Set in Mumbai, Bollywood only rarely ventures outside—particularly eastward—in its pursuit of stories to tell. However, we have compiled this list of notable Bollywood movies that have made it as eastward until bustling Kolkata, and also been fairly successful in their portrayals of this city.
Guru Dutt’s 1957 classic, Pyaasa, is a story very much entrenched in Calcutta of the ’50s. Following the story of an Urdu poet who fails to woo publishers until he is mistakenly thought to be dead, and his relationship with a prostitute from the city’s red light district, the film portrays a gloomy image of the city and its inhabitants.
Howrah Bridge (1958)
This gripping noir film utilizes 1950s Calcutta’s crime-infested gloominess like few other films have. The film follows the story of a young man who has traveled to Kolkata from Yangon, Myanmar to trace the events that led to his brother’s mysterious murder.
This Saif Ali Khan and Vidya Balan film is an adaptation of the 1914 Bengali novella, “Parineeta,” by celebrated Bengali author, Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay. Following the evolving relationship between two young people from different social classes as they grow from childhood friends to lovers, this film takes a jab at the city’s elite and their interactions with folks from lower economic classes.
Byomkesh Bakshi (2015)
Set in World War II-era Calcutta under constant threat of aerial bombardment by the Japanese, this Bollywood mystery thriller follows the first adventure of popular Bengali fictional detective, Byomkesh Bakshy, created by writer Saradindu Bandyopadhyay. We follow Bakshy out and about in the darkest, most mysterious parts of the city as he digs himself deeper into a web of crime.
Vidya Balan stars as a pregnant woman who has come to Kolkata in search of her missing husband. Set during the time of Durga Puja, the film captures the chaos of festival season in the city as our protagonist wanders around the city, tracing the steps of her husband.
Filmmaker Mani Ratnam’s crime thriller is set in Kolkata’s criminal underbelly and captures the intersecting lives of three men with very different social and political statuses. Kolkata is omnipresent in the movie, as both a powerful character and a stunning backdrop at the same time.
Splitting time between Darjeeling and Kolkata, Anurag Basu’s critically acclaimed comedy-drama follows the exploits of Murphy “Barfi” Johnson, a deaf-mute boy in 1970s West Bengal. Tracing his relationship with two women, Shruti and Jilmil, this oddly endearing film paints a colorful picture of late twentieth century West Bengal, including Kolkata.