Usually, a protagonist finds him/herself during a road trip or journey across alien countries – the power of discovering new worlds combining with the spiritual experience of finding oneself navigate new environments and cultures. For decades, travel hasn’t really been an integral part of the Indian DNA, which is why there have always been very few films supporting adventure and coming-of-age-through-travel. There are tens of hundreds of (non-fantasy) English films over the years – Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, Before Midnight, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Eat Pray Love, In Bruges, Wild, every Bond film ever, The Tourist etc. being some of the more contemporary ones.
Let’s take a look at some of our own Hindi films that make you want to pack your bags and vamoose into the (civilized) wilderness:
DILWALE DULHANIYA LE JAYENGE (1995)
Yep. The Swiss tour. Youngsters, fresh out of college. Trains, the Alps, snow and little canals. For most of us, it began here. It wasn’t quite a rich-kid fantasy either; Simran was one of three or four middle-class average NRIs taking the tour to ‘expand their horizons’ and stare at boys. Looked like a package tour, but it all changed after she met Raj, who, in his convertible, led a whole generation of ‘90s kids to believe that Switzerland is where we all go to fall in love. The travel bug, of course, hit tons of Indian families and honeymooners – which even led the country to establish a special tourist-operating relationship with Yash Chopra and his production house.
DIL CHAHTA HAI (2001)
This isn’t your quintessential travel film – but the way the three friends took off to Goa basically became every Indian teenager’s fantasy of taking an impromptu (but planned according to the film) road trip. Back in 2001, Goa wasn’t as packed and violated as it is today, and the three musketeers provided a chilled-out account of India’s favorite beach town. There’s also the part where Aamir Khan (as Akash) begins to run his father’s company in Sydney – which made everyone, including yours truly, to add sun-drenched Australia on their bucket list soon. The funfairs, roadside cafes, metros, Opera House and cleanliness in general made it seem like such a cheery, young place to be in.
ZINDAGI NA MILEGI DOBARA (2011)
Perhaps the definitive ‘travel’ Bollywood film of our generation, Zoya Akhtar’s movie was once again about three men-being-boys across sunny Spain – a move that encouraged Indian tourism in the country by 20% immediately. Though the three, well into their careers, could afford a very comfortable and luxurious trip, it encouraged a whole bunch of yuppies into fulfilling their travel-lust fantasies despite being busy and caught up in the struggle to survive urban cities and ambitions. ‘Take a break’ seemed to be its calling, and once again, this writer explored the country after being inspired by ZNMD, though on a shoestring and more realistic ‘backpacking’ budget, unlike the Akhtars’ financially well off first-world characters.
DIL DHADAKNE DO (2015)
Once again, Zoya Akhtar delved into the lives of an upper-class Delhi family by taking us on a posh European cruise across the Mediterranean, especially exploring Turkey and its culture (cycling, food, Hamams) in a fantastical one-day way. If nothing, this was again followed by a trip to Istanbul for me, which was coincidental for the second time in a row as far as Akhtar’s filmography was concerned.
Imtiaz Ali often uses traveling to make his characters go through epiphanies. The small beautiful French island of Corsica became a rage with this film, not only with the Asterix familiarity, but the way Ranbir Kapoor (as Ved) and Deepika Padukone (as Tara) fulfill their roleplay fantasies across the picturesque island, making it seem almost melancholic and attractive for its Before Sunrise-ish fleetingness. Even Jab We Met and its hill-stations, Rockstar and the beautiful Prague, Highway and the Himalayas and Socha Naa Tha and Goa had its alluring moments.
The South Korean capital of Seoul came across as an overcast, vibrant and hypnotic city to visit, as we watched Shiney Ahuja as a gangster try to make a hard and honest living with his girlfriend (Kangana Ranaut) on the run. It definitely piqued curiosities, even though the film really doesn’t promote anything but tragedy and betrayal. The backdrop in Hindi films is what often arrests attentions, despite knowing that most producers force it into films and have readymade promotional/shooting discount packages with the countries’ ministries (Bhatts and South Africa, Abhinav Deo and Fiji).
MUJHSE DOSTI KAROGE (2002)
The film isn’t one of the best love triangles in Bollywood, but Hrithik Roshan and his emotions between Rani Mukerji and Kareena Kapoor had a brief backdrop of the mighty British capital of London – which had already become familiar through films like DDLJ and others.
Perhaps one of the silliest films to actively promote a previously unexplored cinematic land – that of Bulgaria – and the Gerua in Iceland (a waste of the land debut, but such beautiful images), Rohit Shetty’s lazy extravaganza at least got its locations in place, even though it didn’t know what to do with its superstars and non-existent script.
This film changed it all for contemporary 20-something broke Indians looking to fulfill their European travel fantasies. Kangana, who starred as a girl going alone on her honeymoon to Paris and Amsterdam, became the face of wide-eyed first-time Indian travelers, and even gave us an authentic taste of European hostel life (in Amsterdam) and Parisian nightlife with the superbly cast Lisa Haydon. Never has a Hindi film captured the essence of exploration and eye-opening experiences the way Vikas Bahl’s lovely cinematic journey did.