Somewhere in this film, Paresh Rawal’s character Tukaram Patil presents his theory that once upon a time seven leftover scraps of land were taken and pieced together to create Mumbai. This theory, as illogical as it may seem, serves as the foundation of Nishikant Kamat’s Mumbai Meri Jaan which uses the horrific 7/11 blasts as a backdrop for five in-depth stories that eventually lead to a notion of self-discovery for each of the film’s main characters.
I strongly believe that although we are forced to endure a lot of garbage, this is a wonderful time to be a member of the Hindi film-going audience because we are witnessing an unmistakable tide of change. When a film like Mumbai Meri Jaan releases, we don’t all stare wide-eyed at the fact that it is unconventionally ‘different’. This is simply because the ratio of these so-called different films increases each Friday, giving audiences something new and exciting to glue their eyes to for two hours.
Running on the heels of this ‘new age’ cinema, Mumbai Meri Jaan is more about five Mumbaiites and how they are emotionally, physically and psychologically affected by the blasts rather than the event itself. There are no starry airs to any of the five stories; they are simply various characters who are trying to find their space in a city that houses over thirteen million people.
In fact, the way the film has been scripted and shot, you feel like you are meeting the characters and truly getting a peek into each of their lives. Rupali Joshi (Soha Ali Khan) is an ambitious journalist who swears by her job until tragic events force the tables to turn as she stands on the other side of the camera for the very first time. Meanwhile, Nikhil Agarwal (Madhavan) questions his patriotism as the blasts subject him to an intense phobia of the same trains he used to ride every day. Struggling coffee vendor Thomas (Irrfan Khan) represents the prominent demographic of Mumbaiites who came to the city with hope of a better life ahead. Though he is not directly affected by them, the blasts give him an outlet to express his revenge on society. Due for retirement within a week, Tukaram Patil (Paresh Rawal) hasn’t done anything extraordinary in his thirty-five career and when tragedy strikes he begins to evaluate his significance to the police department. He is paired with Sunil Kadam (Vijay Maurya) who silently observes Mumbai’s flawed police system with frustration. The blasts force Suresh (Kay Kay Menon) to finally face the innate prejudice he so proudly encourages.
Each of these stories run parallel together and although they are noticeably different in order to cover Mumbai’s vast panorama of personalities, they are similar in the fact that each is a character study that leads to a single, profound moment of self-discovery. So even though the film isn’t as fast-paced as it could have been, these crucial moments are so brilliantly executed by director Nishikant Kamat that you can’t help but fall in love with the characters. The fact is that there are so many times that each one of us think we know who we are and believe that we understand the way the world works—until something drastic forces us to question ourselves. The 7/11 blasts serve as this tragic and monumental event that causes each character to stop and search deep within themselves to discover who they really are and what they want from life.
Each ‘slice of life’ is intriguing, but my personal favourites were the ones based on Rupali Joshi and police officers Tukaram Patil and Sunil Kadam. The former is incredibly raw and heart-wrenching while the latter is brilliant because of its two contrasting characters.
It would have been much easier to make a film based on the bomb blasts themselves, like so many other filmmakers out there, but director Nishikant Kamat chooses to base his film on characters rather than an event. This in itself is far more complex but Kamat has pieced together a beautiful film, which much like Mumbai, showcases the lives of characters from all walks of life and how they cope with tragedy. For the first time, Bollywood has flawlessly understood the art of fusing several tracks into one film. Collectively, the characters are representative of the city who proudly pulled up its socks after 7/11 and proved that it would take a lot more to knock it down. This inexplicable but beautiful spirit of Mumbai is portrayed during the final reels of the film with brilliance that hasn’t been seen for a long time on the Indian silver screen. Amidst a track from the 1956 film C.I.D., this scene is beyond words.
Capturing Mumbai for what it is, Sanjay Jadhav’s cinematography largely enhances the film, making it look as real as you can get. Yogesh Joshi deserves immense praise for writing a strong screenplay, which falters minimally. The dialogues add a great sense of realism to the film and are enhanced by an outstanding cast.
There is no scene-stealer in the film because each and every actor is so outstanding that you never feel like you are watching actors do their job. These characters look real and make you feel like you have met them before. Paresh Rawal proves yet again that he can do so much more than make us laugh while his co-star Vijay Maurya is beyond brilliant. He has minimal dialogues, but his presence is so extraordinary that you are bound to remember him once the film is over. Delivering her career’s finest performance, Soha Ali Khan conveys the fragility of her character with unbelievable finesse. Kay Kay Menon has done this sort of role before, but he’s very strong as usual. The same goes for Irrfan Khan, who conveys more through nuanced actions than words. Madhavan is also rock-solid, conveying the anguish his character undergoes through fantastic facial expressions. In fact, it’s quite hard for me to evaluate any of their performances because somewhere along the line I had to pinch myself as a reminder that they’re just actors and not actually the characters—that’s how real they are.
But above all, Mumbai Meri Jaan‘s biggest feat is the fact that even though it’s emotional, it’s not depressing. You feel for the characters greatly, but by the end of the film what captures you is Mumbai’s powerful and positive spirit rather than the heavy emotional burden felt by each character.
After Dombivli Fast, Nishikant Kamat returns in full force, delivering one of this year’s most powerful films. Rather than an account of the blasts that shook the city two years ago, Mumbai Meri Jaan is more of a character study that pays tribute to one of the greatest cities in the world. As the classic song goes…