Nolan's 'Tenet' and the arrival of cosmopolitan Mumbai

Gautam Chintamani
·4-min read

Every time a Christopher Nolan film hits the screen, the world comes to a standstill. Earlier, this meant people across the globe lining up to see what one of the world’s foremost filmmakers had to offer.

In the post-COVID world, with the coronavirus pandemic changing the way cinema is consumed, a new Chris Nolan film means something entirely different.

Tenet was supposed to reinstate cinema's glory by bringing viewers back to the theatres as Nolan refused to release the movie online.

Tenet might not get the audiences thronging to the cinemas as envisioned. Still, with Dimple Kapadia and the city of Mumbai playing a significant part of the narrative, the film finally delivers a new kind of Mumbai to the world.

The international espionage sci-fi thriller, Tenet is Nolan’s interpretation of a Bond film. With this in mind, the filmmaker lined-up a global cast besides exotic locales to reinterpret the ‘super-spy’ template and notched things up with a dash of the Nolan treatment.

The futuristic thriller places Dimple Kapadia at the centre of the narrative where her character, Priya, an arms dealer, is the one who shifts the gears of the film.

Nolan has previously shot a sequence of The Dark Knight Rises (2012) in Jodhpur and had expressed a desire to return to India to shoot.

Tenet provided him with that opportunity and unlike some recent international films that were shot in India, Nolan has used Mumbai as a location that transcends the usual exotica factor.

There have been many non-Indian films that have sequences that feature Bombay/ Mumbai such as the Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol (2011), however, many of them fail to get the vibe or the pulse of the city. Ghost Protocol was shot on a soundstage in Canada and the result was a hybrid Indian metropolis where the things were jumbled.

In a departure from standard protocol, Nolan embedded Mumbai into Tenet’s narrative in a fashion where one isn’t ignoring the spirit of the city.

Shot at the Bombay Yacht Club, Cafe Mondegar, Colaba Causeway, Gateway of India and a few other recognisable locations, Tenet’s non-Indian actors John David Washington and Robert Pattinson also don’t stick out like sore thumbs a la Tom Cruise in Ghost Protocol.

India often made the cut as a location for big-budget Hollywood films due to reasons other than demands of the narrative or the set-up of the story. This is apparent from how the Tom Cruise production might have zeroed in on India in the afterglow of Slumdog Millionaire’s (2008) Oscar success, and the popularity that Anil Kapoor enjoyed in the final season of 24.

The other end of the spectrum is visible in film such as The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2011) that focuses on the exotica element. In most cases, the films, oddly enough, either completely ignore or highlight ground realities.

In other words, the ‘maharajah’ aspect, the poverty or the strife for life is highlighted more than any other element.

This is where Tenet shines as it acknowledges India’s position in the world where a global arms dealer is based out of India. Another aspect where Tenet stands apart from the rest of the ilk is that it doesn’t resort to making Dimple Kapadia speak in a faux accent.

In Ghost Protocol as well as The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Anil Kapoor and Dev Patel both speak, unlike Indians.

As a film, Tenet’s high-concept storyline might be confusing and demand multiple viewings. This feature, typical of most non-Batman films in Christopher Nolan’s filmography, funnily enough, gels well with the idea of Mumbai.

The post-COVID-19 world needs new narratives and more so when it comes to countries like India that are playing a pivotal role in global events. Watching Tenet one might not know how things work out for the Protagonist, the lead character played by John David Washington, but they somehow do and this is what defines Mumbai as well.

The chaos and the confusion of Mumbai, also much of India, is usually beyond the comprehension of an outsider and yet, Nolan’s Tenet gets it right.

Perhaps this is the reason why in the years to come, Tenet would stand out as the film that ushered in the spirit of Mumbai to the world.