From NRI pleasing, touristy rom-coms to gritty small-town realities, the themes and characters in Hindi cinema have travelled a long way to become increasingly diverse. Here is our pick of five such, relatable dreamers who struck a chord with the audience in a big way.
Billu aka Prem Kumar Yadav in ‘Chaman Bahaar:’
Once upon a time, paan vendors and neighbourhood shopkeepers were incidental protagonists in Hindi cinema who once in a while offered heart-warming advice to the lead actors. Remember Lallan Miya in Chashme Baddoor (1981), Ram Dulare Paanwala in Avtaar (1983) and the shopkeeper in Saathiya (2002) whose telephone is a refuge for secretive lovers? Billu aka Prem Kumar Yadav breaks away from that trope and is the paan shop guy in a Chhattisgarh village who not only gets to play the lead in Yoodlee’s ‘Chaman Bahar’ but also wants a love story of his own. But is he the leading man? Or just a reminder that our social and economic boundaries decide how much we can dream and aspire to? He is neither a hero, nor a villain. Just someone who wants to earn a livelihood and a life and at some point realises, he will never have enough of either. What distinguishes him from others who loiter around his shop that he knows when aspirations can grow toxic. He knows when to stop chasing a dream and be accountable for his mistakes. His reward? The fact that his dream girl at least knew that he existed. This bitter-sweet Apurva Dhar Badgaiyann directorial, stars Jitendra Kumar and Ritika Badiani.
Gurukant Desai in ‘Guru’:
This 2007 Mani Ratnam directorial unabashedly celebrated small-town dreamers with a story that showed how a driven entrepreneur with more schemes in his head then money in his pocket, becomes a leading business tycoon. The journey of Gurukant Desai from northern Gujarat, to Turkey to Mumbai where he starts trading in clothing to then set up his own manufacturing units, was a joy ride that gave Abhishek Bachchan the role of a lifetime and also had sterling performances by Aishwarya Rai, R. Madhavan, Vidya Balan, Mithun Chakraborty, and Roshan Seth. The score by A. R. Rahman was another winning feature in this film about a man who defies all odds to realise not just his own dreams but the aspirations of his millions of shareholders.
Jaitun, Jugnu and Vijay Dinanath Chauhan in ‘Kanpuriye’:
Written and directed by Ashish Aryan, this Yoodlee film gives an insight into the conflicted hearts and minds of young men in stifling towns. And how where you come from often ends up defining your identity. Divyendu Sharma, Aparshakti Khurana and Harsh Mayar play the Kanpur boys who aspire to love, to financial freedom and dignity but like tragic heroes of films they admire (notice the tribute to ‘Agnipath’ by Divyenndu Sharma’s character), they are constantly up against one challenge after another. The film deftly goes on to show where cinematic illusions end and reality begins. Gritty, empathetic and poignant, the film also doesn't fail to entertain with its one-liners, sharp writing and pitch-perfect performances by the actors.
Deepak and Devi in ‘Masaan':
This 2015 Neeraj Ghaywan directorial is both a heartbreaking and uplifting depiction of young people trying to survive the occasionally fatal collision between dreams and tradition in a small town. Deepak and Devi are both survivors of such a collision though one is bound by the limitations of his lower-caste family and the other scarred by the disapproval of her upper-caste father. They both courageously defy social taboos for love and to follow their heart , only to pay a heavy price. And even though they meet only in the last frame of the film, we realise that the only way to survive the death of one dream is to perhaps dream some more. The film starred Vicky Kaushal, Shweta Tripathi and Richa Chaddha.
Rohan from 'Udaan':
This 2010 Vikramaditya Motwane film was a path-breakingly disturbing depiction of how toxic masculinity destroys families and does not even spare young boys if they seek to deviate from the path that has been etched for them. The story of the protagonist Rohan who is expelled from his boarding school in Simla only to return to Jamshedpur and his violent, abusive and controlling father, pulled no punches. Rohan secretly writes beautiful poetry to escape his reality and his final sprint to freedom is as cathartic for the audience as it is for him. The film depicts how for some young dreamers, their homes are not their sanctuary but cages they must escape to live fuller lives. The film starred Rajat Barmecha, Ronit Roy and Ram Kapoor.