Life in a … Metro. Director: Anurag Basu. Players: Dharmendra, Shiney Ahuja, Shilpa Shetty, Irfan Khan, Kay Kay Menon, Konkona Sen Sharma, Kangana Ranaut. Music: Pritam Chakraborty. DVD release (UTV).
In Anurag Basu’s crowdedLife in a … Metro, the hyper-proximity of both dimensional and psychological breathing spaces in urban environments often breed strange bedfellows—literally. Basu, who recently polished off the Emraan Hashmi vehicles Murder and Gangster, switches to a more provocative gear that delights as much in sublimated voyeurism as it does in passing playful commentary. In what fits together like a six-degrees-of-you-know-what citywide jigsaw puzzle, Basu’s take on the alternate lives of a half-dozen Mumbaiites is astute and, ultimately, satisfying.
Sometimes like Billy Wilder’s 1960 bed-hopping classic The Apartment, one storied high rise apartment in Mumbai becomes the vital link that brings together several incongruent souls. There is Shikha (Shetty), wife and accomplished career woman, whose bus-stop run in with struggling stage actor Akash (Ahuja) leads to complication for both of them. There is Shikha’s scheming businessman husband, Ranjeet (Menon), who carries on not-so-secretly with his office assistant Neha (Ranaut). There is Amol (Dharmendra), an older, married ex-pat who returns from America to rekindle an old flame with Shivani (Ali). There is Shruti (Sen Sharma), who is unsure if the bumbling Monty (Khan) she meets at a dating agency is Mr. Right.
The richly outlined characters—many of whom wrangle over adulterous liaisons—are greatly reinforced by an ensemble cast. Shetty’s newfound fame, in the wake of her controversy-baiting appearance on a British reality show and a separate, ill-timed smooch from Richard Gere, has skyrocketed her stock. Given top billing here, the perennially underrated Shetty delivers a subtle turn as an accomplished stay-at-home mom and wife who contemplates marital infidelity. As her equally successful husband, Menon is a portrait of zealous ambition who thinks that trampling on underlings and indulging in mid-day trysts are an executive perk. Dharmendra gives a soft, approachable delivery while Sen Sharma and Khan are simply delightful as possible romantic misfits.
One very unusual tool that director Basu injects into all this is a laid back Chakraborty score that has the music director and his entourage fade in and out of certain scenes while actually playing the tunes from the soundtrack. On the soundtrack, “In Dino,” crooned by newcomer Soham, is light and perfectly captures urban angst. This is a keeper score.
Basu’s more provocative stance has him using sex as a device to mask loneliness. More than one character jumps into an extramarital bed to ward off the oppressive demands of crowded city life. Strangely, those who are married and unmarried as well as those who are sometimes otherwise happy use sex as a social prophylactic. And the appearance of sex, straight sex anyway, is used by at least one closeted gay disc jockey to deceive his parents.
The film’s refreshing outlook, complicated by Basu’s sexual politics, scores points for presentation as much as it does for storytelling. Kudos indeed!
Globe trekker, aesthete, photographer, ski bum, film buff, and commentator Aniruddh Chawda writes from Milwaukee.