This British-Indian pudding had an odd release in the UK – do an internet search, and you’ll find several Indian news items about how it was controversial (with the family of Jean-Charles de Menezes complaining about it) and the millionaire producer had to distribute it himself because no regular distributor would touch it. From the ground, though, it opened without being screened to the press – or even being listed by the Society of Film Distributors as making it to cinemas – and was thus ‘invisible’ insofar as any reviews, or editorial about its hot topics, go. Actually, what seems to have happened is that an English language film with a few recognisable names (Brian Cox, Greta Scacchi, Sadie Frost) was released in the manner of the many Bollywood or Chinese films that are marketed exclusively to the minority communities (few of them get covered by Sight & Sound, for instance). Shoot On Sight was advertised on the side of London buses, though – including, somewhat tactlessly, the Number 30 which goes down my street and was one of the targets of the 7/7 terrorist attack that inspired the film.
Director Jag Mundhra registered on my radar in the video era, when he made a bunch of American schlock items, mostly in the ‘erotic thriller’ genre (Night Eyes, Last Call, Sexual Malice, Improper Conduct, Irresistible Impulse, etc) but has had a spell in India making the Bollywood versions of sex films peddled as Tales of the Kama Sutra (Perfumed Garden, Monsoon) and, now, is in India and the UK making ‘controversial, contemporary’ drama, focusing on the oppression of women in Indian and ex-patriot Indian society in Bwandar and Provoked: A True Story. I’ve not seen a Mundhra movie in a while, but this take on serious issues is every bit as heavy-handed and unintentionally gigglesome as his Shannon Tweed-gets-shagged films of yore. It also has a problem (you can see the de Menezes family’s point) in proceeding from an actual event (the 7/7 bus/tube suicide bombings) to a fictional event based on an actual event (instead of an innocent Brazilian, the police here shoot dead an innocent Muslim on the assumption that he’s about to bomb a tube train) and then a made-up story about Muslim senior police officer Tariq Ali (Naseeruddin Shah) put in charge of investigating the incident in the hope of securing a promotion, who is also – in a frankly ridiculous string of coincidences – harbouring a student nephew who has been radicalised by an Imam (Om Puri) with an evil beard (we know he’s a rotter because he was once suspected of stealing shoes from outside his own mosque) and is making a chemical weapon for use by a suicide bomber who is sent to attack the very shopping mall where Ali’s adorable young son is getting a book signed by footballer Carlos Viera.
The film’s clumsiness starts with giving its main character the same name as a famous Pakistani radical and author (come on, couldn’t they think of anything else?) and proceeds through many earnest, overstated scenes that repackage editorial as soap and simply infodump material about radical clerics, police politics, terrorism and gun-happy cops. A mostly solid cast just plod through, getting their lines out. India Wadsworth, playing Ali’s mixed race daughter, is extraordinarily beautiful, but gets stuck with the worst sub-plots and the clunkiest lines (‘oh no, that’s where Mum’s taken Imran for the book signing’). Ali’s best friend (Gulshan Grover) remembers how passengers were wary of him when he got on his regular bus on the 8th of July, which would be more resonant if it wasn’t set up with a ridiculous bit about him previously knowing his driver by name and chatting with the other commuters (all white) every day, a scene perhaps written by someone (American Carl Austin) who’s never been on a London bus. In the supposedly heroic climax, Ali foils the plot at the expense of his nephew’s life, earning his promotion, but leaks the truth about the original shooting and turns in his resignation – which is all very ironic, though it involves him first teaming up with the ‘realist not racist’ shooter (Ralph Imeson) and then presumably turning him over to be hammered by the original inquiry.