Shah Rukh Khan in an Aanand L Rai film marks a perfect finish to a year full of heartland films

Hindi cinema is made for Hindi-speaking audiences. In essence, India’s busiest filmmaking industry aims to reach the Hindi heartland -be it the geographical landmass consisting of Punjab, Haryana, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, or the migrant population from these states, who reside across the country and worldwide.

While the ’90s and the early 2000s were spent imitating and regurgitating a standardised Punjabi version of life, love and emotions, the Hindi heartland has now taken center stage with pride in the mainstream. Often the Bihari or ‘Bhaiyya’ in Hindi films has been a caricature or an unpleasant character. Refreshingly, this year has seen authentic Hindi heartland-based stories, rooted and original, winning big at the box office. This space has finally solidified with genuine, believable films. In its mannerisms, accents, dialects and local cultural quirks, the heartland has a well-defined identity and age-old traditions of storytelling. Manifesting these in contemporary times has made the films fresh and appealing this year.

Hearteningly, a superstar like Shah Rukh Khan has played a vertically challenged man from Meerut in the upcoming big flick Zero, having travelled quite a long distance from the urbane, suave versions of Rahul and Raj that he is played for most of his career. That films like Raid, Stree, Mulk and Sui Dhaaga: Made in India have done so well is testimony to the fact that localised stories around ground realities and with genuine characters successfully work, and draw in audiences based on word of mouth.

Crime, guns and womanising- cliches about the Hindi heartland come together in the recent gritty series Mirzapur. Made for Amazon Prime Video India and produced by Excel Entertainment, Karan Anshuman ropes in an impressive cast of actors – Ali Fazal, Pankaj Tripathi, Vikrant Massey, Shweta Tripathi and Divyendu Sharma among others – in this fast-paced web show. Typical sensibilities associated with this region, often called the cow belt in political terminology, add up to the right recipe for a gripping story.

Interestingly, the filmmakers and writers, who have created each of these films or shows, either belong to that region or have grown up here. They have spent time understanding the local culture, language and customs, and adapted the same to cinema convincingly. The heartland’s appeal was limited to hyper-dramatic cop and political dramas for almost two decades. While some films, like Prakash Jha’s Gangajal, Apaharan and Raajneeti made for engaging viewing, more often than not, the heartland was stereotyped. Few films cut through the clutter.