Hot Docs Review – Shot in Bombay

Image alt

Shot in Bombay
Director – Liz Mermin

Hot Docs Synopsis

Director Liz Mermin’s fast-paced, multilayered and captivating doc about shooting a blockbuster gangster movie in Bombay/Mumbia is packed with more drama and action than the movie itself. Following a cast of charismatic and often surreal characters, the doc goes beyond the tinselly glamour of Bollywood to explore some of the industry’s darker sides. With unprecedented behind-the-scenes access to a star-studded cast, Shot in Bombay tells three intertwined stories: the rise of the city’s underworld in the 1990s, narrated by a no-nonsense ex-police chief known as “Bombay’s Dirty Harry”; the tribulations of superstar Sanjay Dutt, on trial for alleged involvement in India’s largest terrorist attack; and a young director’s dogged quest to master the delicate art of making a Bollywood blockbuster. With three and a half weeks before the movie wraps, the lead star actor is held up in legal battles. Without the star the entire production is a flop. Shot in Bombay is a high-octane adventure.
-Sarah Whitehouse

Liz Mermin’s Shot in Bombay joins a long line of great ‘making of’ documentaries detailing the always stressful and often humurous process of filmmaking. Immediately comparable to such great films as American Movie, Lost in La Mancha, Overnight and Operation:Filmmaker; all of which are great docs that look at the filmmaker’s struggle against the elements, the studios, ‘acts of god’, and themselves. It’s schadenfreude in the truest sense of the word.

“Shootout at Lokhandwala”, the film within this film, is a big-budget, balls-to-the-wall action extravaganza and the third film helmed by hot shot Bollywood director Apoorva Lakhia. The story is inspired by a real life gunfight between a group of gangsters and the Mumbai Anti-Terrorist Squad, lead by India’s self-proclaimed real-life ‘Dirty Harry’, A.A. Khan. The poster tagline reads ‘Based on True Rumours’, and Lakhia describes the film’s depiction of events as ‘faction’. He’s obviously heavily inspired by the Michael Bay’s and Tony Scott’s of American filmmaking, and seems pretty easy to please, proclaiming every take as ‘fucking mind-blowing!’. Lakhia’s excitment and rock-star attitude definitely scores the most laughs in the film. In fact, I couldn’t believe how much laughter Shot in Bombay received from the audience. It sort of made me realize that the entire filmmaking process is, in itself, pretty ridiculous. All of the behind the scenes mayhem and do-it-yourself effects (most memorably a cleverly hidden man passing bags through a fake airport x-ray machine) were seemingly pretty standard fair, yet elicited an uproarious response from the crowd. Unfortunately, I seemed to be missing out on some of the humour because to be quite honest, I was having some trouble understanding some of the people on screen. This isn’t something I normally have a problem with, but the speed at which some people were talking mixed with the hollow acoustics of the theatre had me struggling to catch everything. I wonder if the filmmaker’s have considered subtitles?

Beyond the typical ups and downs of the filmmaking process, Lakhia also has to deal with a star who’s usually never around. Sanjay Dutt is the son of famous Bollywood stars Nargis and Snil Dutt. After following in his parents footsteps, he has managed to make quite the name for himself, starring in some 116 or so films. He’s also been facing some severe legal troubles which, coincidentally, are connected with the events that ‘Shootout at Lokhandwala’ are based on. Dutt was busted for the illegal possession of numerous high-powered automatic weapons, one of which was connected to the gang leaders killed in the real life Lokhandwala shoot out. He ends up in and out of jail and consistently wrapped up in court hearings, therefore putting a bit of a damper on his reliability as an actor. This makes for some pretty entertaining drama on the set of ‘Shootout’ as Lakhia makes use of body doubles and creative camera placement to work around the situation.

The most interesting aspect of Shot in Bombay is Mermin’s cleverly interwoven storylines, effortlessly combining the making of ‘Shootout’, the trial of Sanjay Dutt, and the re-telling of the actual events the picture is based on. All three come together seemlessly, and the juxtaposition of real life news footage to the glossy ‘made-for-the-big-screen’ Bollywood version is both humourous and slightly off-putting. Clever cuts between news footage of the bodies of the real life gang members and actors carefully prepping their bloodied costumes to create the exact same moment are successfully powerful. This is a technique that’s used quite often throughout the film.

Although the on-set conflicts aren’t as severe as any of Terry Gilliams projects, and the film never truly seem to be in jeopardy, Shot in Bombay does provide a no-hold-barred glimpse into the Bollywood film-factory. The film challenges western preconceptions, yet thrives in the Eastern embracing of the Hollywood block buster, resulting in a comedic glorification of violence and factual misrepresentation that says something about both industries. — Jay C.