The list of these makers is strictly post-2K era. So, we are going to miss out on big names like Yash Chopra, Govind Nihalani, N. Chandra, Saeed Mirza, Sai Paranjpe, Kundan Shah, Mukul Anand and much more who gave Mumbai a different character to their films. It is not only the list of films set in Mumbai but also where the city played a distinct role in their movies. I may have missed out on many names, but more or less you should find your favourite filmmakers here.
I first thought if listing out top 5 names but the list grew to 15 in no time. Then, I thought of adding a few more to cover most of them.
1- Ramgopal Varma
Naturally, this name was going to be on the top of the list. Nobody made films on Mumbai with so much authority as him. Ramgopal Varma owns the Mumbai underworld movies. Rangeela was his first breakthrough into movies based on Mumbai, and then there was no looking back till he slowly began to be repetitive and slowly fading away now.
Satya, Company, Bhoot, Sarkar trilogy, Naach, Mast, Not a Love Story, The Attacks of 26/11. The list is endless. Even, he remade Sholay set in Mumbai. His indelible mark on the Mumbai underworld films makes him one of the best filmmakers from Bollywood.
2- Anurag Kashyap
Ramgopal Varma’s prodigy and co-writer of Satya, Anurag Kashyap too had his string of films on Mumbai. Anurag explored the darker stories of the locals in the city. His films like Black Friday, No Smoking, The Girl in Yellow Boots, Murabba, Ugly and Raman Raghav 2.0 exhibit the dark side of ordinary people living in the maximum city. Did I miss Mumbai Velvet?
3- Ritesh Batra
Ritesh Batra has gone west after his film The Lunchbox based on the Mumbai Dabbawalas. Though he made only one film on Mumbai, it was one of the best in recent times. Ritesh’s characters and the milieu was so real that you don’t feel you are watching a movie. We look forward to some more films on Mumbai from him though now he’s busy making movies for BBC.
4- Madhur Bhandarkar
Madhur Bhandarkar came into limelight with his second film – Chandni Bar. Except for Chandni Bar, Madhur Bhandarkar resorted to studios instead of real locations. He made films on the similar template with different backdrops like Page 3, Corporate, Fashion, Traffic signal, Heroine, and maybe many more.
5- Sudhir Mishra
Sudhir Mishra has been floating between the generations. He made some excellent films on Mumbai like Is Raat Ki Subah Nahi, Dharavi, Main Zinda Hun but post 2000,his quality dipped with Chameli, Khoya Khoya Chand, and Tera Kya Hoga Johnny. He had been mentored in his early days by Kundan Shah, Saeed Mirza, and Vidhu Vinod Chopra who were masters of the Mumbai saga. Hence his earlier films have their influence. But lately, he lost his craft somehow.
6- Akhtar Siblings
Farhan Akhtar and his sister Zoya gave Mumbai stories an uber edge. First, it was Farhan who exposed Mumbai’s upper-class lifestyle to the silver screen with his cult- Dil Chahta Hai and similarly Zoya peeped into the Mumbai Film industry’s struggle with stardom in her ‘Luck by Chance’. Farhan based the remake of Don on Mumbai again whereas Zoya co-wrote Talash and made a short called Sheila Ki Jawani in Bombay Talkies.
7- Neeraj Pandey
A Wednesday was one of the first thriller based on Mumbai. One cannot forget the top view of the emerging concrete jungle. Neeraj Pandey repeated his location in the second half of his period thriller – Special Chabbis. His next- Baby had its best moments in Mumbai, and he also produced Rustom, a movie based on the famous Nanavati case in 1959.
8- Raj Kumar Hirani
Rajkumar Hirani introduced Munna Bhai with a funny take on the Mumbai underworld. Munnabhai’s character represented a Mumbaikar’s heart – tough on the outside but soft from the inside. Raju Hirani very intelligently introduced Gandhigiri in the sequel, when the whole world was slowly forgetting the leader.
9- Sriram Raghavan
Shriram Raghvan had made a short film on the Mumbai serial killer Raman Raghav played brilliantly by Raghubir Yadav. His second and fourth – Johnny Gaddar and Badlapur were Mumbai based crime stories. Sriram showcased how simple Aam Aadmi‘s life gets changed with a crime.
10- Ashim Ahluwalia
Ashim Ahluwalia is another director I have high regard when it comes to atmospherics. Miss Lovely was a take on the parallel sleaze industry of Bollywood. Ashim transported the audience to the 70’s world, and he repeated the city in his next – Daddy with Arjun Rampal playing Arun Gawli.
11- Vishal Bharadwaj
Vishal Bharadwaj made his Macbeth version – Maqbool with Mumbai as the backdrop. However, not much of the city was there in the movie. But, when he made Kaminey, he shot on real locations and gave a noir look to the film. Kaminey did okay at the box office, but the cinematography was quite imaginative.
12- Anurag Basu
Mahesh Bhat’s prodigy Anurag Basu touched upon the commoners’ lives in Life in a Metro and their search for love in the bustling city. Earlier he had partially shot Gangster in Mumbai, but Life in a metro -inspired by the Apartment gave Mumbai a character in the movie. It had some melodious song renditions from Pritam.
13- Nishikant Kamat
Nishikant Kamat made his entry into Hindi Movies with his film Mumbai Meri Jaan feebly based on the Mumbai 2006 blasts. Earlier he came into limelight with his edgy Marathi film- Dombivli Fast which showed how the city life takes a toll on a simple man who eventually loses his mind. Kamat could not recreate his Mumbai magic again.
14- Milan Luthria
Milan Luthria made a gallant entry into Bollywood with Kachche Dhaage, but his tryst with Mumbai came with his Taxi 9211 inspired for a Hollywood flick – Changing Lanes. Luthria then made a hardcore gangster film based on the 70’s don – Haji Mastan. The Ajay Devgn and Emraan Hashmi starrer was a sleeper hit. Luthria, however, fumbled with the sequel starring Akshay Kumar and Imran Khan as the audience was bored with films based on Dawood’s life by then.
15- Hansal Mehta
Hansal Mehta made numerous masala films in the late 90’s, but he found his mojo with a movie called Shahid. It went on to win the best director for Mehta at the National awards. Rajkumarr Rao too got the national award for best actor for this movie playing the role of real-life lawyer-activist Shahid Azmi’s life. Hansal Mehta returned to the city again with Citylights based on migration issues.
16- Shimit Amin
Shimit Amin previously edited Ramgopal Verma’s Company before starting his directorial venture. His first film – Ab Tak Chappan was loosely based on the Mumbai encounter specialist – Daya Nayak and Shimit captured the essence of Mumbai and the cops’ life beautifully. It is one of Nana Patekar’s most nuanced performances.
17- Rajat Kapoor
I am a fan of Rajat Kapoor as a director. I wish he could make more films than act in them. He made his Mumbai based indies without much hoopla. Raghu Romeo was the most talked about, but he captured the quirky life of Mumbai very interestingly in Mixed Doubles, and his underworld thriller – Mithya. It was a little gem which many missed. Ranveer Sheorey was in top form in both the movies.
18- Sanjay Gupta
Sanjay Gupta always had a green textured or orange toned take on Mumbai. Be it Shootout at Wadala, Jazbaa or Kaabil. His recent films have Mumbai as the backdrop. He even produced a gangster film Shootout at Lokhandwala earlier.
19- Kiran Rao
Kiran Rao’s Dhobighat was a unique independent film based around that area. Why I list it above the innumerable assistants of Ramgopal Varma and Anurag Kashyap is because she made it with a style which was her own. You won’t find any other director’s style or stamp in her film.
20- Manish Gupta
Though Manish Gupta is another Ramgopal Varma’s prodigy like Shimit Amin, Rajkumar Gupta, E Niwaas and many more,but like Anurag Kashyap, he made his movies out of Varma’s tutelage. He too based his films in Mumbai, be it Stoneman Murders or Rahasya. Before direction, Gupta wrote Sarkar for Ramgopal Varma.
21- Homi Adjania
Homi Adjania made a promising start to his filmmaking career with Being Cyrus – A Psychological thriller. He had a sharp take on a dysfunctional Parsee family in Mumbai which later moved over to the outskirts of the city in Lonavla. Adjania’s understanding of the Parsee lifestyle in Mumbai was funny and effortless.
I know, I missed out on many names, but I thought about it for a while to list the right ones. Some filmmakers made better films like Rajkumar Gupta’s Aamir, Ayaan Mukherjee’s Wake up Sid and many more. But initially I thought of 5 names but it got stretched to 21, and I had to stop. I must mention Amit Kumar’s Monsoon Shootout and Vasan Bala’s Peddlers as I heard good things about their craft. But, I haven’t watched them, so I had to exclude their names. There are many low budget movies like Bhindi Bazaar Inc. And Lakeer Ke Fakeer which did a lot of round on social media, but I had to list the top 21 and not include all of them.
I am sure I must have missed out on some worthy names, but I trusted my memory. Please feel free to add theirs to the comment section. Yes, the list doesn’t have many stalwarts’ names who made some breathtaking films on Mumbai but they were before the 2K era. So, I am sorry for not mentioning them. Maybe I will come out with a similar list of them later. You can list down your top 21 below. I am looking forward to reading them.