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Shot In Bombay review: Reality is stranger than fiction in this film about the mad, tangled world of 'Bollywood'

Release Date: 18 Jan 2008 / 01hr 36min

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Sukhpreet Kahlon

Liz Mermin's documentary takes us behind the scenes on a fascinating journey through commercial Hindi cinema, crime and the chaos of moviemaking.

“I like making manly films, I like heroes, I find violence romantic,” says Apoorva Lakhia at the beginning of the documentary that traces his arduous journey of making the 2007 blockbuster Shootout At Lokhandwala.

With a star-studded cast that included Sanjay Dutt, Vivek Oberoi, Amitabh Bachchan, Suniel Shetty, Arbaaz Khan and Abhishek Bachchan, the film was based on a real-life daylight shootout that took place in full view of the public and the press at the Lokhandwala Complex in Andheri, northwest Mumbai, in 1991. The Bombay police and the Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) led by additional commissioner of police Aftab Ahmed Khan cornered and eliminated Dawood Ibrahim's hitman Mahendra 'Maya' Dolas and his associates.

While shooting for Shootout... was underway, leading man Sanjay Dutt, who played ATS chief Shamsher Khan, was himself facing trial on charges under the Arms Act for illegal possession of weapons and under the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act in connection with the Bombay serial bomb blasts of 12 March 1993.

During the pendency of the trial, he was taken into custody and released on bail numerous times, particularly in 2007, which was when his conviction was confirmed. This, however, was also the time he was shooting for Lakhia's film, leading to abrupt disruptions in the schedule.

Directed by Liz Mermin, Shot In Bombay begins at the time when, having waited four months for Dutt to be available, Lakhia now has only 3½ weeks to complete the film. Racing against time, the director is forced to work with what he has and shouts “mind-blowing”, “superb” to first takes in a desperate attempt to get it all done. We also witness the inventive ways adopted by the crew to shoot around the star, minimizing the time required for Dutt’s scenes.

The documentary captures the atmosphere behind the scenes fraught with tension, capturing emotions that oscillate between nervousness, anxiety, frustration and relief. As things are falling apart, Lakhia puts on a brave face and says, “We are like a well-oiled machine”, which couldn’t have been further from the truth.

In a captivating case of the reel world meeting the real, the documentary reconstructs the events of 1991 even as the film dramatizes them and conjures up Bombay at the time, also offering a comment on Sanjay Dutt and his own case. The irony of him playing an ATS officer while he himself was facing trial on charges of terrorism and connections with the underworld is obvious as he tries to go about his work amidst the mounting tension, the constant back and forth of the trial, the media scrutiny, and speculation about what actually happened.

In a rare insight, Dutt even speaks about the ways in which the mafia controlled the film industry at one time, mostly in the 1990s.

The painstaking research is evident in the film which is rich with material. With a keen eye, Shot In Bombay (2008) mobilizes extraordinary access to the stars and crew, interviews with the people involved in the 1991 encounter, including Maya Dolas’s mother, to bring out the intertwined world of crime and cinema in the metropolis.

The layered film also dissects the glamour of filmmaking by foregrounding the sheer labour that it entails — whether it is the crew that stands day after day waiting for the star to show up, the labour of 250 construction workers who erect a mammoth set by working round the clock, or the extras whose work is critical but seldom acknowledged.

With a fascinating dive into 'Bollywood', as commercial Hindi cinema is often known, one nevertheless wishes that the film had delved a bit more into Dutt and his case.

The documentary is a bit long and plodding at points, but it remains a keen insight into the mad world of Bollywood. At one point, the cinematographer, Gururaj R Jois, wryly remarks, “Filmmaking is a waste of time!” Mad world, indeed.

Shot In Bombay was premiered at the Sheffield Docfest and had its US premiere at the SXSW festival in 2008. It was part of the virtual showcase of films selected by the Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles (IFFLA) from 19 June to 5 July this year.

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