‘Shola hai ya hai bijuriya, dil ki bajariya, Boombai nagariya…’ Vishal Dadlani encapsulated the spirit of Mumbai in a brilliant nutshell when he wrote these lines. Taxi No: 9211 (2006), the film in which the song ‘Boombai nagariya’ (deliberately spelt so) appears, was my first significant foray into capturing the essence of Mumbai. It dealt with two opposite characters caught in the rush and adrenaline of Mumbai.
The film took me and my crew to many untapped locations — Chikalwadi (where cricketer Sunil Gavaskar grew up), Tardeo, was used as Nana Patekar’s (who starred in the film) chawl. Hiranandani Gardens, Powai, was where most of the driving scenes were filmed as there are no traffic signals there. Dadar Parsi Colony and Ballard Estate, two of the finest precincts in Mumbai, were also showcased strongly, as were Marine Drive and Wadala.
Watch: Emraan Hashmi, Prachi Desai in ‘Pee loon’ song from Once Upon A Time in Mumbai
The crowds, the traffic and the accidents, which were recurring themes in the film, are all recurring parts of our lives. All these aspects helped bring out the suffocation and the tribulations of the Mumbaikar.
By the end of the schedule, we were an exhausted crew, done with Mumbai, and dying to shoot anywhere but here. Little did I know then that I would soon be taking up a film, titled Once Upon A Time In Mumbaai (2010).
What does one do with a title like that? What was left that we had not already filmed? Extensive recces began again. As a child, I grew up in south Mumbai. So, I used my memories and experiences from my days at Sydenham College, Churchgate, hanging out at Marine Drive, walking aimlessly around Churchgate, Flora Fountain and Colaba.
I had heard many stories about the parties that were held in hotels such as The Ambassador Hotel, The Natraj Hotel, Bombelli’s, and The Grand Hotel. I realised in conversations with my cast and crew that not many had seen that side of Mumbai. So, I decided to plunge right in.
Two other brilliant aspects of this city — the dense Dongri and the dingy Dockyard Road — made their way into the film. They both were fearsome places. The former was severely congested, and a shooting nightmare. The latter was infested with Bangladeshi immigrants and their formidable leaders.
Emraan Hashmi’s (who starred in the film) house was filmed at an actual location in Dongri. Opposing political parties would frequently threaten to beat up our crew. The action sequence, featuring Ajay Devgn (who starred in the film) and Emraan Hashmi, was filmed on a barge that was at Dockyard Road. To access it, you had to walk across six others. We shot there for more than two days, when the tide was high. Palki (restaurant) in Colaba, Sir JJ School of Arts in VT, the Mahalaxmi Race Course and the GPO were used to present Mumbai in its best nostalgic state.
As a film-maker who was born and brought up in Mumbai, there is a lot more for me to discover, both in terms of the city’s character and spirit.
Watch: Salman Khan in song ‘Tujhe Aksa beach ghuma doon’ from God Tussi Great Ho
I could go on, but let me just wrap up by saying that I’m glad I could showcase my city in a way that was applauded universally. It was not me seeking the city, it was the city reminding me constantly that all this already existed in my memory. From the days of parking my bike at Grant Road station to falling asleep on warm, sultry days in local trains — it was all there in my subconscious, waiting for a trigger to set it off.
With a lot of pride, I would watch actors admire the difficult but new locations that I would present to them. Even though they often complained about the crowds, the traffic, the potholes that damaged their expensive cars, and the lack of toilets on the barges, we shot on, off the coast, there was a desire in them to portray the city at its best. That’s the undying spirit of a Mumbaikar, who never gives up his or her quest for quality, and a little more.