Cinema is entertaining because it shows you everything in motion. It is not only the actors you like on the screen that makes a good movie. If you have loved Amitabh Bachchan & Rekha dancing amidst the Tulip gardens in Amsterdam, then Kay Gee deserves a big thanks. If you have loved the Paharganj in Dev.D, then Rajeev Ravi should be thanked. Yes, I am talking about the cinematography in movies which builds up a city in front of you. Every city has a history, culture, and flair and a good cinematographer captures these nuances beautifully. For example, with the mention of Haider or PK, you would remember Kashmir or Delhi because these places were shot that amazingly!
Here is a list of my favorite 7 Bollywood movies where the work of the camera in capturing a city was beyond excellence. These works were so good that just like the lead actors of the movie, the cities also became a character that would never leave your mind.
Kahaani: Would-Be Mother With A Motive In Kolkata
Kahaani directed by Sujoy Ghosh would remain one of the dearest thrillers of Bollywood of all time. Every aspect of this flick was extraordinarily beautiful. It is the story of a pregnant woman from London who comes to Kolkata for the first time in search of her missing husband. It is perhaps the best work of Setu, the cinematographer who shot the city wonderfully. The early morning – when the city wakes up & gears up to face the day; the mid-day – when the city is tired and perspiring; evening – when the city starts wrapping up and calling the last passengers; night – when the city is bare & naked – that’s the time when truth runs fast and you have to capture it before it slips.
The pre-puja preparation, the sweet language, the “always ready to help” people, the flawed Hindi, tea in small glasses & earthen pots, Kolkata Kachori, Dharmatala, Mocambo, the nostalgic-narrow lanes of North Kolkata, the posh South Kolkata, opulence of Victoria Memorial – Kolkata was never so true & so captivating before. The special mention has to be the last scene where Maa Durga is immersed & the voiceover of Mr. Bachchan plays at the background – it really gives you goosebumps!
Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara: A DCH in Spain ….
10 years later another Akhtar gifted us another road-trip movie where again 3 friends are going somewhere to find themselves. Carlos Catalan shot this movie and shown Spain just like another character actor – sometimes messy, sometimes clean & clear, sometimes heroic, sometimes villainous, sometimes friendly, and sometimes like a stranger. The large expanse of Spain, its culture, architecture, tradition, food, lifestyle – everything was an intrinsic part of this movie. Spain crafted by Carlos Catalan was the stage on which the rest of the lead characters enacted their part. The last part of the movie where that famous Bull fighting happens still gives goosebumps!
Yeh Jawani Hai Deewani: Friends, Trek, Travel, & Destination Wedding
This is one of the fanciest movies of Bollywood made in the recent past. The story of 3 friends befriending another one on a trekking trip to Manali (originally shot in Kashmir) & their reunion in a destination wedding in Udaipur was shot by V. Manikandan. From the lofty Himalayas to the royal Udaipur – the movie was a visual treat for sure. Hidamba Temple in Manali, the Oberoi Udaivilas where the wedding takes place, and the Bagore Ki Haveli in Udaipur. These are the prime locations which would leave you with a feeling of visiting these places once.
Rang De Basanti: College Rebels Bringing A Revolution
One of the top cinematographers of Bollywood, Binod Pradhan shot this iconic movie. It is a tale of 6 college friends and how they pledge to take revenge with the corrupt government officials and change the system. This movie was shot in over various places like Delhi, Mumbai, Rajasthan, & Punjab. Generally, in movies to introduce a city, the iconic monuments are shown. For Delhi, India Gate is shown to introduce the city. That scene where DJ & his friends make a chakkar around the India Gate would remain as one of the best scenes in the history of Bollywood. The dingy and narrow lanes of Old Delhi, the posh South Delhi, cultured India Habitat Center, All India Radio – you can instantly feel the presence of two types of Delhi in this movie. One is still struggling to be modern and the other one is trying to retain its values!
Of course, you would remember the Nahargarh Fort, which oversees the city of Jaipur and also Harmandir Sahib Gurudwara of Amritsar.
Highway: Rich & Well-Behaved Girl Kidnapped Or Freed….
By the time Highway released, we all knew that Imtiyaz Ali is one of the best movie-makers of our generation. And he dwells on the idea of traveling. All through his movies, the characters are running from one place to another and all the locales are beautifully captured. And when one of the best cinematographers of India, Anil Mehta comes on board, things would be different. I believe this movie didn’t give much credit to Anil Mehta. If Imtiyaz Ali was the story writer, Anil Mehta painted this story with his craftsmanship. Veera running on the Rann of Kutch post-midnight and finding nowhere to go – that one shot of the Rann led us to take a dive into the heart of Veera who is all vacuum at that point.
This movie traveled a lot with Delhi, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh, & Kashmir. The dangerous hilly terrains were shown by placing the characters atop the bus! An unnamed village of Kashmir where Veera finds her home, snow-capped mountain, the folk singers of Rajasthan singing at a tea stall with Thar as the background – every frame of this movie was brilliant! So, ultimately, these places become a prominent character in this movie which pricks & soothes the other characters.
Raanjhanaa: Love @ The Oldest City Of India
Varanasi or Benares, Banaras, or Kashi is the oldest city in India. This city was the most talked about the city since the medieval period. Till today, you could hear the history of the past centuries from the stairs of the ghaats, evening aarti, & the holy Ganga – which is the witness of time! Raanjhanaa was a beautiful love story that starts in Varanasi and ends in Delhi. The narrow lanes, colorful Holi celebration, temples, dialect, Ramnagar Fort, that half immersed Shiva temple – Varanasi was captured in the most flawless manner. Ganga Maiya (as the local people call) & Bholenath (another name of Lord Shiva) – are the two most prominent identification of Varanasi and you would see a deep presence of these two here. With a cut wrist, Kundan plays the damru during evening aarti; out of angst, he drowns Sonam & his scooter in the river. Varanasi looked endearing & Natarajan Subramaniam-Vishal Sinha are to be thanked for that.
Dil Chahta Hai: 17 Years …. & Still The Bible Of All Unplanned Trips
Directed by Farhan Akhtar, it released in July 2001 and 17 summers have passed since then. An entire generation has gulped down this movie with awe! Ask any 90’s born kid and they would walk back the lanes of nostalgia with the mention of Dil Chahta Hai. This list would be incomplete without the mention of DCH. Which is the best shot of this movie? Anyone who has watched this movie would say out loud that the shot of Akash, Sid, & Sameer at the Aguada Fort in Goa. Goa was a popular destination in India but with this movie, the popularity touched its zenith! Many more movies have been shot here after DCH but DCH became like a brand-name for Goa Tourism.
Through the able lenses of Ravi K. Chandran, we have seen Goa like never before. The beautiful lanes, Arabian Sea, & the cool soothing breeze – you would always feel them through this movie. This movie was about the friendship of 3 people and their respective love-lives but for a considerable portion, you would take back Goa as that played as the pre-interval & ending high of the movie.
These were my list of some Bollywood movies where I found a stark presence of the city as good as the actors. You can share your favorites too!