The long-running television crime show CID, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, and the dreams of residents of a neighbourhood in the north-eastern Mumbai suburb Govandi are all packed into a 37-minute film that has been selected in the Students’ Films section at the upcoming Mumbai International Film Festival (January 28-February 3).

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Govandi, Crime Aur Camera has been directed by Deepti Murali, Prateek Shekhar, Smita Vanniyar, Vaibhav Sorte and Shubhra Dixit, all of whom graduated from the School of Media and Cultural Studies at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences in 2015. Inspired by crime shows such as Saavdhan India, Crime Patrol and CID, a group of residents of Shivaji Nagar, a slum cluster in Govandi, have produced their own version. Govandi CID features local talent and addresses the issues that matter, such as severely limited employment opportunities and drug addiction. The Shivajinagar Boyz, as the collective is called, has uploaded two episodes so far on YouTube.

Like Faiza Ahmed Khan’s documentary Supermen of Malegaon, Govandi, Crime Aur Camera reveals the existence of a hyper-local and amateurish form of entertainment that is cobbled together with available resources and aimed at a small and identifiable local community.

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The Tata Institute of Social Sciences is also in Govandi, but in the well-heeled part. The prestigious educational institution has been sending its students to Govandi, particularly Shivaji Nagar, for various projects over the past several years. For the student filmmakers, the documentary became an entry point into the sprawling neighbourhood, which is better known for its alarming levels of poverty and dumping ground than a budding film scene.

“Govandi CID in its own way became an interesting point of investigation into the space that is not covered by the media or featured in popular culture (unlike Dharavi),” Prateek Shekhar told Scroll.in. The auditioning process provides the documentary with its light-hearted moments, but the Shivajinagar Boyz is also deadly serious about the homegrown television series. “The part of Shivaji Nagar where the SVJ Boyz, live is also a Muslim ghetto,” Shekhar pointed out. “Rampant drug issue, underdevelopment, lack of basic infrastructure and cycle of poverty all make the area a den of vices.”

A view of Shivajinagar from ‘Govandi Crime aur Camera’
A view of Shivajinagar from ‘Govandi Crime aur Camera’

One of the actors whom the Shivajinagar Boyz members idolise is Nawazuddin Siddiqui, especially his gangster character Faisal in Anurag Kashyap’s crime drama Gangs of Wasseypur. “A lot of the people we interviewed in the slum were originally migrants from Uttar Pradesh and quite struck by the film bug,” Dixit said. “Ram, a character in our film, told us how when he goes back to his village in UP, people have all sorts of questions about Bombay and film stars specifically. The stories of youngsters running away and coming to Mumbai to become actors, that perception still holds true for a lot of people. When he is asked if he met Shah Rukh Khan, he told us, he says yes because to say no is disappointing for them.”

Afzal Razvi, the leading light of Shivajinagar Boyz, was working in a film production unit, so he had a camera with him that was used to film the episodes. “Like every indie filmmaker they too had no money to produce their script,” said Vaibhav Sorte, one of the TISS filmmakers. “The episodes they made were from the money they contributed. They rented or borrowed cameras. Editing was done mostly in some dingy studio in Andheri [a north Mumbai suburb]. They didn’t have money plus they were workers so they had their day jobs to take care of while doing this. Things have been difficult for them. One can only imagine.”

The entire filmmaking process can be described as a prime example of “jugaad” culture, Prateek Shekhar added. “Everything is a jugaad, from borrowed costumes to cheap toy guns to camera. They request the police to provide their police jeep for five minutes to shoot and get their job done.”

The episodes serve the dual purpose of taking Govandi’s aspirations to the outside world as well as re-introducing Shivaji Nagar’s problems to its people in an accessible format. “Afzal explains that his target audience was the people of Govandi and so addressing issues within Govandi made the most sense,” Shubhra Dixit pointed out. “The Shivaji Nagar area is amongst the poorest in Bombay and the youth is often waylaid into drugs by the many problems they have to face, the easy accessibility and peer pressure. Shivajinagar Boyz wanted to address this problem by doing something entertaining and not being preachy.”

Members of Shivajinagar Boyz
Members of Shivajinagar Boyz

(Disclosure: Shubhra Dixit is a staffer with Scroll.in)