Kolkata: Stepping out of Mumbai and Delhi`s streets and lanes which have been shown in films over and over again, Bollywood is now romancing Kolkata and its Victorian aura still intact in some places. After the just-released `Kahaani` where Vidya Balan traversed through the length and breadth of the city searching for her missing husband, two other big-budget films, due for release later this year, have focused on the metropolis and West Bengal.
Priyanka Chopra and Ranbir Kapoor, two of the most bankable actors in Bollywood, shot for more than a month recently in the city and in the hills of Darjeeling for the Anurag Basu directed murder mystery `Barfee`. Ranveer Singh and Sonakshi Sinha, on the other hand, will recreate the old-world charm of West Bengal in `Lootera`, a romantic period film set in the 1950`s. It was shot recently in the natural surroundings of the picturesque Purulia district, 295kms from Kolkata. Director Sujoy Ghosh, who describes Kolkata as one of the characters in his thriller `Kahaani`, says other filmmakers might soon jump into the bandwagon.
"I am overwhelmed with the kind of interest Kolkata has generated among the people in Mumbai and elsewhere. It is Kolkata and not any other city which people are talking about now," he said.
Portraying the colourful and vibrant city that Kolkata is, `Kahaani` has brought alive the city on screen. The film`s star Vidya considers the "City of Joy" as her second home which gave her a break in Bengali film `Bhalo Theko`. Filmmakers point out that the landscape of Mumbai has been overused by the camera in the last few decades. The multi-layered Kolkata, on the other hand, has a different appeal with its Metro trains, rickety trams, hand-pulled rickshaws, dingy bylanes, British-era buildings, iconic structures like Howrah Bridge and Victoria Memorial.
"If I look from the eyes of the camera all other metros look the same but Kolkata has a unique character," said Anurag Basu whose `Barfee` will be in theatres this July. Another reason for Kolkata turning into the hottest shooting destination for Bollywood is the city`s increasing cosmopolitan culture.
"It was Bengali-dominant 15-20 years ago. So shooting for a Hindi film didn`t seem natural then. But now it is more cosmopolitan," says Basu who made `Life in a Metro` earlier. National Award winning director-producer Onir, who now shuttles between Kolkata and Mumbai, points out that the present lot of Bengali filmmakers want to shoot at home.
"Since we know the city very well and have many memories attached to the place, so the ideas flow in very easily while shooting in Kolkata," says Onir, whose `I Am` was partly filmed in the city.
Basu too admits of a strong `Bong` connection.
"I was looking for a story which can be made in Bengal. My film captures not only the city, but also north Bengal," he says hoping that other directors will soon follow the new trend.
After the 1960s, Kolkata was pushed out of the celluloid with the passing away of legendary filmmakers like Bimal Roy and PC Barua, who were based out of the city.
"Films like `Do Bigha Zamin` and Barua`s `Devdas` are the best examples of that era. There was a good amount of Bengali dominance as Kolkata has always been the hub of art, culture and literature," film historian SMM Ausaja says.
As the Hindi film industry is based there, Mumbai soon took over as a recurrent theme in most of the films. Bengali filmmakers Aparna Sen and Rituparno Ghosh had in the past made Bollywood films like `36 Chowringhee Lane` and the Amitabh Bachchan starrer `The Last Lear` where their home city featured prominently in the background. Besides films like Vidya Balan`s `Parineeta` in 2005, Mani Ratnam`s multi-starrer `Yuva` (2004) and `Raavan` (2010) had important scenes shot in the city and its outskirts. As Kolkata is now back in vogue for Bollywood, filmmakers opine that the city also stands to benefit from this trend. Giving the example of how Switzerland became an attractive tourist destination for Indians after Yash Chopra caught the exotic locales of the snow-capped mountains in his films, Sujoy hopes his film will do the same for Kolkata.