Imagine Bruce Willis, say, facing a murder-related firearms charge then shuttling back to a film set where he’s playing a trigger-happy cop. It sounds like some high-concept movie plot, but for Bollywood royalty Sanjay Dutt, it’s real life. For the past 13 years, this Hindi film icon has been facing a jail term for holding guns at his home, linked to the underworld perpetrators of the 1993 Mumbai bombings which killed more than 250 people.
As the case reached a crucial juncture last summer, a documentary crew was on hand to follow the troubled production of ‘Shootout at Lokhandwala’, where Dutt was starring as the Mumbai police’s notorious ‘Ack Ack’ Khan, recreating the 1991 incident where officers spent 1,400 rounds of ammunition eliminating a criminal gang hiding out in an apartment block.
The ironies are ripe indeed, but director Mermin doesn’t spend too much time elbowing us in the ribs, instead offering wry observation of the Bollywood movie factory at work, and fanning out to assess the local public’s evident support for shoot-to-kill law enforcement, the very different levels of justice available to rich and poor, and the long shadow cast by fugitive crimelord Dawood Ibrahim, an apparent linking factor between the bombings, police corruption and Bollywood finances.
Though lacking genuine investigative heft and with obviously limited access to Dutt himself, the result is an absolutely fascinating survey, nimbly skipping from the bubble-headed asides of ‘Shootout’s irrepressibly crass filmmaker to assess more serious human rights issues without feeling too superficial or indeed overly snooty about the infectious can-do spirit of the seasoned crew trying to create Bruckheimer spectacle on a rupee budget.