Running into superstar Aamir Khan’s publicity team at Patna’s Jaiprakash Narayan airport came as no surprise given that the film PK is up for release within the fortnight. The star visited the Cinepolis multiplex in Patna, where the crowds thronged for a glimpse of him before partaking litti- chokha, considered a local delicacy.
This, besides the rounds of media offices in order to promote his film. Patna, given that his character in PK speaks Bhojpuri, seems like a good starting point. According to the director, Rajkumar Hirani, Khan insisted on speaking Bhojpuri instead of the Rajasthani dialect that Sanjay Dutt’s character speaks in the film. So far, the plot of the film has been a heavily guarded secret, but evidently the dialects and location play a key role.
Of late, locations, on screen and off it, have begun to occupy a position of prominence both in the creative and promotional narrative. Not too long ago, Shah Rukh Khan had embarked on an extensive promotional campaign for his film Happy New Year in tier 2 cities like Ahmedabad, and Indore among others. Daawat -e -Ishq starring Aditya Roy Kapur and Parineeti Chopra visited a spectrum of cities in order to better the film’s box office fortunes.
That tier 2 and tier 3 cities are gaining ground is evident in Bollywood’s newfound efforts at reclaiming lost territory. From the time when single-screen theatres, which accommodated all strata of society audience, demanded a certain kind of films tailor-made to cater to the varied demographic to now, there has been quite a shift away with the focus back to the small town. The early part of the millennium decade witnessed the multiplex movie boom, leading to a concentration of the business in metropolitan cities.
This gleaming new breed of films were obviously a far cry from times when geographical locations were usually restricted to a passing mention of generic towns or villages (like Rampur) in the films, unless they happened to be exotic or beauteous locations like Simla, Kashmir or cities like Mumbai and Delhi. Small towns for most part were that ambiguous grey area between villages and the metropolitan India that existed but were barely noticed. And in Bollywood’s new-age cinema centred on the metropolitan urbane life, small towns were pushed into oblivion. It was in these climes that Bollywood lost its heartland following to old Hindi and regional cinema and television shows. However, given the big collections at urban centres, the loss was barely noticed.
Meanwhile, the small town growth story bolstered by the fast and impressive development of the middle class that caused the television boom, has made it an attractive consumer market. What has followed is the mushrooming of multiplexes in these cities, making them attractive once again to film-makers. It is no surprise then that in recent times a slew of films dedicated to the small town girl/boy or the microcosm of these towns is fast finding its way into the film’s narrative.
The good part is the variety that it has lent to our film stories also lending them a certain rooted-in-reality flavour that works well with the pan India audience.
But obviously with so many factors working in their favour, in Bollywood, small town India is scripting the big story.