(L to R) Kanika Dhillon, Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra and Anjali Menon
Hyperlocal is the new global. Talk to any sensible filmmaker in the Indian film industry and they will tell you that, whether it is writer Kanika Dhillon who wrote the delicious Haseen Dillruba (2021) most recently inspired by her train travels and the Hindi pulp novels with lurid covers she saw on station bookshops; or Anjali Menon, who grew up in the Middle East but was nurtured on the sights, smells and arts of her home country and then trained at the London Film School. Dhillon’s character Dinesh Pandit was a literary ode to Surender Mohan Pathak and his twisted mysteries. “The greatest validation for me was when viewers would ask me where they could read Dinesh Pandit novels. Imagine a character you create is considered real. It was so heady,” says Dhillon, who grew up in Amritsar and made her way to the Mumbai film industry via Delhi’s St Stephen’s College and the London School of Economics. Dhillon is now working on Haseen Dillruba 2 which starts shooting soon, and Dunki, where she has collaborated with master storytellers Rajkumar Hirani and Abhijat Joshi. “They finesse every beat, every nuance, working on the script till they faint,” she says of the two who have collaborated on writing movies such as Munna Bhai M.B.B.S. (2003) and 3 Idiots (2009). Dhillon says she found her voice in Manmarziyaan (2018), directed by Anurag Kashyap, which gave her the confidence to be distinctive and edgy, even when the industry wants to reach out to the largest audience possible. “My movies may not make ₹100 crore at the box office but these are the stories I am excited to tell,” she says. “Different is the new norm. You can’t be average anymore,” she adds. Menon, who wrote Ustad Hotel (2012), and wrote and directed Bangalore Days (2014) and Koode (2018), has just worked on Wonder Women about a retreat that helps pregnant women unwind. Menon is very conscious of her characters being true to their environment, whether it be Ooty in Koode or Kerala in Ustad Hotel. It’s not gender that drives her as much as character. “We see too many two-dimensional characters and give them far too much power and visibility and it does far too much damage,” she says. “We really need to think far more seriously about what we’re putting out, because I work with streetchildren and sometimes they’d rather forego a meal and watch a movie, because that memory will stay with them forever. The generic will slowly disappear because we are living in such a rich world,” she says. Indeed, the success of regional language streaming platforms such as Hoichoi in Bengali and Aha in Telugu shows the hunger for content close to the viewer’s experience. Or even the new kid on the block, Stage, which specialised in dialects like Haryanvi and Rajasthani. Each of them has its own local tales to tell, whether it is family dramas on Hoichoi or reality shows on Aha.
The Mahabharata has usually defied capture on the big screen but two men have decided to bring it to audiences. Anand Neelakantan has written the screenplay for this new film Karna, and Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra is to direct it. Neelakantan is a storyteller who knows his subaltern culture well and Mehra has had the experience of going back and forth in time in Rang de Basanti (2006) and Bhaag Milkha Bhaag (2013). A big-budget movie laden with special effects, it is an ambitious film that will test the Mumbai film industry’s ability to stage the spectacular. After Mani Ratnam’s massive success with Ponniyin Selvan I, based on Kalki Krishnamurthy’s 1955 serialised novel, there are other regional epics waiting to be filmed, prime among them being CV Raman Pillai’s Travancore Trilogy, the novels Marthandavarma (1891), Dharmaraja (1913) and Ramaraja Bahadur (1918-19). The possibilities in other languages are endless.
Scene and Heard
The French love Satyajit Ray but the new generation has discovered Indian cinema through a new favourite, The Lunchbox. The 2013 movie with Irrfan Khan and Nimrat Kaur has been the second highest grossing foreign film in France over the last 10 years, selling 500,000 tickets. I asked Juleitte Grandmont, the audio visual attaché at the Embassy of France, what made it so popular and she had a simple explanation: “It’s about food and love, two things the French are obsessed with.”