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Watch: Indian film finds a market in Mumbai's migrants.
MUMBAI, India – Twenty-year-old Darbanga Lalit Yadav left his village in the north Indian state Bihar two years ago and moved to Mumbai in search of a job. He works as a cook in a family’s home and earns 4,000 rupees ($87) a month. When he gets a day off about once a month, he said he spends it by wandering around the city and then going to the movies.
But Yadav does not waste his time watching Bollywood films that typically show wealthy, jet-setting Indians in modern outfits living around the world. He can’t relate to those movies. Instead, he goes to the latest Bhojpuri film. In these movies, the characters speak the Hindi dialect Bhojpuri, which is spoken in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh and among many of Mumbai’s migrants.
“They’re from my Bihar,” Yadav said of Bhojpuri films as he stood in line to buy a 30-rupee ticket at a single-screen theater in Andheri, a northern suburb of Mumbai. Men repairing the cinema stood above Yadav on bamboo scaffolding. “Bhojpuri films are more interesting,” he said, “because they belong to my own village and language.”
Regional cinemas like Bhojpuri have seen a surge in growth in India over the past decade as a result of Bollywood films increasingly catering to more modern, wealthy and cosmopolitan Indians, according to Kathryn Hardy, a University of Pennsylvania Ph.D. candidate in South Asia studies who is working on a dissertation on Bhojpuri cinema.
“As Bollywood targets the global audience, there is a big hole left,” Hardy said as she took a rickshaw to visit the set of a new Bhojpuri film. Regional cinemas have filled that gap by producing movies that cater to a local audience through language, themes, music and settings that resonate with them.
Bhojpuri films have been around since the 1960s, but the number of movies made each year has sprung up in the past 10 years ago. About 100 films are now made a year, Hardy said.
Bhojpuri films, packed with song and dance routines and action scenes, address social and family issues relevant to the lives of people like the young migrant Yadav. In the movie “Devra Bada Satavela,” which Yadav is in line to watch, a father arranges marriages for his three daughters.
Inside the single-screen theater in Andheri, a crowd of Bhojpuri-speaking cooks, rickshaw drivers, taxi drivers and other working-class fans watch the film. In this theater, there is no line at the ladies’ room. The crowd, mostly migrants from northern India, is virtually all young men.
Unlike in multiplexes, where fans sit in air-conditioning and quietly watch Bollywood and Hollywood hits, in the fan-only single-screen theater, the crowd whistles and cheers throughout the film. The audience claps when the film’s hero, Ravi Kishan, runs across a field and accidentally bumps into and falls on the heroine, Rani Chatterjee.
Chatterjee is one of Bhojpuri’s biggest actresses, and she looks strikingly dissimilar to Hollywood stars like Jennifer Aniston or Bollywood actresses like Aishwarya Rai. Chatterjee, too, is gorgeous, but in a Bhojpuri context — she has a so-called healthy look: plump arms, large breasts and a normal-looking midriff that she reveals in her saris or short Western shirts.
Bhojpuri films are made with a fraction of the budget of their Bollywood counterparts, and the movies’ criticism usually involves them being called cheap, tawdry and vulgar, Hardy said.