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Khushboo Biyani

The Collaborative Visualiser

And the award for the best actor in a supporting role goes to… Mumbai!

I watched Before Sunrise many years ago and found an overwhelming desire to visit Vienna (which lives to date). Of late there have been many movies from across the world where the romanticism of a city adds a significant layer to the plot and makes the experience that much richer.

These are busy cities, old cities, cold cities, cities with glorious summers, hardened cities, cities with interesting histories, small cities, large cities, happy cities and not so happy ones… many filmmakers today use the nuances and blend them into the narrative quite effectively and give us so much more to feast on.

There are many obvious ones, like Paris Je T’aime, Manhattan, To Rome with Love and Vicky Christina Barcelona (Yes, Woody Allen has constantly tantalized me with his locales – in addition to his actors and characters), but I want to specifically talk about a couple examples closer home.

The Lunchbox



From the prolific dabbawalas, to the match-box-esque houses, to the rut of the local trains and its passengers to the loneliness despite the constant bustle… the attention to detail in this film is heartbreakingly beautiful and shows the heart of Mumbai. The characters seem to love and accept the city despite all (and oh there are so many) of its flaws.

The movie is not about Mumbai, it is a warm story about two lonely strangers who find solace in confiding in each other through hand-written letters. The city however lends itself to providing the perfect backdrop, with very characteristic elements and some quirky elements too. There’s long footage of dabbawalas hard and earnest at work and the repetitiveness does not bore for once. The local trains are crowded, has little kids shunting the aisles singing ‘pardesi’ and people utilizing the time chopping vegetables. The choice of the restaurant they pick to meet is the quintessential Iranian café in Matunga, the Koolar Café. It was a beautiful tribute to India’s busiest city and a must watch not just for the story and the characters but also the fascinating montage of Bombay.

Ship of Theseus


Another recent film that heavily uses Mumbai as a strong backdrop for its narrative is The Ship of Theseus. It is a treat to the eyes (and most other senses) as well. It is different from the Mumbai that The Lunchbox portrays. Local trains get replaced by taxi rides and long walks along Mahim walls. The characters have more choices and empowerment and so does their Mumbai. It’s no longer the suburbs of Malad East and Bandra but South Bombay. Characters are more perturbed by crowds, traffic and scuffles. There are swanky art galleries as opposed to street artists painting the same Mumbai scene over and over again. And yet, there is an intense attachment to the backdrop in cases of both the films and it’s hard to imagine them being shot any where else.

There are many more such remarkable films that have other cities as backdrops. Udaan portrays the small city life in Jamshedpur, Dev D shows a very unabashed Delhi, Do Dooni Chaar on the other hand shows the good natured Punjabi-ness of Delhi and the list goes on.

I hope the trend is here to stay because it makes the cinematic experience much more beautiful and relatable!

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