Hindi films have mostly depended on amorphous identities and untraceable locations for their stories. This is not very surprising because traditionally, Bollywood has depended on stars and their personalities to project a characteristic. In such a scenario, character motivations become rather redundant. I mean, if it is Amitabh Bachchan who is playing the Angry Young Man, you hardly need any justification as to why he is angry!
Similarly, geographical characteristics are even lesser used. Traditionally, you have either a village or a city. But the characteristics of that city's inhabitants are hardly used.
Amitabh Bachchan zipped down an eminently recognisable Marine Drive in Muqaddar Ka Sikandar but the word Bombay is never uttered in the film. And there is nothing in the film to suggest that his go-getting character in the movie is a by-product of his upbringing in Bombay.
In Deewaar, his character is a North Indian who emigrates to Bombay but the underlying theme of the North Indian exodus to the City of Gold is never articulated. He may well have moved to Chennai for all its worth. And his gold would have landed on Marina Beach instead of Versova!
It gets curiouser... Anand is dedicated to the city of Bombay but the bon vivant in the film emanates from Delhi and is a Punjabi (Anand Sehgal)! The Mumbaikars in the film are rather long-faced, literally (Amitabh) and figuratively (Ramesh Deo). Of course, it is a comment on the cosmopolitanism of the city that the three male characters are from the North, East and West (in order of importance)!
Other films set in cities clearly identifiable by landmarks seldom refer to the psychographics. Bombay could well be Ahmedabad. The local trains of Saathiya were transported directly from the original, made in Chennai. The guide of Fanaa might well have taken his troupe around the historical monuments of Hyderabad. While on the topic of Hyderabad, Hero Hiralal uses the exact accent of the Dakhni Hindi and zips around the city in his auto-rickshaw.
On the other hand, Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar works on the premise that the story is set in a small town (Dehradun) with a snooty boarding school for outsiders and a fatichar school for locals.
Yuva's brand of corrupt political leadership facing off with the idealistic youth could be common with many states of India but the firebrand activism has become synonymous with Calcutta!
There was a large number of films based on destinations - An Evening in Paris, Love in Tokyo, Love in Shimla, Night in London, Johar Mehmood in Hong Kong, Orgy in Bangkok (oh sorry, not that one!) - but again they were completely interchangeable as glamorous destinations.
You can easily have Johar Mehmood in Baghdad and the film will be just as funny. Night in London came right after the Paris film and the only difference was the brilliant music of the latter compared to the former's insipid score. Of course, Sharmila Tagore in a bikini would have lit up Mughalsarai Junction instead of Champs Elysses!
Maybe Kashmir Ki Kali is the only one in this genre which tries to draw a parallel between its pristine beauty and the heroine's rosy apple cheeks.
In recent times, Bollywood has started to venture into identifiable cities - and even started to use the milieu of the place in the development of characters.
It started with Yash Chopra – who promoted the Punjabi way of life unabashedly in his films. First, they were not articulated but in Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge, Amrish Puri intoned to the pigeons of Piccadilly that he wanted to return – “Mere desh ko, mere Punjab ko…”
And these cities – more often than not – are all small towns in the Hindi heartland.
Bunty aur Babli came from Fursatganj and Pankhinagar but it was a completely real-life district headquarter town of UP they were coming from. And each one of their exploits happened in real-life locales, sometimes identified by name.
Lagaa Chunari Mein Daag opened with a song that described the city of Banaras really well and the only redeeming feature of the film was that the characters remained rooted to their small-town beginnings. Rani Mukherjee sleeping her way through to a Napean Sea Road flat, notwithstanding!
And now has come the clincher - Tashan. No film – apart from how Woody Allen does with New York - has used a city so intrinsically in its screenplay as Tashan does for Kanpur. Bachchan Pandey (Akshay Kumar) and his antics as Raavan, crimes as an electricity thief, dialogues as a collection agent, sighs as a Roadside Romeo and most stunningly, his language are so Kanpuriya that its unbelievable!
And after a high-voltage fight scene, Saif pays homage to the city of Kanpur in a perverse sort of way by saying – “In logon ke beech mujhe zinda rehna hain, to mujhe akalmand banna padega, khatarnaak banna padega, Kanpuriya banna padega…”
Waah waah – people are dancing in the aisles of Alankar Theatre!