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It’s Not Just A City, It’s An Emotion: Mumbai As Bollywood’s Dearest Muse

It’s Not Just A City, It’s An Emotion: Mumbai As Bollywood’s Dearest Muse

By Sakhi Nair

Edited by Nanditha Singh, Senior Editor, The Indian Economist

The City of Dreams, the Financial Capital, the City that Never Sleeps; Mumbai is home to everything Bollywood. Right from art-house directors silently pouring over scripts in an old Irani café, to over-dressed struggling actors trying to get noticed at Starbucks, from swanky multiplexes to shady video parlours showing C-grade cinema, Mumbai has it all. No Mumbai Darshan tour is complete without a sighting of Amitabh Bachchan’s bungalow, and it’s likely that the biography of every place will come with the byline of “This movie was shot here.”

Bollywood’s hometown also seems to be its dearest muse.

Bollywood has tried to capture Mumbai in its various moods, even with the iconic song “Yeh Hai Bombay Meri Jaan,” an ode to the tough lifestyle of the city. Mumbai, with its several dimensions, naturally provides a plethora of ideas for filmmakers. Be it art-house or commercial cinema, Mumbai has acted not just as a setting or location, but has been portrayed as a character itself in movies. Though it won several Oscar awards, Slumdog Millionaire was also greatly criticised for its portrayal of the crime-ridden, grimy side of Mumbai. No matter how negatively the city was shown, it cannot be denied that there was some truth to it, and Mira Nair’s ‘Salaam Bombay’ was also based on the same. Dharavi’s infamous slums serve as a breeding ground for crime, right from child trafficking to prostitution. Despite painting such a raw picture of Mumbai, the reason the movie still struck a chord with the audience was because it was centered on an universally desired theme: hope in times of despair. Though Jamal and Latika’s story started in the filthy slums of Dharavi, they might have fulfilled their dream of a mansion in the elite locality of Peddar Road after all.

Mumbai’s murky underworld has also been a subject of interest for many filmmakers. Movies like Once Upon A Time In Mumbai, Shootout At Lokhandwala, Shootout At Wadala, and cult movies like Deewar, Vaastav, Parinda, Satya, and Company; portrayed the city’s dark underbelly, many of them based on the lives of iconic gangsters like Haji Mastan, Dawood Ibrahim, Chota Rajan and Manya Surve. Stories about gang wars, encounter killings and the rise and fall of Mumbai’s dons have never failed to pique the interest of the audience. To break the stereotype of the terrorising gangster, Bollywood introduced the funny and adorable Munna Bhai, with his equally liked side-kick, Cirquit, making their way into people’s hearts through their funny bones.

The humanistic side of the busy city has been the subject of many movies, a la Life In A Metro. They show how much we really lose in the maddening chase for success, how this city can make or break relationships, and that though we try to put up a brave face to endure the hardships, we are humans at the end of the day. Mumbai has overcome all kinds of obstacles, from bomb blasts in the city’s lifeline, the local trains, to the 26/11 attacks. Movies like Mumbai Meri Jaan and A Wednesday are a tribute to the undying spirit of the city. Khalid Mohammed’s Fiza and Mani Ratnam’s Bombay were also about people caught in the web of the Hindu-Muslim riots. No matter what we go through, we still leave our homes to earn a living everyday, unshaken, undeterred and fearless. Bollywood has also taken a fancy to understanding how the city gives rise to complex human relationships, and how, though unknowingly, we touch several lives. Kiran Rao’s critically acclaimed Dhobi Ghat was one such movie. Wake Up Sid was well received by the audience because they could relate it to their own enduring love for this amazing city, and how in spite of a few stumbles, this city helps us find our way. Madhur Bhandarkar has also found his muse in Mumbai, uncovering its glamorous side with his movies like Page 3, Corporate, and Fashion.

Bollywood is such an inseparable part of Mumbai that there have been movies dedicated to the city’s film-crazy people. Films like Bombay Talkies and Rangeela showed us how ordinary people are heavily influenced by Bollywood, how their lives revolve around it, and how they dream to make it big in the glamorous world. Mumbai and Bollywood share mutual love for each other. While the muse worships its painter, with film posters on every wall, Bollywood songs blasting from every radio and famous dialogues on the tips of everyone’s tongues, Bollywood reciprocates by dedicating numerous films to the city. Mumbai and Bollywood are truly, a magical combination.

 Sakhi is a 12th grade student planning to pursue Mass Communication. She is a keen observer of everything that her eyes can see and never leaves herself out of a stimulating conversation. She considers the freedom of expression to be the fourth necessity of life and believes the world could be a better place if we could just listen. Her interests include photography, music and satire. You can wade through her musings at

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