How Mumbai has lent character to Bollywood in unique ways

With Anurag Kashyap’s 'Bombay Velvet' hitting the marquee, we attempt to match cinematic memories from the patchwork of the Bombay that was and the Mumbai that is… 

For a city synonymous with cinema and glamour, Mumbai has almost stood out as a parallel character, an obvious choice for filmmakers to set their stories in. With Anurag Kashyap’s 'Bombay Velvet' hitting the marquee yesterday -- the film shows Bombay of the ’50s and ’60s — hitlist attempts to match cinematic memories from the patchwork of the Bombay that was and the Mumbai that is...

Mumbai skyline

Anushka Sharma and Ranbir Kapoor in a still from 'Bombay Velvet'
Anushka Sharma and Ranbir Kapoor in a still from 'Bombay Velvet'

The release of 'Slumdog Millionaire' in 2009 let loose both dissenters and those who endorsed director Danny Boyle’s vision. Among endorsees is director Kushan Nandy, who believes that it was “undoubtedly the best film” that showed the full-fledged character of the financial capital of India. He says, “It took a Danny Boyle to show us a Bombay we had never seen. From the clutter and chaos of paid public toilets in Dharavi to abandoned terraces and receptions of shut down hotels, the movie showed us a world we often see but are not imaginative enough to depict.”

Dev Patel and Frieda Pinto in the Oscar-winning Slumdog Millionaire (2009)
Dev Patel and Frieda Pinto in the Oscar-winning 'Slumdog Millionaire' (2009)

While Slumdog… is still fresh in our minds, there are certain older films that celebrated Mumbai in a way that the new age directors feel is too superficial. Before movies like 'Salaam Bombay' (1988), 'Parinda' (1989) and 'Satya' (1998) or the more recent 'Mumbai Meri Jaan' (2008), there were a bunch of films like 'Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi' (1958) and 'Manzil' (1979) that depicted the city in a different light. As director-actor Anant Mahadevan elaborates, “I think Basu Chatterjee and Hrishikesh Mukherjee shot the city in a rather interesting way. I have vivid images of the way Basu Chatterjee picturised the song 'Rim Jhim Gire Sawan' in 'Manzil'.”

'Manzil' (1979)

Salaam Bombay (1988)
'Salaam Bombay' (1988)

Feat of a few
Director Sudhir Mishra, whose experiments with film bridge the days of the establishment of a parallel cinema and the present day use of the medium, says, “There are a few but not many films that have managed to capture Mumbai well.

Bambai Raat Ki Bahon Mein (1967)
'Bambai Raat Ki Bahon Mein' (1967)

There was 'Bambai Raat Ki Bahon Mein' (1967) that was directed beautifully by Khwaja Ahmad Abbas, which would be one of the few films that stand out.” Bambai Raat Ki... won the National Award in the Cinematography category (Ramachandra).

He adds that he enjoyed the way Kashyap captured the darker side of the city in 'Ugly'.

Memorable watch
For the new breed of directors, films like 'Parinda' and 'Satya' have left a lasting impression. Detailing his favourite scenes, Rensil D’Silva says, “In 'Parinda', it was Anupam Kher getting shot at Dadar and from 'Satya', it’s got to be the assassination sequence during the festival of Ganesh Chaturthi.”

'Parinda' (1989)

'Satya' (1998)

He asserts that if he shoots a film in Mumbai he would want to capture the ability of Mumbaikars to recover from unforeseen calamities, alluding to memories of the aftermath of 1993 blasts.

Unfortunately, irony lends a shadow to everything that commands beauty. Like Mahadevan points out, “It is sad that a city which bred cinema is not the first option for filmmakers to shoot in because of the exorbitant costs of filming.”

Sudhir Mishra and Anant Mahadevan
Sudhir Mishra and Anant Mahadevan

Swearing allegiance to the latter’s statement, D’Silva says, “Since my last film 'Ungli' was a vigilante film, I had to shoot most of the sequences on the street. While it was an experience, it was a very difficult one.”

Even National Award-winning director Madhur Bhandarkar, who has shot most of his films in the city and faced unpleasant situations while doing so, had told hitlist in an earlier interview: “Not only ‘powerful’ people, but even weather can be a villain at times. Being someone who was born and brought up in the city, I don’t see any other city doing justice to my stories. Having said that, I would love to see all governmental bodies at play come under one umbrella. Everybody around wants to make money. On the other hand, the common people on the street are far more cooperative.”

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