About the story: To fight terrorists effectively, ACP Shamsher Khan (Sanjay Dutt) has founded the Anti Terrorist Squad ATS and personally picked out this special troupe’s members. But even by the Mumbai police the ATS often is critizised because of it’s not always legal methods. Right now the ATS eyes a gangster group whose leader Maya Dolas (Vivek Oberoi) intends to separate from his boss in Dubai and to lead his own, merciless regime. When Khan on November 16, 1991 finally comes to know about the whereabouts of Maya and his buddies Buwa (Tushaar Kapoor), Fattu (Rohit Roy), RC (Shabbir Ahluwalia) and Doubling (Aditya Lakhia) in Swami-Building in Lokhandwala, he gets the building besieged by police forces. Soon a shootout between 286 policemen and the gangsters breaks out which lasts more than six hours and transfers the Mumbai suburb into a seat of war. But afterwards, Khan faces an inquiry and is accused of violation of human rights and of co-operation with the gangster boss in Dubai. Advocate Dhingra (Amitabh Bachchan) is to decide whether Khan and his assistants inspector Kaviraj Patil (Suniel Shetty) and constable Javed Shaikh (Arbaaz Khan) are to be made accountable for the blood-bath in Lokhandwala...
So-called "encounters", resulting in shootouts between the police and criminals and often just faked by the police to make their shooting on allegedly fleeing criminals apparently legal, obviously belong to the Mumbai police’s repertoire. Only a few days before the release of the film Shootout At Lokhandwala, another encounter had made headlines in India and triggered debates about these controversial police methods – and thus added brisance to the film, making it unexpectedly up-to-date, which was just in the sense of the makers who with their film, grounded on true events, not so much wanted to answer question as rather pose them and initiate controversies.
And they managed in doing so, especially with the film’s end which in this case, as the historical facts are well-known, for once may be anticipated: the acquittance of Khan and his assistants in court. So is it okay and legal if the police uses illegal means in their stride against terrorists? Are policemen praiseworthy heroes who follow the instriction "shoot to kill" (Khan) and create a blood-bath? Does this film glorify policemen who disregard the law?
No. Lakhia did what he could to at least query the unevitable acquittance. Was it justice? Was the killing of the gangsters during the shootout gangsters? Lakhia poses these questions and invites the public to find their own answers about just and unjust. Advocate Dhingra, while questioning Khan, Patil and Shaikh, leaves no doubt that the ATS men in his view are not a tittle better than the terrorists. And his question in court "if there’s a man with a gun in your garden, whom do you want him to be: Maya, Buwa or Shamsher Khan?" is in my opinion no plea in support of Khan; in fact, with this question Dhingra aligns the ACP with the gangsters (and Sanjay’s reaction is accordingly). For me, the end is in no way a rehabilitation of the police, and had Amitabh in the last frame not beamed like a newlywed olympic champion, the case would have been the more credible.
The blood-bath in Lokhandwala, where in 1991 within six hours 1755 bullets have been fired off, is the film’s highlight and with all its excesses of violence splendidly filmed. Before that, the viewer gets a chance to meet both the parties – and none of them is presented in a very beneficial light. The cops are mostly wrecked fellows with wrecked family lives, and the gangsters are inmature guys who just want to live and play and for this, of all things, have chosen blackmailing and killing. Genuine sympathy is hardly possible for any of them. Neither pity – not even when the boys in the end amidst the hail of bullets phone their families or girl-friends and tearfully bid them farewell. On the contrary, these apparent attempts to make the gangsters more "human" are immediately reduced to absurdity; e.g. when Buwa whines to his Tanu that he so much would have loved to live before he has to die – getting married, having children etc – and in the same breath once more reminds about how many people he has killed. Is there anyone who feels pity? Not me.
Cast and performances in the film are good, partially even outstanding. Sanjay Dutt gives an impressive performance of the uncompromising ACP Khan; by the way, his "historic model" Aftab Ahmed Khan, whom he studied thoroughly for this purpose, plays the role of commissioner Krishnamurty in the film. No less convincing is Vivek Oberoi, probably delivering his best performance since Company. Amitabh Bachchan plays his little role with a beneficial pinch of sarcasm and, by the way, has claimed no fee for his contribution due to his friendship with Sanjay Dutt, prescisely like his son Abhishek in the blink-and-miss appearance as the cop Abhishekh Matre. Oh well, a few women were acting in this action film too, and Amrita Singh as Maya’s mother proves easily that she has more acting talent in her little finger than Diya Mirza (reporter), Aarti Chhabria (Tanu) and Neha Dhupia (Khan’s wife) together.
All of them don’t have very much to do. But even the male roles would have profited from a little more character developing. Lakhia had better eliminated one or two of the useless songs (they are nice, but just fillers) and prosecuted a bit more characterization of the figures instead. Or worked out the plot with the Dubai boss a little more – just mentioning the fact that Khan was accused to have acted in favour or maybe even by order of this gangster boss, and later never returning to this issue, is unforgivable. Did Lakhia have to be considerate of the real ACP Khan who was part of the film unit – and in his day was rumoured for being a frequent visitor of filmi as well as underworld parties?
Shootout At Lokhandwala indeed raises many questions. And is blistering up-to-date. Not only in India where, like I said, such encounters still happen (even though until now no longer to such an extend as in Lokhandwala 1991). But even in countries like Germany where, at the time when this film was released, people seriously discussed the question whether a terrorist may be shot as a precaution.
Produced by Sanjay Gupta, Shobha Kapoor, Ekta Kapoor; Directed by Apoorva Lakhia
121 Min.; DVD: Rainbow, English Subtitles (including songs); with the DVD you get a little information brochure and a bonus DVD containing: Making of the Movie, Making of the Song, Interview of the Stars, Exclusive Premier Footage und Original Footage of Encounter Held in Mumbai 1991 By ACP A.A. Khan (however, all of these five chapters feature nearly permanently the same material...)
P.S. Liz Mermin made a documentary film about SOAL: Shot in Bombay. Here you can read my review.