By embracing regional films, we not only gain a deeper understanding of ourselves as a nation but also pave the way for more inclusive,  understanding, and impactful Indian cinema.
By embracing regional films, we not only gain a deeper understanding of ourselves as a nation but also pave the way for more inclusive, understanding, and impactful Indian cinema. L: Sachin Rana R: Debalina Majumder

7 Regional Indian Films That Hold A Mirror Up To Our Own Societal Biases & Bigotries

A revolution is brewing in Indian cinema, and it's happening outside the glitzy studios of Mumbai.

We can see a palpable resurgence in regional cinema across India, with regional films from various parts of the country winning awards at prestigious ceremonies like the Oscars and the Cannes Film Festival. Regional filmmakers are at the forefront of social discourse, tackling sensitive topics like caste systems, religious tensions, environmental concerns, and gender inequality. Their films don't shy away from portraying social realities and act as catalysts for crucial conversations and positive change. Empowered by regional cinema, audiences become agents for a more equitable and just society.

In contrast, commercially driven mainstream cinema has often relied on formulaic narratives, predictable action sequences, and star power.  Regional cinema, frequently produced with smaller budgets, prioritises strong narratives and relatable characters. This emphasis on substance over spectacle allows for a wider exploration of stories, encompassing everything from gritty social dramas to nuanced coming-of-age tales. Audiences are presented with thought-provoking themes and multifaceted characters, which is a refreshing departure from predictable tropes.

The rise of regional cinema also empowers a new generation of storytellers. Filmmakers from various backgrounds can bring their unique perspectives and experiences to the forefront. This creates a more inclusive film industry; giving a platform to voices that might otherwise be unheard. Through regional cinema we've also seen a rise in female directors tackling societal issues faced by women, or filmmakers from marginalized communities portraying their struggles and aspirations. This not only enriches Indian cinema but also fosters a sense of cultural empathy and understanding.

By embracing regional films, we not only gain a deeper understanding of ourselves as a nation but also pave the way for more inclusive, understanding, and impactful Indian cinema. Here are some recent regional films that are pushing the envelope for homegrown cinema as tool of social and cultural evolution.

1. Dalan (Marathi)

Dalan (Marathi)
Dalan (Marathi) Umesh Malan

'Dalan', a Marathi short film, tackles the deeply ingrained issue of casteism with remarkable subtlety. The narrative unfolds around a seemingly ordinary setting: a village flour mill - a place where people from all walks of life come together. However, a simple mistake – a mix-up of flour types – exposes the fault lines that still divide communities. This seemingly trivial incident ignites a firestorm, revealing the simmering tensions and hidden prejudices that persist beneath the surface of social harmony. Dalan compels viewers to confront an uncomfortable truth: despite modernization, caste continues to be a potent force shaping lives in rural India. 

2. A Normal Death (Malayalam)

A Normal Death
A Normal DeathRajesh Karthy

'A Normal Death' takes us on a disquieting journey into the human psyche, exploring the concept of 'otherness' through the lens of a seemingly ordinary social setting – a bar. The film establishes a sense of routine as we meet a group of regulars enjoying a familiar camaraderie. However, the arrival of a stranger disrupts this comfortable equilibrium. As the night unfolds, a sense of unease creeps in. The initial wariness towards the outsider transforms into suspicion, then veiled hostility. The film masterfully utilizes absurdist elements to heighten the tension, leaving viewers questioning the sincerity of human connection and the ease with which violence can erupt when confronted with an 'other'. A Normal Death compels us to examine our own biases and the potential for mistrust that can lurk beneath the surface of even the most casual interactions.

3. Nothing Grows Under the Pine Trees (Garhwali)

Nothing Grows Under the Pine Trees
Nothing Grows Under the Pine TreesSachin Rana

'Nothing Grows Under the Pine Trees' explores the plight of two sisters caught in the web of arranged marriage. The younger sister, lost in her innocent world, dreams of a happy future with the groom. However, the harsh reality lies with the elder sister, the one being sacrificed to appease societal norms and escape the fear of social ostracization. The film masterfully utilizes symbolism - with the barren pine trees representing the stifling nature of tradition - to portray the emotional toll such customs take on young women. Nothing Grows Under the Pine Trees is a powerful call to question outdated traditions and fight for individual agency, particularly for women in rural communities.

4. Darbha (Marathi)

DarbhaVismay Kamate

'Darbha' delves into the complexities of love and societal expectations.  The film presents a seemingly progressive scenario; a blossoming romance between a fiery Dalit woman and a privileged upper-caste boy. However, this utopian vision shatters when the harsh realities of caste prejudice come crashing down on them. As the story progresses, the young woman's past traumas resurface, exposing the scars left by generations of discrimination. The film doesn't shy away from portraying the internal conflicts within the young man as well. Despite his initial attraction, his own unconscious biases and societal pressures create a web of confusion and hesitation. Darbha poignantly portrays the tragic consequences of caste prejudice, even within seemingly progressive circles. It compels viewers to confront the uncomfortable truth that true social change requires dismantling not just external structures, but also the internalized biases that perpetuate inequality.

5. The Unknown Kerala Stories (Malayalam)

The Unknown Kerala Stories
The Unknown Kerala StoriesSanu Kummil

Often, Kerala is portrayed through idyllic postcards that depict lush backwaters and swaying palm trees. The Unknown Kerala Stories (Malayalam) shatters this stereotypical image, his heartfelt documentary by Sanu Kummul delves into the lives of ordinary people, capturing the essence of Kerala. We encounter diverse communities living in harmony, their stories filled with resilience, compassion, and a deep respect for tradition. The film celebrates the power of human connection and the beauty of coexistence that goes beyong religious and cultural divides. The Unknown Kerala Stories reminds us that the true essence of a place lies not just in its landscapes, but in the spirit of its people.

6. In Search of Ajantirk

In Search of Ajantirk
In Search of AjantirkMeghnath

Filmmaker Meghnath embarks on a personal quest, searching for the essence of Ritwik Ghatak's classic film, 'Ajantirk'.  He retraces Ghatak's steps, revisiting the socio-political landscape of Jharkhand that served as the film's backdrop. However, 'In Search of Ajantirk' transcends mere nostalgia. It delves into the film's enduring relevance, prompting viewers to question how societal issues portrayed decades ago continue to resonate in contemporary India. By interweaving the past and present, the film underscores the importance of preserving cultural heritage and using art to spark conversations on social change.

7. Beyond the Blues (Bengali)

Beyond the Blues
Beyond the Blues Debalina Majumder

'Beyond the Blues' tackles a vital yet often under-represented topic: the journey of a trans man. The film follows Neel, whose transition from assigned female at birth to a non-masculinist trans man is a story that goes far beyond just capturing the process of physical transformation. It's a narrative that defies societal expectations, breaks free from rigid gender roles, and challenges the very definition of masculinity. Beyond the Blues compels viewers to confront their own biases around gender identity and sexuality. It celebrates the courage of individuals like Neel who carve their own paths and redefine what it means to be authentically yourself. By shedding light on this under-represented community, the film advocates for inclusivity and fosters empathy towards those navigating the complexities of gender identity.