Starring: Shilpa Shetty, Shiney Ahuja, Kay Kay Menon, Konkona Sen Sharma, Irrfan Khan, Sharman Joshi, Kangana Ranaut, Dharmendra and Nafisa Ali
Director: Anurag Basu
When one thinks of India, thoughts of an under-developed and rural landscape are dominant. While rural India has been showcased to us through films countless times, it’s quite rare that we are transported into life in the bustling cities which house one-eighth of the country’s population.
Within a city, each individual is constantly on the move. While it may seem robotic, each person has an objective and a story to tell. On face-value each person seems to be in their own little world. However, even amongst the chaos of a city, it’s quite a small world, and this is exactly the note on which Life in a…Metro takes off. It follows the lives of nine people in a city and delves deep into the gut of their souls to project a panorama of emotions that are scattered around metro life. With Anurag Basu (Murder, Gangster) at the helm, UTV as producer, and Pritam as a music director, does Life in a…Metro land safely? To an extent, yes, with major blemishes along the way.
Shikha (Shilpa Shetty) is an educated and well-brought up woman, married to Ranjit (Kay Kay Menon). After marriage, she gave up working to have a child, despite the fact that she would be able to make more money than her husband. However, in the midst of her mundane lifestyle, she realises that work might not be the only thing she sacrificed. While she and Ranjit struggled to buy a house, it seems they have lost the will to make it a home. When Akash, a struggling actor, emerges into the picture, Shikha’s cloaked desires begin to capture her body, mind and soul, until she is left with a gamut of emotions and a terribly important decision to make. Shilpa Shetty adds another feather to her cap after Phir Milenge. She will surely win accolades for her portrayal of Shikha’s vulnerability, desires and longing. Shiney Ahuja suffers from a weak characterization and tries his best to uplift a bland character. Still, the impact is minimal.
Meanwhile, her husband Ranjit is no saint himself. Without much interest in his wife, he has been having an affair solely based on sex with a co-worker named Neha (Kangana Ranaut) for the past two years. As the head of a call centre, he works his magic by promoting Neha at every chance possible while she fulfills his sexual needs. Unfortunately, all relationships, no matter how seemingly simple, come with strings attached and Neha begins to feel the urge for real love. Kay Kay Menon is brilliantly wicked as Ranjit, and manages to make you itch with anger. Kangana Ranaut disappoints this time around. She’s good with her facial expressions, but the minute she talks, you cringe. She desperately needs to work on her pitiful dialogue delivery. It must be noted that her new look is fantastic and she looks every bit the part.
Also working at the call centre is Rahul (Sharman Joshi), a man who knows what he wants and will do anything to get it. By renting out his flat to his boss, Ranjit, he continues to climb up the corporate ladder. Love seems to captivate him as well, as he constantly pursues Neha, not knowing that she is busy with his boss in his very own flat. Sharman Joshi is endearing but gets lost in the crowd. Still, an able performance and a side of him we haven’t been exposed to before.
Shikha’s younger sister, and Neha’s roommate, Shruti (Konkona Sen Sharma), is in a dilemma. She’s twenty-eight, nearing the big three-zero, and she’s still a virgin. It seems as if love finds everyone around her, but continues to evade her life. Looking for a suitable match, she meets Monty (Irrfan Khan) on an Internet portal. However, once meeting him, she quickly dismisses him, attributing her rejection to his quirky and almost frightening behaviour. As she tries to pursue another relationship, she eventually bumps back into Monty and feelings she refuses to admit to spurt from her heart. Konkona Sen Sharma is an absolute delight to watch with a flawless performance. Shruti’s character is among Konkona’s lighter roles, and she passes with flying colours. Is there anything this actress cannot do? Irrfan Khan compliments her beautifully and makes you chuckle quite a few times. Their chemistry is magical.
Last but not least, there is Shikha’s Bharatnatyam teacher, Shivani (Nafisa Ali). Now an old woman, a love from her past, Amol (Dharmendra), enters her life after years of separation and re-kindles the romance they once had. All the while, both know that life could leave them at any given moment; yet, they seize the day and indulge in affairs of the heart. Dharmendra is lovable and still looks good despite his age. Nafisa Ali isn’t bad, but nor does she stand out.
Greed, jealousy, determination, vulnerability, passion, desperation, love, regret—these are a sample of the emotions that come along with living in a city. These emotions are what director Anurag Basu tries to portray. Though his storyline his fantastic, the execution is a large let-down.
Though the characters seem well-defined, there comes a point where you realise you don’t know much about them beyond their relationships. It would have been far more interesting if the characters were fleshed out better. For example, the character of Akash played by Shiney Ahuja was completely half-baked. Ditto for Neha. At the same time, Shikha, Ranjit and Shruti are written beautifully and you can’t help but feel like you know them. Each protagonist is flawed in some way, and this is what works in Life in a…Metro. The characters are real, the stories are interesting and nothing is sugar-coated, which is an absolute breath of fresh air.
What is so disappointing about the film is that the subject matter is so innovative and strong that there was potential for a path-breaking film. If the script was better, the film would have been outstanding. While the screenplay is efficient, the dialogues by Sanjib Datta drag the film down. In some pivotal scenes, the dialogues are so jarring that you are thrown off, thereby decreasing the impact. For example, Shikha mouthing the lines “I feel like a slut” to Akash registers no impact whatsoever, and rather, sabotages a wonderful scene. In addition, Akiv Ali’s editing needed more work. Some scenes are cut off at the wrong points and leave the viewer feeling rushed. Particularly the film’s ending, which is completely abrupt and deserved better closure.
Still, one cannot say that Life in a…Metro is a disaster of any sort. Yes, like many other 2007 films, it contains multiple characters and showcases different facets of their lives. At the same time, it charters new terrain because each of the characters are connected and in this aspect, Basu deserves applause. Not to mention, he extracts some beautiful performances from the principal cast, and creates some magical movie moments. Shikha and Akash’s intimate encounter is aesthetically shot and places amongst the finest parts of the film. Each moment between Shruti and Monty is a delight to watch, whether it’s their introduction or their scenes during the climax. The scene between Ranjit and Shikha where each confesses to their actions is equally as fantastic.
Though Pritam has formulated a brilliant soundtrack that gels well with the mood of the film, Anurag’s tactic of bringing Band Metro on-screen during each song does not work. Yes, it’s innovative, but it only hinders the storyline further and interrupts the flow. Especially after the first couple songs, you are sick of it. The fact that the audience started groaning each time Band Metro appeared says enough in itself. Bobby Singh’s cinematography is pristine for the most part, but it is obvious during a scene or two that the background outside the cars is not real.
Life in a…Metro succeeds in mapping the emotions of a panorama of characters bound by the harsh realities of a metro, in this case Mumbai. From this point of view, it works, as it captures the essence of Mumbai strikingly and better yet, realistically. However, the dialogues and editing leave much to be desired and dampen the spirits of what could have been one of the best films of 2007. Still, Basu’s stamp is apparent and the spirited and nuanced performances uplift the film.
By the end of the film, you are satisfied. Yet, there is something missing. It is this something that leaves you wishing Life in a…Metro offered something more. Either way, it’s worth watching a film that explores the depths of jealousy, the impact of vulnerability, the power of greed and ultimately, the sensation of love amidst a chaotic, insensitive and alluring city—one exactly like those that millions around the world call home.