Take the example of Johan’s insipid fare KANK, which for the matter was set in US of A, but was it rooted in the culture of that nation? I doubt, the characters in the film could have existed in any country and would have still behaved the same.
The characters for example refer to soccer as football for starters, they never speak in English or their conversation is mostly in Hindi and Urdu, which I found it to be strange considering from where the characters were based out of.
Let me try to give you a few examples of how a film can be rooted in culture and showcase the identity of a city.
Let us take the example of Mani Ratnam’s O Kadhal Kanmani, could it have been set in any other city in India? I would say no, Mani captures the vibrancy and middle class romance of Bombay. We romance in buses, on trains and he knew exactly why a live in relationship in Chennai would not work.
People behave differently when they are in their hometown and when they find new found freedom in the place that they make as their home later on. And that’s very well illustrated in O Kadhal Kanmani if you easily observe.
There is a scene, where Dulquer is guided by his elder brother to a place at Vashi, just hear the conversation in case you haven’t noticed it earlier. Perhaps any other director would have used a dummy or imaginary place, but not Mani. This scene may be inconsequential in the long run, but it helps the audience identify with the character and place him in a geographical location.
Kashyap did that beautifully in Gulaal, we know the place, the background, not just that even their caste and that makes us relate to the character all the more for a film like Gulaal which worked primarily thanks to the various dimensions that the characters exhibit.
Could Gulaal have been set anywhere else? No.
Why is that most filmmakers create our characters in vacuum? Why do they hesitate to give them a place, an identity where the story is set?
You can perhaps attribute it to commercial compulsions or perhaps they do not simply care?
I for once feel, that our stories need to be rooted, otherwise KANK could have been based in Italy and the story would have remained the same. Why was Subhash Ghai’s Yuvvraj set in Austria? Did the location make any difference to the film?What would have happened if it was set in Mumbai, Delhi, Dubai or London?
In an increasingly globalized world, our story needs to be rooted somewhere and location should not be decided on basis of tax exemption is what I feel. And of course one need not have to be an Adoor Gopalakrishnan or a Satyajit Ray to make films that are deep rooted or with characters that belong to a particular milieu clearly. One need not dig deep, some of the better films from India this year like Visaaranai or Maheshinte Prathikaaram are proof of the same.