One thing that everyone who has watched the National Award-winning film Court has been praising without end is the realistic air of the film. It is as real as it gets, they say, and a huge part of this stems from the fact that a large part of the film was shot at real locations. But achieving this in a city like Bombay is easier said than done. Director Chaitanya Tamhane and producer Vivek Gomber can’t thank line producer and location manager Kishor Sawant enough for having dug out apt locations for the film. However, Sawant tells us that the job of a location manager does not end at just finding the right place. As Court continues its second week in cinemas, Sawant takes Long Live Cinema through five of the main locations in the film, sharing his experiences about each one of them.
I have been living in Mumbai for over 50 years. Even now I don’t know the whole city and I get to see new places every day. For my last few films, which were also based in Mumbai, every time I used to go for a recce, I used to think that I had seen the whole city. But when I did Court, I just kept finding and going to newer places every day.
For Court, Chaitanya got in touch with me through a mutual friend and he send me the script. I was blown away by the script and immediately wanted to get on board. It is always challenging to do a film based in Bombay, because even if you find the locations that match your references, it is a herculean task to shoot here. Some locations were mentioned in Chaitanya’s script itself and for others he gave me references. We used to keep at least 8-10 options for one specific location and took almost 6 months to arrive at the final locations. We shifted between 30-35 locations in a day and it is not easy.
Acharya Atre Natya Mandir, Kalyan
Chaitanya wanted to film inside a theatre and we had checked almost every available theatre in Mumbai. That was when someone suggested Acharya Atre Natya Mandir to me. I wasn’t very keen about it at first because of the location. Kalyan was too out of our way and we would have to take the whole unit there to shoot, which was tough. But when I went saw the location, I was impressed. The interiors were quite different from the other theatres I had seen. There were photographs hung around the place that gave it a certain character which I thought would fit well into our film. I clicked some pictures of the theatre and showed them to Chaitanya and we decided to shoot there.
But the shoot in itself was very challenging. Both in terms of execution and cost. We were shooting a play there and we had an audience consisting of junior artistes. As it was difficult to take so many people all the way to Kalyan, we publicised the shoot a bit in Kalyan itself and a few people joined us. So they had to be trained on when to clap, when to laugh and so on. We had to keep their spirits high because contrary to what people may perceive, shooting a film is a cumbersome and tiring process. We had to finish the shoot in a day, because we neither had the time nor money to keep coming back. So it was a hectic shoot.
BIT Chawl, Byculla
When Chaitanya sent me the script, there were certain places that were mentioned in it. So my effort was to try and get him the same location as much as possible. In the scene he has written about BIT chawl, he mentions specific things like that the character walks past the Ambedkar statue. So I wanted the film to stay as true to Chaitanya’s vision as possible. Also, it would have been difficult to go to another chawl and put an Ambedkar statue there. Nowadays, we never know what might ignite an argument.
Anyone who has seen BIT chawl will tell you how difficult it is to shoot there. I don’t think any film has been shot there till now. The people there are also a bit difficult to handle as they can get aggressive. We had to convince them first before shooting there for their support. Also, the house we were shooting in was adjacent to the chawl’s common toilet. So we had to co-ordinate with the residents on when they wanted to use it and according to the timings of water availability. In locations like this, having the trust of the residents is the main thing. You have to spend time with them, explain to them what you are trying to achieve. Once this trust was established, many of them came forward to help us.
After we shot at BIT chawl, we had to get some exterior shots of Vinay Vora (the character played by Gomber) entering the chawl. But when we came back to shoot it after 3-4 months, the chawl was undergoing some redevelopment work. The whole look had changed. There was new cement on the buildings and we were in a fix because it wasn’t matching the interiors that we had shot. So our production designers Pooja Talreja and Somnath Pal just walked around in search of buildings that could be used as stand-ins for the chawl. And, they were the ones who found Tadwadi.
For a film like ours, there is no vanity van and none of the other luxuries that people usually associate with shooting. Our artistes had to get their make-up done inside the houses of the residents there. So they also had to get along with the artistes. I think it was a good life lesson for a lot of them in the unit. They were all young and it was heartening to see that they all behaved with a lot of humility to the residents as well.
Gautam Nagar, Dadar
Here, we shot at a real slum where municipal savage workers live. It is a slum near Ranjit Studio. You have to see it to believe it. A lot of us in the crew were surprised to see that people actually lived in such conditions in the city. It is an extremely sad thing. A little ahead of the slums, the view was perfect to set our shot. The mills and the skyscrapers were all visible at once. Here, we set up a stage and we shot the folk singer’s performance.
It was a night shoot, which made it even worse to co-ordinate. We had to first talk to the authorities and the locals, give them some money and somehow get them on board. Another problem was that the film was shot in sync sound and there was a rule against using loudspeakers after 10 pm. So we had to work around that, speak to a lot of people, get permissions and all. And, all this, in a day.
Kohinoor Mill Workers Chawl, Naigaon
We actually came here to check out for another location because we were tipped off that there was a stage here. But while we filmed the performances elsewehere, we found the chawl very interesting. The very first scene of the film starts here and this was also the first location we shot at for Court. In the first scene, after the interior shot, there is a shot of Narayan Kamble getting out of a house, wearing his chappal and walking through the chawl. That was shot here.
We wanted to shoot the interiors of the house, too, in the chawl. But the houses here are only about 100-150 sq.ft in size which would have been a difficult space to fit the unit in. So we just shot the exteriors here. But when we came to shoot here on the very first day, there was a huge commotion. We were about 100 people and we hadn’t expected such a big crew. First, we had to arrange everything for them, starting from food to toilets. In between all this, some local leaders also came up with protests. It took the whole day to calm them down. But we finally did and the shooting went on smoothly.
Biggest find: Barkat Ali Nagar, Wadala
I had never even heard of Barkat Ali Nagar in my whole life. One young man took me around the whole place and I just went nuts after seeing that place. In 50 years, I hadn’t seen such a beautifully dirty slum in Bombay. That I would say is the biggest find in terms of location in Court. Along with the location, we also found an actor from there. The young man, Shirish Pawar, who was showing me around caught my attention due to his gestures and the way he was speaking to me. I immediately called up Chaitanya and asked him to try and audition him. He was finally cast in the film as Narayan Kamble’s assistant.
There are so many such unknown gallis and chawls in Mumbai that would take a lifetime to discover. So I feel happy that we are at least chronicling them in the films of our time. Recently, I was watching Sunil Dutt-starrer Ek Hi Raasta and recognised Aarey Colony as one of the locations used in a song. Right now, there is so much hullabaloo happening around Aarey Colony and its redevelopment. In 15 years time, I think we will be living in a Mumbai that is completely new to us. Buildings like these chawls will cease to even exist. The landscape of the city is changing and it is our responsibility to document it in our films. So I consider my work as a social work, because at some point in the future, people will watch Court and say, ‘This is what Mumbai once looked like!’.