Sonntag, 16. November 2008
Shot in Bombay (2007) - Review in English
Liz Mermin: Shot in Bombay (2007)
For a documentary, Liz Mermin accompanied the making of the movie Shootout At Lokhandwala during the first months of the year 2007. The equivocal title of her documentary, Shot in Bombay, comprehends all the interweavings of fiction and reality captured by Mermin: the shooting of a film basing on true incidents (which also do question entanglements of police and underworld in Mumbai) where the leading hero Sanjay Dutt plays a cop hunting terrorists while the actor in real life is waiting for his verdict in a case in which he for fourteen years had been accused of being a terrorist himself. Sanjay’s court dates, the permanent worrying about an extension of his bail and Sanjay’s strained nerves during the three-and-a-half weeks in which director Apurva Lakhia forced through his workload at a record speed massively influenced the shooting of Shootout At Lokhandwala. By blending shots from the sets with original documents and reports of former events Liz Mermin shaped a thrilling docu-drama where the borders between fiction and reality seem to smudge several times.
While watching the proceedings on the sets, Mermin gets statements from many people – cast, crew, stuntmen and body-double Yakub Khan Kayamkhari who stands in for Sanjay Dutt aswell as for Amitabh Bachchan, if necessary. You could think you’d be watching one of these usual "making ofs" hadn’t there been right in the beginning the pictures of Sanjay Dutt at the TADA court – pics from July 31, 2007 when he was sentenced to six years rigorous imprisonment for illegal possession of arms. When then the documentary jumps back to "seven months earlier" you watch the rest all the more consciously and intensely – at the latest from the moment on when Sanjay Dutt, mischievously smiling, answers the question about the message of Shootout At Lokhandwala with "Don’t be a gangster!"
The parallels between the movie’s plot and the real historic events it’s based on are shown by original reports from November 16, 1991 when a shootout of several hours between the police and five gangsters hidden in the Svati Building in Lokhandwala transformed the location into a battle field, and by the memories of ACP Aftab Ahmed Khan who in 1991 had led that operation ordering "shoot to kill" – rumours say that he did so on command of underworld boss Dawood Ibrahim who thus wanted to get rid off those five rebellious gangsters. It’s the role of this Aftab Ahmed Khan Sanjay Dutt plays in the film about the shootout in 1991.
Dawood Ibrahim, today India’s most sought-after gangster, was – what an ironic overlay! – "not available for an interview". He’s been living abroad since the Mumbai Bomb Blasts of March 12, 1993, a bloody vengeace for the likewise bloody Mumbai Riots in January 1993 where mostly muslim civilists had died. Here begins the second interweaving between film shooting and reality: Sanjay Dutt, whose family during the riots had massively been threatened to death, had at that time been offered to be provided with an automatic weapon to protect them. Without long considering he accepted the offer – and without anticipating that the people who delivered the gun to him would start that disastrous bomb attack series just a few weeks later. In April 1993 Sanjay was arrested and accused of being involved in that terroristic conspiracy; branded a terrorist and anti-national, he spent in total sixteen months in jail awaiting his trial until he was released on bail in October 1995. The trial of the 123 accused in this case lasted until the end of 2006; on November 28, 2006 Sanjay was found guilty of illegal possession of arms but acquitted of the terrorist charges.
With simple but accurate references and carefully selected documentary shots, Liz Mermin gives a brief but gratifyingly correct review about these events and even tries to explain how a grown-up man could make such a fatal mistake: She shows Sanjay in the documentary To Hell And Back from 1996 where he remembers how he, a Hindu, had helped many victims during the Riots no matter which religion they had belonged to (and because of this help for Muslims, fanatical Hindus had threatened to kill his family), and she also shows a document from 1990 where Sanjay in youthful carelessness proclaimed his credo of always to do what he considered to be right, be it actually right or wrong. (At the latest now you feel relieved to see that Liz Mermin wasn’t out to brand Sanjay a criminal but stayed beneficially neutral.
And now, in the beginning of 2007, Sanjay is shooting for the movie Shootout At Lokhandwala while at the same time he has to attend court nearly every day and doesn’t know how long his freedom on bail will last (he’s got his judgement but he’s still waiting for his verdict and he knows that for illegal possession of arms it can sum up to five till ten years in jail). Mermin captures many thrilling and interesting moments and proceedings before and behind the camera and blends them with the problems arising to the crew when Sanjay again and again has to leave the sets for court hearings which often enough are adjourned without result. When he’s on the sets, his scenes are shot as speedy as possible; usually the director shouts "cut! mindblowing!" already after the first take and carries on with the next scene as he cannot afford too many retakes. The scene where in one take Sanjay’s strained nerves make him fumbling with his lines again and again really gets to us; when finally the scene is canned and Lakhia shouts his obligatory "mindblowing", Sanjay’s face tells exactly that he doesn't share this opinion as he knows that this was everything else than mindblowing.
But not just Sanjay is under pressure. Once for example you watch the unit on January 18 waiting nervously while Sanjay in court pleads for an extension of his bail; with "no news are good news" they strengthen their hopes that the shooting can be continued on the next day until the relieving news of Sanjay’s extended bail arrives. People in the streets are shown expressing their hopes that Sanjay will be let free, one of them wanting to fast to death for Sanjay’s freedom. Sanjay himself visibly attempts not to show his psychic stress, he even manages several times to smile into Mermin’s camera though this documentary surely must have been an additional mental burden for him.
After the end of the shooting Liz Mermin briefly documents the post production and the promos till the première of Shootout At Lokhandwala on May 25, 2007. The critics were crushing, but at the box office the film became a hit. Among the film sequences chosen for the documentary is also the scene where a reporter asks whether what Khan did was right or wrong. Sanjay’s film character finally was rehabilitated, Sanjay himself had to face a different fate. With pictures from July 31, 2007 and his sentence to six years imprisonment two months after the film release we’ve come full circle in Mermin’s documentary which ends with the information that Sanjay, who challenged his verdict, is free on bail again and waiting for his appeal hearings which, according to legal experts, might take some time...
Shot in Bombay is absolutely worth a watch. With sure instinct Mermin shows a film shooting in Mumbai, raises neutral questions about links between film industry, police and underworld and documents some weeks from Sanjay Dutt’s seven unnerving months of waiting for his sentence. Thanks to Liz Mermin's objective and impersonal approach everyone can build up his own opinion about right or wrong in the end – just like in Shootout At Lokhandwala.
Produced by Nahrein Mirza; Directed by Liz Mermin
100 Min.; DVD by Little Bird
My review of Shootout At Lokhandwala