Lights, Camera, Action: Manifestos, Elections and Blockbuster Cities

By Hitesh Vaidya April 20, 2024

While the manifestos for upcoming general elections agree that cities will be at the forefront of the nation's journey towards a 'Viksit Bharat', Hindi cinema offers a unique lens to explore how data, technology, and innovative approaches can shape our urban future, particularly as Indian cities undergo crucial transitions.

Lights, Camera, Action: Manifestos, Elections and Blockbuster Cities

I was caught up in the excitement during my recent visit to Mumbai to participate in a conference where practitioners worldwide were gathered. I was surrounded by people buzzing about the elections—and how the promises made in the manifestos were as exciting as a Bollywood movie full of hope for the future. India's incredible story was on everyone's lips. They were ready – eager to jump aboard the bullet train of progress. The conference showed me how much the world believes in India's potential.

With Bollywood on my mind and hoping to spot a star, I suddenly thought: Imagine our cities as incredible as a Bollywood blockbuster! Think about it – a great story, unforgettable characters, and the feeling that anything is possible. It's not just about dreams; movies make us yearn for energy, friendships, and the feeling that anything is possible in the big city. Could our cities be as unique as those in Bollywood films? It's not as far-fetched as you might think.

Imagine a Bollywood movie where cities shine with solar power, getting around is a breeze, and even forgotten places become trendy community hubs. It may sound like a fantasy, but it's not far-fetched! Our cities have the potential to be just as awe-inspiring as the silver screen. Picture neighbourhoods brimming with character, public spaces, and all the elements that keep a city humming without getting in your way.

Just like it takes a whole team to make a blockbuster, building amazing cities is a collective effort – the government, businesses, and most importantly, us, the regular citizens. Together, we can turn our towns into real-life blockbusters by storytelling magic, involving people, and developing intelligent solutions. It's time for a new story, with “We” as the star, shaping the future of our cities.

Bollywood has always been obsessed with cities. They're shown as places of opportunity filled with struggle and inequality. Movies capture how our cities have changed – new buildings, crowded neighbourhoods, the beauty of the old, and the problems of the new. They force us to think about crime, poverty, housing, and how city life challenges old traditions. Bollywood offers a mix of perspectives on what it means to live in our ever-changing cities.

The manifestos for upcoming elections agree that cities will be at the forefront of the nation's journey towards a 'viksit Bharat' (Developed India). Hindi cinema, a powerful reflection of our society, offers a unique lens to explore how data, technology, and innovative approaches can shape our urban future, particularly as Indian cities undergo crucial transitions.

 1. Transition from “Norm-Driven” to “Strategy-Driven” frameworks

Films nudge us towards the importance of data transparency and accountability in governance. Data collection and analysis are crucial for optimising infrastructure, managing resources, and tackling pollution and traffic congestion. Imagine a future where "Lage Raho Munna Bhai" celebrates a citizen empowered by data to improve their community.A transition towards measuring effort, prioritise measurable impact in a granular way. Shift the focus from resources spent to tangible results achieved, ensuring that actions drive meaningful change.

 2. Transition from “Islands of Success” to“Tech-ledInnovations”: AddressingUrban Challenges at Speed and Scale

Technology is a recurring theme in Bollywood. While "Robot" explores the potential dangers of AI, films like "Delhi Belly" showcase the convenience of mobile apps that can streamline urban living.The vision extends to environmental concerns, as movies like "Peepli Live" can be reinterpreted as a call for tech-driven solutions for climate change and sustainable developm ent.They are reflecting the shift towards integrated approaches, breaking down silos between departments to create a seamless urban experience.

3. Transition from “Input Based” to “Outcome Based”: Reimagining Urban Dreams

Bollywood's power isn't just about showcasing shiny apartments. Films like "Bareilly Ki Barfi" tap into the more profound desire for a modern, welcoming homefor your entire life. Films like "Shor in the City" glimpsemany's cramped living conditions. Thankfully, the narrative is evolving.At the same time, movies like "Lakshya" (focusing on community building) inspire visions of inclusive housing projects that cater to diverse needs. Reflecting a crucial shift from input-based approaches (simply building houses) to outcome-oriented focus (ensuring quality and affordability).

4. Transition from “Infrastructure-driven” to “Quality-of-Life-Driven”: Building for the Future

While policymakers draft infrastructure plans, Bollywood ignites the soul of our cities. It paints a picture of thriving neighbourhoods, not just efficient roads. It makes us crave a job and belonging in that urban hum. These dreams push us to demand more than the bare minimum. From the bustling backdrop of "Yeh Mera India" to the intimate charm of Delhi's markets in "Delhi Belly," these visuals shape our idea of what a vibrant city should look and feel like.Films also highlight the need for better waste management and sustainable practices. Imagine a future where movies celebrate clean energy solutions, leading the charge towards a city powered by renewable resources. This signifies a transition from purely 'regulatory' frameworks (focusing on enforcing rules) to 'enabling' frameworks that incentivise and empower innovation for a sustainable future.

5. Transition from “Siloed” to Integrated and Sustainable Solutions: A City on the Move

The chaos of Indian traffic is a recurring theme in Hindi cinema. "Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge" might be known for its train romance, but it also highlights the importance of a well-connected transportation network. The future envisioned in "Swades" could extend to a city with efficient public transport systems, cycling infrastructure, and a focus on reducing traffic congestion, paving the way for a more sustainable and livable urban environment. This reflects a transition from car-centric development to a focus on integrated and sustainable transportation options.

6. Transition from “Doer” to “Partnerships”: Building a Better Tomorrow

Hindi cinema is fearless of the tough stuff. Films like "Satya" and ‘Nayak” spark conversations about corruption and inspire us to demand more from those in power, something no policy paper can achieve alone. Imagine a future inspired by "Munnabhai M.B.B.S.," where innovative public-private partnerships lead to improved city planning and efficient service delivery. This highlights the shift from a "doer" mentality (government solely responsible) to a collaborative approach with partnerships between public and private sectors.

7. Transition from “Everyone” to “No One Should Leave Behind”: Global Competitiveness and Livability

Bollywood often showcases the vibrant culture and iconic landmarks of Indian cities. Films like "Kuch Kuch Hota Hai" project a youthful, cosmopolitan image that can attract global talent and investment. However, movies like "Queen" remind us that true global competitiveness comes from creating a safe and inclusive environment for all residents. This echoes the crucial transition from regulatory frameworks to enabling frameworks to generate impact and ensure equitable access to opportunities and improved quality of life.

Bollywood doesn't just give us technical blueprints; it ignites a passionate vision. When we see the solar-powered city of our dreams on screen or the bustling community garden, we start believing these things are possible. By holding a mirror to our urban realities, showcasing innovative solutions, and highlighting the importance of transitioning to a more strategic, integrated, outcome-oriented, enabling, inclusive, and collaborative approach to city-building, and using a little storytelling magic, getting people involved, we can turn our cities into the real-life blockbusters of the future! It's time for the story to begin; we are the show's star. Let's take that excitement and make it happen. 

Hitesh Vaidya is Former Director of National Institute of Urban Affairs and Former Country Reperesentative, UN-Habitat India