This was easily my most hyped movie for the first half of 2007. Given it was from the makes of KAANTE, MUSAFIR and ZINDA, had a gigantic and extremely promising cast of Amitabh Bachchan, Sanjay Dutt, Vivek Oberoi, Tusshar Kapoor, as well as a guest appearance by Abhishek Bachchan, and above all an extremely innovative and exciting story which promised a non-stop 45 minute shootout for it’s finale. In short, my idea of a perfect, blockbuster film! So does the movie live up to expectations? Perhaps i’m naïve, yet somehow I had expectation from Apoorva Lakhia! Despite making two box-office duds (MUMBAI SE AAYA MERA DOST and AK AJNABEE) I expected Lakhia to deliver a “brilliant” film, and sadly SHOOTOUT AT LOKHANDWALA is NOT a brilliant film by any means. However all is not hope, the movie nonetheless manages to spring a surprise as it turns out to be an extremely fast-paced, well-acted, technically accomplished, gritty action-thriller which does manage to shed some new light on to a new topic. And definitely manages to engulf the viewer for its duration.
Firstly the story, the captivating promos had the tagline “BASED ON TRUE RUMOURS” blazed across it. The movie was based on the famous “shootout” that happened at Lokhandwala where Mumbai police headed by A.C.P Aftab Ahmed Khan with his team of shooters managed to kill 6 up-n-coming gangsters who had the city of Mumbai in their firm grip and the mere mention of their name sent shivers down peoples spines in the 90’s. The story by Lakhia and Sanjay Gupta has been no doubt heavily researched as this is evident right from the very start. The movie revolves around A.C.P Shamsher Khan (Sanjay Dutt) –a no-nonsense, tough cop who along with Inspector Kaviraj Patil (Suniel Shetty) and Inspector Javed Shahikh (Arbaaz Khan) gunned down a group of trigger-happy gangsters in a local residential area in Mumbai city. The gang was headed by Maya Dolas (Vivek Oberoi)-a man who knew no fear and operated on his own terms and conditions. Dolas worked for the “Big Bhai” who operated from Dubai (again an open reference to Dawood Ibrahim after the recent BLACK FRIDAY) but Maya was in a rush to reach the top and in love with his power. The story itself has been well penned by Lakhia and Gupta; however it’s the screenplay by Suresh Nair and again Lakhia which has its share of shortfalls. Despite the title being “SHOOTOUT AT LOKHANDLWALA” the actual “shootout” in the movie doesn’t occur till the last 40 minutes. The movie traces the nexus between police and gangsters right back from the late 80’s through to the 90’s as it traces the rise of Maya Dolas, as well as the rise of Khan and the A.T.S(Anti Terrorist Squad). During these moments the viewer is given a brief insight into the lives of not only the officers, but also the gangsters. While some have been developed with enough meat, others have only been touched upon briefly and the movie could’ve done without it. Take for example the Suniel Shetty track with his wife which seems completely unfinished and hurried and one wishes it wasn’t there at all. The “build-up” to the actual “shootout” is well done in my view as it keeps the viewers attention gripped to the proceedings towards the finale. Unfortunately for Lakhia, a lot of what has been shown in SHOOTOUT AT LOKHANDWALA has already been done to death by Ram Gopal Varma and his “factory” right from SATYA, COMPANY, D, AB TAK CHAPPAN to the recent RISK and the movie does lose some of its novelty value because of this. Finally the songs in the movie stuck out like a sore thumb. The songs just weren’t necessary in a movie like this and they could’ve been done without.
As a director Lakhia takes strides as a storyteller and this is undoubtedly his finest and most mature attempt to date. MUMBAI SE AAYA MERA DOST was a shockingly poor film period, and while I thoroughly enjoyed EK AJNABEE which was a well made film it was again lacking not only originality, but that much needed “zing” to elevate the film. With SHOOTOUT AT LOKHANDWALA Lakhia attempts to do many things, one on hand he attempts to recreate the past and bring on celluloid an true life event ala BLACK FRIDAY, while on the other hand he attempts to merge this in with a large scale “blockbuster” films like KAANTE, MUSAFIR and ZINDA and unfortunately the merging of both these genre’s isn’t quiet as smooth as it should be. Lakhia has taken a lot of cinematic liberties when making SHOOTOUT AT LOKHANDWALA that it’s simply not possible to take this movie as a factual piece of evidence trying to recreate the shootout at lokhandwala; however I think it would be unfair to say that Lakhia was trying to be accurate. Infact, he makes it quiet clear with the tagline BASED ON TRUE RUMOURS that this is the version of the story HE has chosen to tell from the number of stories that he has heard. As a director Lakhias narrative was great for the most. The movie perfectly balance and shows an insight into not only the lives of the policemen, but the gangsters as well. The rise to power of Maya Dolas and A.C.P Shamsher Khan has been well portrayed and keeps the viewers interest alive. The songs do hinder the pace in between as they all have a sense of deja-vu prevalent throughout them and seem completely forced. However once the battle lines are drawn between Khan and Dolas the movie is a relentless, violent and extremely tense and exciting thrill ride. The scene where the officers start to harass the gangster’s family and loved-ones only to have the gangsters do the same back to them is a masterstroke by Lakhia. The verbal showdown between the “cops” and the “gangsters” all in different scenes in settings just before the Interval is a great masala moment and again marks Lakhias growth as a director.
As mentioned earlier, the movie does NOT exactly provide the viewers with anything new at all, right from encounter killings, the rise of a gangster, the Mumbai underworld, stressed policemen trying to do their jobs, gangsters who have loved ones and much more has been witnessed time and time again in Indian cinema over the last few years however Lakhias treatment merged with the fact that he is telling a story that based on some facts does lend the movie with a certain amount of credibility which works in the films favour. Furthermore, I found Lakhia gives his gangsters a rather earthy and real touch without painting them in a outright positive manner(with the exception of the inane E GANPAT CHAL DAARU LA). This is a far departure from Varma and his prostitution of power which I sometimes have a problem with as Varma at times paints his gangsters in such a light that they appear “cool” and almost fashionable. The background of the gangsters and also the cops hasn’t been fleshed out too much except for a few. One wishes that Lakhia hadn’t done a half-baked job in some scenes which seemed like a time-killer and progressed the movie further. Lastly, a note on the violence in this movie. It’s no secret that this is my favourite genre, and I love violent movies. And SHOOTOUT AT LOKHANDWALA is one of the most violent movies I have seen in recent times. Shootouts, stabbings, and fist fights are scattered throughout the movie and the body count is insanely high at times. In some scenes the violence is impactful and forceful as it leaves a hammer strong impact, while in others it comes across as slightly forced. Take for example the scene where Oberoi stomps on an informers head (taken straight from AMERICAN HISTORY X) which seems like a forced attempt to portray Maya Dolas as a powerful figure. On the other hand the violence in the shootouts and specially the climax seems completely justified and is extremely tense, adrenalin packed watch, and one that seemed to have complete audience acceptance as well. What I love about the climax is that Lakhia manages to incorporate a bit of old-school “masala” into the climax as well which makes it all the more fun! The fight scene between a larger-than-life, supremely heroic Dutt and the maniacal and psychotic Dolas has been extremely well picturised and only adds to the affect. Mr. Lakhia…this is a LOT better than I expected so thank you, however this could’ve still been a lot better, with the most fatal flaw being the merging of two genres, as the movie on one hand appears to be a serious retelling of a incident ala BLACK FRIDAY which it fails to do so (heck it’s not even a patch on the best works of RGV) however on the other hand it’s a outright, bona-fide “blockbuster” film with ample doses of “masala” and in that retrospect the movie is extremely enjoyable.
Now to the performances… Sanjay Dutt delivers what is to my mind his finest performance since MISSION: KASHMIR, MUNNABHAI MBBS, ZINDA and LAGE RAHO MUNNABHAI. There have been films in between which have shown immense promise, and Dutt has excelled in them, however SHOOTOUT AT LOKHANDWALA stands in a league of it’s own as Dutt leaves an unforgettable impression. Firstly, he is looking fresher, smarter and in amazing shape. He looks every inch the character he plays. An instant reminder of MISSION KASHMIR, Dutt with his grey streaks, moustache, buffed body and offcourse the famous John Wayne swagger is in the best form and shape he has been for a long time. Secondly as the leader of the pack, Dutt slips into the part of A.C.P Khan which such admirable ease that one cannot imagine anyone else playing this part like he has. He commands respect and oozes dignified authority in every scene he is in. His delivery, dialogues, body language and get-up is a winner from the word go, and it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that the movie is worth the price of admission alone to see Dutt in such a grand role and performance. His exchanges with Amitabh, the scene with Vivek at the restaurant and the heroic climax as Dutt takes on Vivek one-to-one leave a hypnotic affect on the viewer. Lastly I would like to add this is every inch a Sanjay Dutt film, he is the films HERO and this has to be one of his meatiest and full-fledged characters in recent years. As I had after LAGE RAHO MUNNABHAI, if Dutt chooses his roles carefully he can only grow from strength to strength, and after SHOOTOUT AT LOKHANDWALA this stands truer than ever!
Vivek Oberoi delivers his finest performance since COMPANY, though in my view it is unfair to compare this performance to COMPANY as the characters of Chandu Nagre and Maya Dolas are poles apart. Nagre was a much softer and humane character, while Dolas is a raw, rugged and wild character with no remorse. Oberoi excels playing rugged characters far more than he does playing romantic ones, and this is further proof of it. His get-up is just great and his confidence is admirable. My fault with Oberois performance is that he seems to be trying too hard in places to evoke fear and his delivery does come across as monotone. The crazy rolling of the eyes and forceful voice is effective at times, while at other times it comes across as fake as hell. One cannot deny that Oberoi is an extremely confident actor, and his confidence oozes in every frame which works in his favour as he comes across as extremely endearing and genuine in his part. There was ample room to actually flesh out Dolas’s character a lot more, however Oberoi isn’t given a chance to do this, as majority of his role requires him to act tough and talk tough. Before the movies release I had said that “IF the character of Dolas has been done right we could have this years Bhikhu Mhatre, Lallan Singh or Langda Tyagi on hand” and once again, I admit I had given Lakhia more credit than he’s worth as Dolas is a far cry from any of those remarkable performances. This is by all means a good performance, and within the context of the film one that works quiet well, however this isn’t Oberoi’s best performance by any means.
Amitabh Bachchan is not in great form here, and this is a character and performance that Bachchan actually sleepwalks through. He plays the lawyer investigating Khan and co. and the entire movie is revealed in flashbacks as Bachchan interrogates Khan, Patil and Shahikh. The potential of Bachchans character was limitless, and in the hands of a smarter director this could’ve been a LOT of fun and extremely massy. The introduction of Bachchans character has been done well, and the dry, witty humour exuded by Dhingra starts out promising, however this quickly vanishes as it turns into a rather straight-forward performance. This is by no means a “bad” performance as such, but this is a performance that could’ve been played by ANYONE, and by no means does it need Amitabh Bachchan, nor does it do ANY form of justice at all to the mans supreme talent.
Rohit Roy is effective in the few scenes he has, Shabbir Ahluwalia is OK for most of the movie, impressive in parts and totally dull in others. Aditya Lakhia doesn’t get much scope to impress at all. Akhilendra Misra does his GANGAJAL role all over again. A.A Khan is natural to the core in a small role. The girls in the movie don’t have much to do. Dia Mirza does well in her small part as the news reporter and manages to register an impact. Neha Dhupia has limited footage. She looks stunningly beautiful, and I was actually surprised that her pairing with Dutt came across so fresh and natural. Aarti Chhabria is simply dazzling. Sexy and stunning the girl looks a million bucks and dances well too, but once again isn’t given much on the acting front. Rakhi Sawants presence in the movie is totally not needed.
Lastly, there is the much publicizied “guest appearance” by Abhishek Bachchan. Granted Abhishek has done special/guest appearances a number of times throughout his career right from surprise appearances like HUM TUM and SALAAM NAMASTEY where he registered an impact to blink-and-miss roles like NIKKI N NEAL and EK AJNABEE. His role in SHOOTOUT AT LOKHANDWALA falls more into the latter category as he is only on-screen for 10 minutes flat and hardly has any lines to mouth. His get-up is simply fantastic, and the prospect of seeing Abhishek as a cop and doing action is an exciting prospect however one that Lakhia has not been able to tap into properly at all. Before the films release I was actually hyped for this small appearance as it seemed extremely massy. However Abhisheks scenes don’t even have much relevance in the larger scope of things, and they appear completely forced and unnecessary. Amitabh Bachchan in ROTI KAPADA AUR MAKAAN this is NOT!
A special mention must be made of Raj Vasant who has written the dialogues. Extremely punchy and well written they fit into the sync of the movie extremely well. Specially those delivered by Dutt! The music in the movie is a colossal letdown. The songs stick out like sore thumbs, their picturisations leave a lot to be desired for and one just wishes Lakhia had gone for a songless film except for the soulful AAKHRI ALVIDA which appears in the end credits. GANPAT has a heavy GOLI MAARO BHEJE MEIN hangover and is ineffective, while MERE YAAR is a typical club number. On the other hand the background movie in the movie is simply marvellous and elevates countless sequences in the film. Technically the film is astounding, and as expected from the house of White Feather productions. Right from the camerawork to the action sequences this is a monumental effort. R.J Gururaj’s camerawork stunningly capture Mumbai in all its gritty glory and literally brings the city to LIFE with his amazingly dazzling camerawork. The action in the movie is simply KNOCKOUT. Extremely gory and violent at times, it registers a strong impact. The amount of effort that has been put into the action sequences is simply stunning, especially in the final 30 minutes which is simply jaw-dropping. Bunty Nagi’s editing on the other hand could’ve been a lot slicker.
All up where does that leave SHOOTOUT AT LOKHANDWALA? As mentioned the movie has its fair share of flaws and is by no means a “perfect” film or even a “great” one. Those expecting a hard-hitting docu-drama like BLACK FRIDAY will be thoroughly disappointed. However the movie is a rip-roaring action film which delivers more than enough bangs for your bucks for action-buffs. Those who thrive off the “gangster” genre too will enjoy the film immensely. And ultimately, for once Lakhia gets more RIGHT than he does WRONG! Knock-out performances, stunning action sequences and a extremely fast pace ensure that SHOOTOUT AT LOKHANDWALA is worth a dekkho at least once even it is for Sanjay Dutt and the action!