One thing about Indian cinema that isn’t appreciated enough, even by film fans in this country, is its vastness. The widely spoken languages have their own film industries, but the drive to tell stories through cinema extends to the most far-flung communities and obscure dialects. On Independence Day, we pay tribute to this diversity by selecting one film set in each state of India. To give a relatively recent picture of each state, we’ve limited ourselves to films from the last 20 years and largely avoided period dramas. From 'Anaarkali Of Aarah' to 'Iewduh', here's a snapshot of Indian cinema, state by state.
Arunachal Pradesh: Crossing Bridges (2013)
A web designer working in Mumbai returns to his village in Arunachal Pradesh, and spends his time there in the hope of finding another job and leaving again. Sange Dorjee Thongdok’s film was the first to be made in the local Shertukpen dialect.
Andhra Pradesh: C/o Kancharapalem (2018)
Kancharapalem, a locality in Visakhapatnam, is the inspiration and setting for Maha Venkatesh’s Telugu feature. An anthology film, C/o Kancharapalem draws its stories and most of its actors from the neighbourhood.
Assam: Bulbul Can Sing (2018)
In the last decade, Assam has been represented in films as disparate as Aamis, Bornodi Bhotiai and Local Kung Fu. One particularly successful modern chronicler of the state is Rima Das, whose Village Rockstars and Bulbul Can Sing have been feted at home and abroad. The latter, a delicate coming-of-age film in Assamese, is a vivid but unsparing portrait of village life.
Bihar: Anaarkali Of Aarah (2017)
Avinash Das’ film is an energetic portrait, as well as an indictment, of modern-day Bihar. The story of a risqué stage singer whose life is turned upside-down after fending off the drunken advances of a powerful university vice chancellor, Anaarkali Of Aarah uses the same local tradition of erotic singing that gets its central character into trouble to also mark her ultimate victory.
Chhattisgarh: Newton (2017)
A rule-obsessed government clerk sent on election duty to the Naxal-controlled jungles of Chhattisgarh finds his main opposition in the form of a CRPF officer. Amit Masurkar’s Hindi film is a layered and ultimately moving portrait of a part of the state that’s rarely seen peace.
Goa: Nachom-ia Kumpasar (2015)
Goa has been the setting for so many films from outside the state that it seems only fair to highlight one that tells Goa’s story. This Konkani film by Bardroy Barretto is a short history of Goan popular music, told through the relationship of a jazz singer and a trumpeter-bandleader.
Gujarat: Amdavad Ma Famous (2015)
“It’s a terrible addiction," a disapproving cleric says. “These boys are like artists," says another. Between these two extremes is suspended Hardik Mehta’s delightful non-fiction short, which looks at kite-flyers (and the daredevils who run after severed kites) in Ahmedabad.
Haryana: Sultan (2016)
Ali Abbas Zafar’s film, starring Salman Khan and Anushka Sharma, is the one unabashedly mainstream title on this list. An ode to the akhara wrestling tradition, the film addresses issues of patriarchy and gender roles while nudging its characters and audience to be more broad-minded.
Himachal Pradesh: Dear Maya (2017)
Plenty of Indian films have shot in Shimla, but not many are set there. Sunaina Bhatnagar's Dear Maya unfolds in the hill station, which allows us to see like any other sleepy town and not a tourist destination. Manisha Koirala plays a mysterious middle-aged woman whose solitary existence prompts two teenagers to hatch a risky scheme.
Jharkhand: Udaan (2010)
The steel town of Jamshedpur is the backdrop for Vikramaditya Motwane’s debut film, in which a young boy tries to find the resolve to stand up to his domineering father. The regimented, unsparing nature of factory life and the drabness of the setting seem to mirror the boy’s thwarted life.
Karnataka: Thithi (2015)
In Raam Reddy’s Thithi, we get the specific flavour of Nodekoppalu, co-writer Eregowda's native village. A lot of this is conveyed through food—its procuring, cooking and serving at the ritual feast by the sons of the village elder who dies at the start of the film.
Kerala: Maheshinte Prathikaaram (2016)
In recent Malayalam cinema, setting is everything. The best films conjure up such a specific vision of these towns and villages that they end up in the titles: Angamaly Diaries, Kumbalangi Nights. One underrated gem is Dileesh Pothan’s Maheshinte Prathikaaram, which suggests beautifully the small-town rhythms of Prakash city, in Idukki district. The opening minute and a half of Idukki, sung by actor Fahadh Faasil, could be an advertisement for Kerala tourism.
Madhya Pradesh: Stree (2018)
By coincidence, two Hindi films shot in the town of Chanderi released in 2018. One was Sui Dhaaga, which took as its central theme the town’s famous saree-makers. The other was a supernatural comedy, Amar Kaushik’s Stree, with Rajkummar Rao as an expert tailor. This blithe sleeper hit takes in Chanderi’s customs (it’s set during the annual four-day puja) and plays cleverly on the centrality of local legends, no matter how far-fetched, in small-town life.
Maharashtra: Killa (2014)
It’s impossible to pick one title from Maharashtra, with so many classic Mumbai-set films and excellent Marathi films set elsewhere in the state. But Avinash Arun’s gentle coming-of-age Marathi film, Killa, stands out for the way it captures the pristine beauty of the Konkan coast.
Manipur: Loktak Lairembee (2016)
This Meitei fiction film is about a couple who live on Loktak lake in Manipur, and what happens when the man finds a gun and starts seeing apparitions. Director Haobam Paban Kumar had earlier made a documentary on the same lake, and his first feature hews close to reality, basing itself on the 2011 eviction of lake-dwellers by the government.
Meghalaya: Iewduh (2019)
Iewduh is Meghalaya’s biggest market, in its capital, Shillong. Pradip Kurbah’s film, a rare title in Khasi, is a wonderful introduction to the place, weaving in local customs, music, food and the Shillong Teer lottery.
Mizoram: When Thunders Roll (2015)
Not many films have been made or set in Mizoram. There’s the documentary Rambuai: Mizoram’s ‘Trouble’ Years, and the Hindi film Dansh, set against the backdrop of the Mizo Nationalist Front’s struggle, but there’s barely a trace of either online. So we’ll go with Napoleon RZ Thanga’s modest non-fiction short When Thunders Roll, which documents the 2015 Independence Day charity ride by the Royal Enfield riders’ club The Aizawl Thunders.
Nagaland: Up Down & Sideways (2017)
Two directors from Chennai, Anushka Meenakshi and Iswar Srikumar, made this film about work songs in Phek village in Nagaland. This unique musical documentary, in Chokri and Nagamese, shows how the polyphonic singing is done in time with the rhythms of rice cultivation, creating a literal sense of harmony.
Odisha: Chilika Bank$: Stories from India's Largest Coastal Lake from 1970-2007 (2008)
Akanksha Joshi’s documentary, produced by the Public Service Broadcasting Trust, looks at the various people who live by, and make their living off, Chilika, India’s largest coastal lake. Through her narration and lively interviews with locals, Joshi shows how the desire to service the export market has deprived fishermen of a steady living.
Punjab: Luv Shuv Tey Chicken Khurana (2012)
There have been wonderful films in Punjabi in recent years, but Luv Shuv is significant in offering up just enough Punjabi dialogue along with Hindi to seem like it actually belongs to the state (that proportion has increased further, as seen in films like Udta Punjab and Kesari). Sameer Sharma’s colourful film offers a snapshot of present-day rural Punjab, with Amit Trivedi’s music nicely poised between tradition and hipness.
Rajasthan: Manorama Six Feet Under (2009)
Rajasthan is a ridiculously picturesque state, whether in arty films like Rudaali or epics like Padmaavat. All credit to director Navdeep Singh, then, for wiping all traces of exotica and making the small-town setting of Lakhot nondescript and menacing in his expert reworking of Chinatown.
Sikkim: Ralang Road (2017)
Karma Takapa’s debut feature is a difficult-to-categorise mix of psychological drama, dry comedy and neo-noir. It’s also a rare look at daily life in misty Rabong and Borong (where the director is from) in southern Sikkim.
Tamil Nadu: Kaaka Muttai (2015)
Two young brothers living in a Chennai slum watch a pizza commercial and are filled with the desire to try one. Director M. Manikandan casts an unsentimental eye on their quest, imbuing everything from a trip to the mall to stealing crow’s eggs with humour and poignancy.
Telangana: Bobby Jasoos (2014)
Samar Shaikh’s film was initially supposed to take place in Mumbai before the change to Hyderabad was suggested by producer Dia Mirza. This easygoing comedy starring Vidya Balan gains a lot from its setting, weaving the cultural markers and accents of old Hyderabad into each scene.
Tripura: Tree of Tongues in Tripura (2016)
Joshy Joseph's self-reflexive feature, in Kokborok and English, was developed at a film-making workshop in Agartala. Tripura’s tribal culture and music is at its heart, in particular the efforts of folk artist and preservationist Thanga Darlong, who turned 100 this year.
Uttar Pradesh: Mukkabaaz (2018)
The state has become a popular setting for the New Middle Cinema (Bareilly Ki Barfi, Bala) and for tales of old-world nobility in decay (Dedh Ishqiya, Gulabo Sitabo). Anurag Kashyap’s Mukkabaaz—the story of an underdog boxer up against the powerful, casteist head of the boxing federation—is another kind of UP story, as outspoken, overstuffed, chaotic and roughly poetic as the place itself./
Uttarakhand: Dum Laga Ke Haisha (2015)
Several films pass through the holy city of Haridwar, but few are set there. Sharat Katariya’s film is an exception, though it’s concerned with matters more earthy than spiritual. The detailing is immaculate: I can’t think of this film without imagining the comic vision of shorts-wearing shakha members exercising by the river.
West Bengal: Bakita Byaktigato (2013)
Bengal isn’t the force in Indian arthouse cinema it once was, but there are still some directors searching for new ways of seeing. One undeservedly obscure title is Pradipta Bhattacharyya’s Bakita Byaktigato. The deliberately documentary-like shooting style brings energy to its vision of Kolkata, and the shift to rural Bengal takes the narrative to wonderfully weird places.