(don’t know why the “Life in a …” was tacked on to the original title…)

By way of what is the longest opening credit sequence I think I’ve ever seen, Anurag Basu introduces the various couples and triangles of his Bombay-based film: Shilpa Shetty and KayKay Menon, unhappily married to each other, Konkona Sensharma and Irrfan Khan both seeking The One over, Sharman Joshi with a crush on Kangana Ranaut, who’s actually involved with KayKay, Shiney Ahuja as the divorced actor drawn to Shilpa, and finally, Dharmendra as a man returned from the US to die, and hoping to rekindle Nafisa Ali’s love for him, 40 years later.  

Woven into the opening scenes, as the credits appear, Pritam and his two bandmates sing, placed before us, like characters in the movie.   Initially, it was a cute, surprising  twist.   After the third or fourth appearance (on a motorcycle with a sidecar??) it became rather grating.

Shilpa and KayKay have a lovely apartment, a cute daughter and constant fights, except when their friends are over for numerous dinners, unwittingly co-opted to act as a buffer between spouses.   Surprise, surprise, the hardcharging KayKay, manager at a call center, falls into a no-strings affair with the younger,  lissome Kangana, while his underling Sharman Joshi pines for her and leases out his flat as a short-stay motel to various married men from work who are conducting affairs.   This is illustrated somewhat humorously like an old game of Mousetrap when one man’s wish to reschedule his time slot sets off a series of calls around the office, as couple after couple juggle dates.  

Shilpa meets Shiney Ahuja at a bus stop and, stung by KayKay’s neglect, falls for him.   The brief first scene where they travel together on a packed train to Andheri, and the aborted love scene later, both crackle with heat and sensuality, all done with near misses and grazes.

A less dark and sad pairing is that of Konkona and Irrfan.   She is her usual bright-eyed smart girl self, in this case, just turned 30 and wary she’ll ruin her life by ending up with the wrong man (amen to that), whereas Irrfan is a more practical guy, confident that love will follow after he finds a nice girl with a good figure who likes him back.   Konkona gives an earthy, thoughtful performance, and Irrfan’s delivery and manner lend his not-quite-confirmed-bachelor an offbeat quality  that sets him apart  from other actors in a more typical romantic lead.

The most idealized couple, and sweetest, was the Dharmendra-Nafisa pairing.   I adore Anurag Basu for including this story, with the couple reuniting and enjoying love, yes, even physical love, at their age.   The 70+ Punjabi hunk (who Jaya Bachchan recently revealed on KWK she thought had “a body like a Greek god”), looking very hip in jeans, with auburn highlights in his thick, wavy hair, was just amazing to behold, given that we don’t see him on screen hardly ever any more.   And Nafisa was a perfect complement with her warm smile, cool blue eyes and white hair, and  a series of pastel cotton saris.

The entire look of the film is pleasing to the eye.   Apartments, even those belonging to up and comers, are like those on Friends, likely way beyond what their occupants’ salaries would really buy in this metropolis, and beautifully appointed to boot.  

Everyone’s clothes (save a few missteps by Irrfan’s character, and those khaki safari photographer vests Shiney sports) are quite lovely, though I could have done with a few less pairs of fashion-forward specs on so many characters, and even Pritam.   (Next time I watch this movie, I must pay more attention at the end for a special “eyeglass frame” sponsorship”¦)

This Bombay is a cosmetically pretty city, even during the monsoon, and  there’s never a hint of brown murky water welling up on the streets, rather, it’s always crystalline and looks not the least bit warm.  

The music is ok, though without a real show-stopper among the five or so songs.   The repeated reappearance of Pritam and Co. served to break up the suspension of disbelief, or the fourth wall, adding a jarring reminder with each apparition  that we are indeed watching a movie and those three guys are doing commentary to us on it.

One bothersome detail: the subtitles are spotty, sometimes with only fragments of sentences appearing onscreen, sometime with long absences.   For such a glossy film, just over two hours, and likely intended to appeal to the NRI and possibly also to the foreign audience, that was a glaring neglect of attention to an important detail.

See it or skip it:   See it.   Metro is an interesting next step in the recent trajectory of urban-focused, mall-and-metroplex Bombay films like Bluffmaster and Taxi No 9211.   Also,  post-KANK, it treads on interesting relationship territory.  

Plus, can you ever get enough of Konkona or Irrfan?   (Stay tuned for an upcoming review of Ms. Sensharma’s Amu, and an interview with filmmaker Shonali Bose.)

9 thoughts on “Metro

  1. and maybe you should consider the possibility that your writing is in fact obscured by that same “lens of racial bias”

  2. I thought the film was overall unimpressive. The quality of the writing was not high.

    I love what you call my “personal color issues”. Perhaps you are not aware, but Indian people like myself grow up in America constantly having our traditions mocked and our lives pointed out as if they are strange or curious. At least that was the way it used to be. And then you grow up, and it’s suddenly trendy to like bollywood, bhangra and all things indian. And you get a bunch of westerners like yourself, commenting authoritatively on all things Indian like they are experts, but of course with the requisite disparaging remarks about our culture, misogyny, backwardness or what have you. These are not just “my issues” these are things that the desi intelligentsia (the kind that don’t watch bollywood, thank god) have been complaining about for years.

    Still it’s not shocking; white people love to exoticize and marginalize others, but as soon as you point this out, you’re the one with “color issues”.

    Let me ask you this, do you sincerely disagree that a person of Indian heritage is more capable of understanding and interpreting an indian film than a foreigner?

  3. No, BS, er, Gautham, you need to learn to differentiate between someone making a comment or observation on different markets (e.g. urban ones like Delhi or Bombay, and somewhere like interior UP) and looking down on the janta.

    Any discussion of how a film is doing at the box offices in India sooner or later touches on these same differences, and what sells better where.

    It’s a pity that your personal color issues so strongly obscure your ability to absorb anything I write, save through a filter of racial bias.

    It’d be interesting to hear you comment on the film itself; what you thought about it, what you liked and why or what you thought could be done better.

  4. I would disagree, there is a steady thread of condescension towards the general public in India running through your site. It seems at times as if you think you are a better judge of what is good in Indian film, than the very people that create it and it is made for.

    Seems like typical Western arrogance to my eyes.

  5. Sanjay, thanks for the link. I wanted to see it at a festival recently, but it was on at the same time as something else and I had to forfeit it.

    Gautham, my reference to NRIs and foreign audiences was that they are likely secondary and tertiary markets AFTER the domestic Indian audience has been considered. I would definitely expect the film to do well in Bombay/Delhi/Pune etc.

    My point was that if they are indeed considering the NRI/foreign audience (which I understand from UTV folks they are), they needed to have someone give a final onceover at the subtitles. It was just sloppy work. And I never hinted, never mind implied, that “foreigners” are more sophisticated. That’s got nothing to do with it. My point on the subtitles is that it’s just a practicality, like making sure that a DVD is ‘all regions’, or region-appropriate, if you’re going to sell it in another country than the home market one.

  6. I thought the same thing about The Apartment when I saw this movie; it’s almost a direct rip off of the plot. That’s exactly what happens to Lemmon’s character, right down to pining for his boss’s girlfriend and being displaced from his home.

    Why do you say this film is aimed at NRIs and foreign audience? From what I hear, it has been extremely well received in the Metros back home. Indians are not all ignorant and incapable of watching films aside from Bollywood romances, you know. Foreigners are not inherently more sophisticated either.

  7. Hey Maja, welcome back! Yes, it’s definitely tighter than S-E-I, though I felt even this could have been trimmed a wee bit. Haven’t see the Lemmon film, so I can’t comment, but in this case, he’s doing it ‘cos a lot of the men keep promising to speak up for him to get a promotion.Thanks, it’s just one parent, and thank heavens, things are progressing slowly.

  8. Wow, I wasn’t aware of this movie at all! It sounds like the multiple storylines were handled much better than in Salaam-e-Ishq, I’m really interested in seeing this now. Especially for Dharmendra!
    Is it just me, btw, or is the bit about Sharman Joshi letting married men from his office use his apartment (including the series of phone calls ensuing from one man trying to reschedule his date) very very similar to the Jack Lemmon film The Apartment?

    I just read in one of your older posts about one of your parents not being well. I’m very sorry to hear that and I hope they recover soon!

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