In recent years, many Bollywood movies have represented life in Delhi as their backdrop. Whether it is middle-class life, youth, or high societies, Delhi has been an old favourite for filmmakers. The stories highlight student activism, the lives of various subcultures, their idiosyncrasies, identity, roots, and lifestyles. One may wonder, what is it that attracts the silver screen to the capital. Let us have a look at some of the elements which inspire Bollywood filmmakers to make Delhi a character in their movies:
Being the capital of India, Delhi is a melting pot of cultures, traditions, and states. For education or work, thousands of people move here from all over India and eventually call it home. For North India, its proximity to various states, ease of language, and cuisine make it possible to settle down here. This plays an important role in telling stories. One may think of Piku’s life at C-124, Chittaranjan Park with her hypochondriac father, or a group of Northeastern girls in Delhi from the recent film ‘Axone” (2019), who struggle to cook their traditional dish without drawing the attention of neighbours.
Delhi and its people
Delhi’s geography is marked by distinct neighborhoods and social milieus. We may think of our PG owners, beauticians, or the people we hear and see in the metro. This significant diversity has often been used by Bollywood for plots. Whether it is Bittu and Shruti from Janakpuri, Rani from Rajouri Garden, Dolly Ahluwalia from Lajpat Nagar (Vicky Donor), or the vista of characters from Delhi-6 including Waheeda Rehman, bowing her head to a cow in the middle of a stroke, these are people inspired from daily life in the city.
Directors and their love for Delhi
Many leading directors of Bollywood have studied in Delhi, and share a deep love for the city. This is often reflected in their work. Imtiaz Ali, who studied in the Hindu college of Delhi University has expressed his love for the city on different occasions. In a storytelling session at Kathakaar Storytelling Festival in Delhi last year, he said, “The biggest marvel about Delhi is that the old, modern and uber-modern, everything exists here together. In one frame, you can see various layers of what India is today. Imtiaz has shot Rockstar, Love Aaj Kal, and Tamasha in Delhi.”
For Rakesh Omprakash Mehra, Delhi-6 is a tribute to his memories of a childhood spent at Old-Delhi, which he defines as a cauldron of various customs, philosophies, values, and traditions. Although the film failed to appeal to the viewers, he defines Delhi-6 as the closest project to his heart.
Student life and politics
Politics and activism play an active role in Delhi’s higher education in universities such as DU, Jamia, and JNU. The awareness, and exposure that students receive, make it an adventure to study here. Thus, stories of students and their lives have also been adapted as plots in Bollywood movies. One may think of the group of students in Rang De Basanti, inspired by the freedom struggle taking against their corrupt government, or Abhay Deol and Sonam Kapoor as student activists and leaders at JNU in Raanjhanaa.
Delhi, with its historical monuments, union buildings, and multinational companies, inhabits thousands of people, and with them carries a million stories.