How Bollywood is romancing with period films to woo modern-day audience

Mar 20, 2015, 08:26 IST | Gaurav Dubey

With the trailer of Anurag Kashyap's 'Bombay Velvet' taking us back to the Bombay of the '60s, we take a look at how Bollywood has and continues to go big on period settings

Mounting curiosity around the lost eras has cajoled several contemporary filmmakers to take a leap of faith on subjects, but in reverse gear.

Ranbir Kapoor will be seen as a street fighter and Anushka Sharma as a jazz singer in the neo noir drama, Bombay Velvet
Ranbir Kapoor will be seen as a street fighter and Anushka Sharma as a jazz singer in the neo noir drama 'Bombay Velvet'

The first trailer of director Anurag Kashyap's 'Bombay Velvet', which released yesterday, transports one to a smoky, seductive Bombay of the '60s with men in sharp suits, women in bouffant hairdos and a city that looks enchanting as well as restless. Starring Ranbir Kapoor, Anushka Sharma and Karan Johar, the film is based on historian Gyan Prakash's book 'Mumbai Fables'. Set in Mumbai of the 1960s, the film tells the story of a boxer, Johnny Balraj, and an aspiring jazz singer, Rosie, and how their hopes and dreams collide with their individual realities.

Anushka Sharma and Ranbir Kapoor in Bombay Velvet
Anushka Sharma and Ranbir Kapoor in 'Bombay Velvet'

Bollywood has attempted many period films in the recent past and is looking forward to more. hitlist gives you a lowdown on a few films which took us back in time, some successfully and others not so much. Also, a look at upcoming films that are set in eras gone by...

'Bajirao Mastani'
Bajirao Mastani

The war-drama, directed by Sanjay Leela Bhansali featuring Deepika Padukone, Ranveer Singh and Priyanka Chopra tells the tale of Peshwa Bajirao and is set in the 18th century. Bhansali, known for lavish sets and costumes is expected to put the story of Bajirao, Kashibai and Mastani with adequate magnificence.

'Detective Byomkesh Bakshy!'
Detective Byomkesh Bakshy!

The Dibakar Banerjee film starring Sushant Singh Rajput is set in Calcutta (now Kolkata) of 1943, a city then under threat from a military invasion by the Japanese. In Dibakar's words, Calcutta was not a provincial but a cosmopolitan city in the pre-independence era. In the trailer, Sushant appears as a typical Bengali bhadralok of the British times, teaming a dhoti with socks and shoes, coat and antique watch, with hair slickly oiled back. He is shown travelling in the quintessential hand-pulled rickshaw and tram, which are still part of the modern city life. We will have to wait and watch the film to know if it has anything more of the '40s flavour than the sahebi costumes and vintage cars.


The film was based on the life of Maharashtrian scientist Shivaji Bapuji Talpade, who is credited with having constructed India's first unmanned plane, in 1895. The Vibhu Puri movie starring Ayushmann Khurrana, Mithun Chakraborty and Pallavi Sharda tried hard to recreate the Bombay of the 18th century, but the results were unfortunate. We got sets that reeked of fake grandeur, some were real and others ridiculously computer generated. The director also forgot to keep an eye on little details which screamed of 2014s and not 1850s — women wearing nail paint, men with branded wristwatches and lyrics peppered with recent concepts like cutting chai and bun maska! British officers yelling “Bloody Indians!” every few minutes hardly added to the period effect.


The film set in village of Manikpur in West Bengal in 1953 takes us to the time when the government dismissed the power of the zamindars. Right from the beginning, director Vikramaditya Motwane manages to build the unhurried tempo, typical of that era. The attention to detail in furnishings of mansions back then, the body language of the lead actors and dialogues made this one no less of a fairytale. Ranveer Singh and Sonakshi Sinha played the lead roles in
the film.

'The Dirty Picture'
The Dirty Picture

This Vidya Balan-starrer was set against the entertaining backdrop of the fierce male-dominated South Indian film industry of the '80s. Apparently inspired by the life of South sex siren Silk Smitha, the film successfully evoked images of the era it was set in — from lewd, provocative gestures and dirty dancing by belly bulging women to big goggles, flashy, retro costumes and hair

'Once Upon A Time in Mumbaai'
Once Upon A Time in Mumbaai

This period gangster film highlighted the underworld scene in Mumbai during the '60s and '70s. Reportedly, the film was based on the life of gangsters Haji Mastan and Dawood Ibrahim played by Ajay Devgn and Emraan Hashmi, respectively. With the actors in the film mouthing terse dialogues, trumpets being used for the background score and over the top styling characteristic of that era, director Milan Luthria successfully managed to capture the nostalgia associated with the late '60s and early '70s.


This 2005 blockbuster directed by Pradeep Sarkar had Vidya Balan, Saif Ali Khan and Sanjay Dutt in lead roles. The film, set in the '60s was based on a Bengali eponymous novel. Right from the costumes to the diction, the makers managed to capture the vintage visuals with precision. Props such as the piano in the song Piyu Bole, vintage cars driven by the lead actors and the toy train aided in increasing the authenticity of the era showcased in the film.

Periodic problems

Some filmmakers tell us about the challenges that they faced while recreating a particular era…

Milan Luthria, director
Milan Luthria
"The biggest challenge is recreating an era in painstaking detail yet keeping the mood pulsating and energetic."

Vikramaditya Motwane, director
Vikramaditya Motwane, director
"Creating an era without a big budget can be difficult. You have to be very specific about what you need and not waste a single rupee. But a lot of the fun is in the small details — cigarette packets, radio sets, clothes, hair, motorcycles, food... And when it comes out right, it is very satisfying."

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