Wrong Side Raju is a step towards new Gujarati cinema.

A hit-and-run case involving a wealthy man, suspected to be driving under the influence of alcohol; a driver dramatically entering the scene and assuming responsibility for the crime; a trial by the local media—many film-makers have used the trope of an accident leading to interwoven circumstances and characters. Usually, such a story holds up a bigger picture of the society and milieu it is placed in. Set in Gujarat, where alcohol is prohibited, Wrong Side Raju adds another layer. It is strengthened by the fact that the protagonist Raju Bambani is a driver by day and bootlegger by night.

The film is directed by Mikhil Musale, who has co-written it with Karan Vyas and Niren Bhatt. It is co-produced by Abhishek Jain and Amit Desai of the production house Cineman. Their first film Kevi Rite Jaish (2012) was about a Gujarati family’s obsession with migrating to the US and opening a motel. The second film Bey Yaar (2015), a caper about two friends who want to earn quick money, was the longest-running Gujarati film. Both are directed by Jain.

These titles have initiated a new age of Gujarati cinema. The region’s film industry, until a few years back, was practically non-existent. The state’s proximity to Mumbai, home to the Hindi film industry, prevented it from acquiring a cinematic identity of its own. “There is nothing about earlier Gujarati films to even talk about which are mostly silly comedy dramas and films loaded with garba sequences," says Musale, a Maharashtrian from Ahmedabad. These films targeted at the rural audience were made on budgets of Rs1-2 lakh. “Many people would take the earlier government subsidy of Rs5 lakh for a film but would use a lakh from it for the production," adds Musale. This year, the state support for the film industry has been upgraded to a financial grant of 5 lakh— 50 lakh, depending on the script and the film. Encouraged by the new policy and the success of films like Kevi Rite Jaish and Bey Yaar, a substantial number of urban-centric films are being made in Gujarati.

For Cineman, Wrong Side Raju is a step forward as it is the first of a three-film deal with Phantom Films. “I’ve always wondered why there isn’t a strong Gujarati cinema because they love entertainment, their culture, language and food. There is every reason for there to be good regional cinema for that audience. These guys were doing really good work and we wanted to help them and be a part of it," says Vikas Bahl, co-owner of Phantom, in “the making" video on Youtube. That the film has benefited from Phantom’s resources is visible in its atmospheric look and feel—the three-minutes long tense opening scene in a dark highway sets the tone. The film’s casting has been done by leading Hindi film casting director Mukesh Chhabra. The lead actor Prateek Gandhi and composers Sachin-Jigar—who have composed an enjoyable, contemporary album—are old collaborators from Bey Yaar.

According to Musale, Wrong Side Raju is more unusual than their earlier two films. “At one point, we were skeptical to take certain risks in the film, like the non-linear narrative. But we eventually went ahead with them," says Musale, an engineer-turned-director. “In Bollywood, if two friends are talking, they will be sitting across a table in a cafe. In a regional film, they just sit on the floor, chat and perhaps have a drink," says Musale, who says he is a fan of Alejandro González Iňárritu.

Vyas, the film’s co-writer, who studied film at University of California, Los Angeles, says that it is hard to define their moment in the map of Indian regional cinema as it is still in a nascent stage. “All our films have been set in either Ahmedabad, Gandhinagar and Baroda. We are yet to discover our Premam (Malayalam), Jigarthanda (Tamil), Killa and Sairat (Marathi), films that have transcended the urban-rural divide. We are first trying to build an industry," he says.

Wrong Side Raju releases in theatres on 9 September.