Utpal Borpujari

September 29, 2008

Mumbai Cutting: Yeh hai Mumbai, meri jaan

A cinematic ode to the bustling metropolis seeks to reclaim the inclusive spirit that defi nes the city of dreams, says


Utpal Borpujari

Mumbai Cutting – A City Unfolds, a potpourri of short films created by a combination of 11 top-notch and newbie directors as an ode to the ‘dream city’ of India, is an important work of cinema in more ways than one despite its uneven character. Modelled on Paris, j t’aime (Paris, I Love You), a compendium of 18 short films made by 21 directors as a tribute to the spirit to the City of Love, and its under-production sequel New York, I Love You, it takes a varied look at the city which in recent times have been more in news for its rain-water floods and anti-North Indian stance of Raj Thackeray-led Maharashtra Navanirman Sena rather than its other multi-hued characteristics that make it the Maximum City.

But its importance goes beyond the fact that it perhaps signals the acceptance in the film world about the possibilities of short films as a viable commercial proposition even though its predecessor Dus Kahaniyan did not perform well at the Box Office. It also goes beyond the fact that the compendium takes on some of the best known aspects of the city – both positive and negative – churning out some really interesting cinema. The film’s underlying strength actually comes from the aspect that most of the directors at the helm of the project are non-Mumbaiites who have made the city their own, and pay their own individual tribute to the city through the craft they know the best, whether Raj Thackeray likes it or not.

Indeed, the film, that closed the 10th Osian’s Cinefan Festival of Asian & Arab Cinema in Delhi, flies in the face of the MNS and Shiv Sena’s oft-repeated accusations against “outsiders”, with the filmmakers repeatedly pointing to the melting pot that Mumbai is, even if they might have done it not deliberately. Probably, this is the film industry’s own reply to the “anti-outsider” agitations, more particularly as the industry since its inception has welcomed all kinds of “outsiders”, quite often making them forget their roots altogether. 

Take Sudhir Mishra, whose The Ball opens the film. Mishra, has his roots in Madhya Pradesh, with his grandfather Dwaraka Prasad Mishra even serving as the chief minister of the state. He would perhaps fall in the category of those “North Indians” against whom MNS has launched its tirade. Manish Jha, whose And It Rained is a music video in the form of a film, is from Bihar, and Anurag Kashyap, whose Pramod Bhai 23 is among the best of the lot of the 11 shorts, comes from Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh. Shashank Ghosh, Jahnu Barua, Rituparno Ghosh, Ruchi Narain, Revathy are all fall within this narrow MNS/Shiv Sena definition of outsiders – in fact, the only true blue Mumbaiite among the lot is Rahul Dholakia, and perhaps Kundan Shah simply for the number of years he has spent in the city. And it goes without saying that they portray in their films aspects of Mumbai that bring out the various facets of the vibrant city in as multilayered ways as any Mumbai-bred filmmaker would have probably done.


Take for example Mishra’s film, which starts innocuously but soon takes a menacing turn, a la his much-fated Iss Raat Ki Subah Nahin, with each character ultimately viewing the unfolding events from purely selfish angles, bringing to the fore the unforgiving character of Mumbai. This is wonderfully countered by Shah’s Hero, a silent film that pays a tribute to both the art of miming and Charlie Chaplin’s style of filmmaking through a brilliant Deepak Dobriyal who unveils his comic genius playing a struggling actor – most of whom are usually outsiders – who gets initiated into the art of boarding a local train even as he dreams of making it big in the film industry. Simply outstanding, this short film clearly delineates the initiation process for outsiders to become Mumbaikars, in a tongue-in-cheek manner. Kashyap too comes up with a wonderful story of hope amidst hopelessness, handling his young protagonist quite brilliantly, to reflect one crucial aspect of the city. Revathy’s Parcel, that will count among the very best of the lot, recreates another Mumbai, where outsiders come only to find a way – often illegal and fraught with great risk – to escape from the grim realities of their homelands, some succeeding and some not.


The underlying warmth of the city is beautifully recreated by Jahnu Barua in Anjane Dost, while Manish Jha talks about how the city often finds friends and soulmates for the lonely in the most unlikely of scenarios. It is only Rituparno Ghosh’s Urge that takes a look at the city from the point of view of someone who does not live there, while Dholakia gives a peek into the how fates often get intertwined in a city, even as Shashank Ghosh talks about waiting in a city that has time for none. Narain’s interestingly-titled Jo Palti Nahin Woh Rickshaw Kya, is, however, the only film that delves into the aspect of fear that has come to be part of the psyche of new entrants to Mumbai, even if obliquely. Raj Thackeray and his likes would do well to watch this film and imbibe its sub texts. And probably similar compendia on cities like Kolkata and Delhi are also the need of the hour.

(An abridged version was carried in Sakaal Times, www.sakaaltimes.com, 08-08-2008)



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