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The Indie Gem

Friday, July 20, 2018

This week, twenty years ago, a small film was released, which (without meaning to) became a trend-setter and a herald of the indie film movement in India.

'Hyderabad Blues' is the kind of film movielore is made of. Nagesh Kukunoor was living what many Indians would consider the American Dream, when he chucked it all up, and used up his savings from his chemical engineering career in the states, to come to India and made a movie (produced, directed, wrote, acted) basically about his own observations and experiences. It was made on a shoe-string budget, shot in Hyderabad in seventeen days; and then broke into the film festival circuit from where it made its way to a commercial release and turned out to be a sleeper hit. Kukunoor's movie-making career took off, and urban India found a film and a genre of small English films it could relate to and the word 'Indie' was bandied about.

The film was about Varun (played by Kukunoor himself), who returns to India after twelve years in the US and runs smack into culture shock, which, not surprisingly, includes the great Indian arranged marriage and… street-hogging cows. If made today, the film would probably have caused offence at many levels to a populace with an increased tendency to seeing insult where none is intended. But back then young, English-speaking urban audiences laughed their heads off at Varun's travails (“As scared as anyone would be in a foreign land – but wait a minute, this is my home”), because, they were probably going through the arranged-versus love problems too and fobbing off annoying, meddlesome relatives.

In the US, Varun has become health-conscious and which Indian mother would not want to fatten up her skinny son with high-fat meals. His friend Harish (Anoop Ratnaker Rao) is married and Sanjeev (Vikram Inamdar) is about to be hitched. They are happy and cannot figure out Varun’s snooty – bordering on obnoxious – attitude towards what is considered normal in India.

Varun likes a friend of Sanjeev's would be bride Seema (Elahe Hiptoola) and asks to be introduced. Ashwini (Rajshri Nair) is a doctor and not all that taken in by Varun's foreign-returned credentials. Still a kind of scrappy romance ensues and the film ends in a marriage mandap chaos, which is quite in contrast to the realistic humour of the rest of the film.

The film looked amateurish then and still does, but its humour remains as sharp as ever, and the situations as relatable; which is why twenty years later, 'Hyderabad Blues' is remembered with fond nostalgia as a true indie gem. When Kukunoor tried to recreate the magic with 'Hyderabad Blues 2', made in 2004, he failed.

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