much more authentic than my south Mumbai India, their influences so much more colourful!
But even that India now seems like tourism board exotica compared to Vishal’s World.
In Ishqiya, Vishal’s World is one in which teenagers learn to use guns before they learn to wash their bums (in Hindi, this is one of my favourite dialogues from the film). Vishal’s World is one in which people have Ae meri zohrajabeen ringtones and women call their husbands jahanpanah. Vishal’s World is one in which radio doesn’t have FM, men use Naina Surma to colour their facial hair and gas cylinders are a more effective explosive than dynamite. In Vishal’s World (and this is from the Bhardwaj-directed 2009 film Kaminey), children grow up reading Champak, Nandan and Bela Bahadur, not Enid Blyton and Amar Chitra Katha.
Yet Vishal’s World is not just a collection of razor sharp one-liners. It depicts a deep understanding of middle India, that vast swathe of squat towns that lie between the skyscrapers and the slums.
My favourite sequence in Ishqiya was the one in which Gorakhpur’s “biggest small businessman” slips out of the side door of his family temple and heads straight for Gloria beauty parlour for a dominatrix session. Bhardwaj clearly understands this India better than any news magazine sex survey.
And talking of Gorakhpur, that’s where Kashyap was born. His influences are too many to list here but one classic example of the Vishal’s World phenomena in Kashyap’s work is the way he set the story of Dev D’s Paro in rural Punjab. And made her a horny, normal woman. Now if only more directors can identify their Vishal’s Worlds, then we will be guaranteed an authentic Indian experience at the movies.
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