(Life in a) Metro – Excellent

By Vidya Pradhan
Multiplexes in India are performing a role today that NFDC used to a generation ago – providing young aspiring filmmakers with the means to make experimental, offbeat movies. Unlike the art house fare of Shyam Benegal or Mrinal Sen, these movies are made in the commercial realm – the experiment is just with subjects that would once have been rejected out of hand by the big studios as being too risky. Where once a movie needed to succeed in the ‘Bimaru’ hinterland to get a decent return for its distributors, the finances of multiplexes have made it possible for filmmakers to take chances with urban dramas that don’t necessarily have a universal appeal. I don’t pretend to understand it all, but the multiplex phenomenon seems to be a good explanation for the increasing number of serious non-traditional films that are now coming out of Bollywood.

In this genre falls “(Life in a) Metro”, a story of the intersecting lives of 4 couples in a cosmopolitan city. Though the setting is Mumbai, the city does not intrude. It could be virtually any metro and just serves as a backdrop for the extramarital adventures of the upwardly mobile and educated middle class.

The fulcrum of the plot is a swank apartment left to the care of Rahul, a call center operator played by Sharman Joshi. He maneuvers this piece of property into a career boosting opportunity by letting it out on a daily basis to senior managers in his company for trysts with their inamorata. How the rotating doors of the apartment affect the lives of various people involved forms the story of Metro.

The central theme is a direct lift from ‘The Apartment’ with Jack Lemmon and Shirley Maclaine but the rest of the film has a strikingly original feel. Though there are many stories to be juggled, the director, Anurag Basu, who also has ‘Murder’ and ‘Gangster’ to his credit, does an expert job. His forte appears to be the seamy underside of humanity and he does a great job giving a shadowy look to morally ambiguous goings-on( or that could have been the quality of the pirated DVD I watched). Apart from a motley group of grunge rock sutradhars who burst into song at significant moments in the plot, it was very well directed. It is not easy to tell multiple stories in a single movie – witness the choppy ‘Salaam-e-Ishq’- but the transitions in Metro are seamless and the tension never flags.

As for the cast, I could enumerate the long list of A grade actors( as opposed to A grade superstars) who populate the movie but let’s just say that not one of them( with the exception of Shilpa Shetty) could have made it in prime Bollywood on the basis of their looks. It is a testimony to the renaissance in Hindi films that Konkona Sen Sharma and Irrfan Khan can get opportunities to show off their acting chops in commercial movies. Irrfan Khan in particular, plays a really endearing and instantly recognizable character that all of us have met often in our lives – a good natured and well intentioned guy who doesn’t quite fit in with the modern urban crowd. He inhabits his character so completely it is hard to connect him to the gentle and wise father from Namesake.

The surprise of the movie, at least for me, was Shilpa Shetty’s performance. She is just great as the wronged wife of Kay Kay Menon, who is the only character in the movie who is completely painted black. Her attraction to Shiney Ahuja and her subsequent guilt is brought out beautifully and she modulates her dialogue delivery perfectly. I feel for her when she is indignant about being described as an ‘item girl’ in the Indian press. Hopefully, this movie will silence her critics.

Metro is still running in Indian theatres across the Bay. Though you can rent a DVD from Indian stores as well, the quality of the one I picked out was quite suspect. The movie is worth spending $9.50 at the theatres for or waiting for the original DVD. Either way, it is definitely worth a watch. ( adult themes, some suggestive scenes)

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