Slightly weary of films set in Mumbai with its underworld, mixed with slums and chawls, dance bars, Ganpati or Dahi Handi processions and the film industry, Island City turned out be a very welcome, refreshing and a poignant tale of the city, which is built on islands and rampant reclamation.
Produced by NFDC and written and directed by Ruchika Oberoi, the film has three stories, all dealing with loneliness and monotony and the unbearable but inevitable grinding routines of urban lives that leave no room for emotions or their expression.
The opening sequence itself, is of neither Marine Drive nor Dharavi, but a montage of the glass façade buildings that mark the new age of development (which are bad clones of buildings in the West built for cold climates and make no sense for Mumbai). The intimidating monstrous buildings have thousands of men and women working tirelessly, endlessly. They remind you of creatures that are somewhere between ants and robots. It is here that Vinay Pathak has been assigned the task of having fun, as a winner of the fun committee award. He carries on with those tasks, voucher after voucher in a glitzy mall, desperate to get back to office to complete pending work, until he actually does get back to office, to change things forever.
The first story sets the tone, which is only accentuated by the other two. The second deals with a family -- wife, mother-in-law, two sons -- trying to cope with the hospitalisation of the man of the house who is in coma. Amruta Subhash (wife/daughter-in-law) and Uttara Baokar (mother-in-law), bring the quintessential middle class Marathi "sansar" driven by moderate incomes, pressures of social behaviour and a strange camaraderie between saas-bahu, which seems rather natural in the backdrop of patriarchal aggression. Even as Purshottam, the protagonist of a television serial becomes centre of their universe, the possible return of the husband, seeks to upset the balance that has been achieved in a weird sort of way.
The third and the final story takes this feeling of loneliness even when amidst a crowd to another level. Tannishtha Chatterjee is a worker at a printing press of a newspaper. An introvert, she is considered definitely-not-pretty both by her parents and her boisterous fiancée (Chandan Roy Sanyal). Unnamed love letters in her postbox become that sudden happy breeze in her otherwise humid, sweltering life.
But where nothing is real (the fun, the TV serial, the letters) except for unexpected twists, sometimes executed flawlessly, sometimes not so, Ruchika Oberoi puts her finger on the raw nerve of the city. Here every man (and woman) is an island, trying to survive the onslaught of the metaphorical sea of concrete city. Some manage, some don’t. I found myself laughing and twitching simultaneously at the macabre realities of the lives of those on screen. Also squirming with the discomforting knowledge that these people are all around us. So are you the island or are you the city? Can you risk finding out?
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