Designer dramas set in the glossy urban milieu may regale Hindi film audiences, but the endeavours of a few creative minds who are delving deep into the Indian hinterland to prise out stories reflecting the rustic and raw flavour of villages and towns are paying rich dividends.
Vishal Bhardwaj's Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola is all set to continue the trend started by rural-based hit dramas such as Ishqiya, Peepli Live and Paan Singh Tomar.
The film, featuring an interesting combination of new generation actors like Imran Khan and Anushka Sharma with a veteran like Pankaj Kapur, is set in Haryana. Given Bhardwaj's past offerings Omkara and Ishqiya, one expects Matru... to be truly Haryanvi in taste.
The intent surely seems to be it - whether it is Imran in the traditional khamiz, a tunic worn by the men of the region, Anushka in a 'desi ghaghra' or the raw music, which is very much in sync with the movie's set up.
What inspired Bhardwaj to narrate rural stories?
"I love Indian folk music and villages. People from there are more interesting than the urban people. So, I really like to have those characters in my films. I grew up in a small town of Meerut (in Uttar Pradesh) and so mostly my movies reflect experiences of my childhood. While making movies I go back to my past and draw experiences from that," he was quoted as saying recently.
In the recent past, the Hindi film industry has witnessed an upsurge in rural dramas. Dor, Gulaal, Rakta Charitra, Gattu, Dabangg, Udaan and the two-part Gangs Of Wasseypur were set against rural backdrops. Be it the ups and downs of politics, gang wars or even just the aspirations of people in small towns - these have been tackled with aplomb, and, at times, with a tinge of satire.
If it strikes a chord with critics and fans alike, the formula is working equally well at the box office.
No doubt that Dabangg could boast of a star like Salman Khan, but its backdrop was totally rural! You rarely ever had a hero named Chulbul Pandey, but his quirkiness and magic worked - making the movie the highest grosser of 2010; and part two titled Dabangg 2 too has crossed the Rs 100 crore mark.
Sanjeev Bijli, joint managing director of PVR Ltd., gives credit to the changing taste of viewers and filmmakers.
"The Indian moviegoers, and makers have matured so much... it is very heartening to see (the change)," Bijli remarked at a recent event.
The willingness of the audience to step into the theatre to watch something beyond the A-list stars, the jazz and jamboree of fancy family dramas, and romantic sagas is certianly helping filmmakers to push the envelope.
Producers and distributors too have become experimental and don't hesitate to take a risk to promote and support small budget entertainers portraying rural India, their set of problems a la post-independence movies like Naya Daur.
Bijli says such films are providing profitable option for distributors and exhibitors.
"From a distribution and exhibition company's perspective, (it is great because) we don't have to bank on just big budget commercial films. (So) We will be able to bring small films with much more confidence now than we could about six years earlier," he said.
Off shore too such films are a huge hit and crime thriller Gangs of Wasseypur (GOW) and Peepli Live are a case in point. If GOW wowed film aficianados at the prestigious 2012 Cannes film festival, Udaan became the first Indian film in seven years to represent the country in the Cannes official section.
One hopes the trend is only poised to grow.
(Radhika Bhirani can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)