Mumbai paused: A unique photo project is uniting film stills and the city

Graphic designer Murtaza Ametwala tracks down spots where iconic Hindi film scenes were shot, holds up a still and let’s the city work it magic. See snapshots from his series on Instagram.
Sanjay Dutt and Arshad Warsi outside the Asiatic library, in Munna Bhai MBBS (2003). (Image courtesy Murtaza Ametwala) PREMIUM
Sanjay Dutt and Arshad Warsi outside the Asiatic library, in Munna Bhai MBBS (2003). (Image courtesy Murtaza Ametwala)
Updated on Jun 12, 2021 05:38 PM IST
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ByRiddhi Doshi

Murtaza Ametwala loves Mumbai with all the fervour of someone who’s had to leave it and live elsewhere. Through his 17 years growing up, studying and eventually working as a video editor and graphic designer in Dubai, he clung to the city of his birth, revisiting it constantly in what became another great love — Hindi cinema.

Now, Ametwala combines the two in a series that has 10,000 followers and about 60 evocative posts on Instagram (@murtaza.ametwala). Every weekend, Ametwala heads out with a still from one of his favourite movies, printed out as a photo. He tracks down where that scene was shot, holds up his frame, and lets the city do the rest.

Kumkum and Johnny Walker sing Ae Dil Hai Mushkil at Marine Drive in CID (1956). (Image courtesy Murtaza Ametwala)
Kumkum and Johnny Walker sing Ae Dil Hai Mushkil at Marine Drive in CID (1956). (Image courtesy Murtaza Ametwala)

In his series, then, you have the Irani restaurant in Matunga, taking shape behind a still of Irrfan Khan sitting there in The Lunchbox (2013); a main road at Fort and Naseeruddin Shah in A Wednesday (2008); the façade of the Asiatic library and a still of a bike-borne Sanjay Dutt and Arshad Warsi in Munna Bhai MBBS (2003); a platform at CSMT and Dev Patel and Freida Pinto in Slumdog Millionaire (2008).

Finding out where a scene was shot isn’t that hard, he says. You can google it and often get an answer. But it’s not always a specific answer.

In March, for instance, Ametwala decided to visit the spot where one of his favourite scenes from Gully Boy (2019) was shot. It’s the one where Siddhant Chaturvedi says to Ranveer Singh: “Jitne bhi cheer faad artist huve-le na aaj tak, sab ke sab bhukke fakkad… (All the established artists that there have been so far, they’ve all been hungry for content).” It’s about content creators, so he can relate to it, says Ametwala, 25. “The dialogue also establishes a turning point in Murad’s life.”

Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Irrfan Khan in The Lunchbox (2013). (Image courtesy Murtaza Ametwal)
Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Irrfan Khan in The Lunchbox (2013). (Image courtesy Murtaza Ametwal)

The internet told him that the scene was shot at a defunct tobacco factory. It didn’t say which one. So he looked up defunct tobacco factories and found three — in distant Mulund, central Byculla and finally the one he was looking for, in the western suburb of Vile Parle.

What the internet also didn’t mention was that Farhan Akhtar’s Excel Entertainment had bought the space and turned it into a studio. Ametwala had to explain to a very confused guard what he was trying to do. After some scrolling on Instagram by the guard and some heartfelt pleading by Ametwala, the latter was let in for a few minutes and got his picture.

“So many movies are shot in Mumbai. So many larger-than-life, magical moments have been created on the streets. I want to visit them all and recreate some of my favourite moments there,” Ametwala says.

John David Washington and Dimple Kapadia at Mumbai’s Fort area, in a scene from Christopher Nolan’s Tenet (2020). (Image courtesy Murtaza Ametwal)
John David Washington and Dimple Kapadia at Mumbai’s Fort area, in a scene from Christopher Nolan’s Tenet (2020). (Image courtesy Murtaza Ametwal)

Ametwala started his series during a visit to Mumbai in 2019, a year before he moved back for good. “I love this city and trying to find locations where movies were shot is one of the best ways to explore it,” he says.

How hard is it to get the image just right? Finding the precise spot that matches his frame can be tricky, he says. He sometimes has to return again and again, on reconnaissance missions, to find just the right spot. It took him about four days, for instance, to find exactly where the song Kaise Mujhe Tum Mil Gayi from Ghajini (2008) was filmed. “I knew that it was the Fort area but not exactly where in Fort,” he says.

Day after day, he walked through the narrow and puzzling bylanes, asking people if they remembered an Aamir Khan shoot in the area. And then finally, with some help from their clues, he found his location near Fountain Chambers and took his photograph. “It always feels great to find that place you are looking for,” he says.

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Tuesday, January 25, 2022