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Both a love letter to the city of Rome and an outcry for female emancipation, Every Inch of My Being (Roam Rome Mein) relies on dreams and fantasies to deepen and complicate the free-wheeling story of how old-school chauvinist Raj (played by popular Indian star Nawazuddin Siddiqui) loses his bearings when his 32-year-old little sister (Tannishtha Chatterjee) vanishes during a visit to Rome.Though the audience is often left as puzzled as Raj about what’s real and what’s not, it’s clear that his search leads to a sea change in his machismo. That’s the real payoff to this open-ended tale, which has found strong audience support in initial outings at the Busan, Mumbai and Rome film festivals.
Making her directing debut, Chatterjee (Brick Lane, Lion) tosses many contrasting moods and genres into the pot, from comedy to drama, road movie to feminist statement. Considering this is a first film, they do not work badly together. Much credit belongs to Siddiqui, a chameleon-like actor whose range extends from mild-mannered employee (The Lunchbox) to gangster (as in his current hit TV series Sacred Games). Here, he is a self-righteous, entitled Indian male whose patriarchal attitude is sometimes dramatically, sometimes comically, challenged by his sister’s disappearance. As he frantically searches for her through the mysterious back streets of ancient Rome, he is forced to face the reasons she ran away from home and the fact he never really knew her or protected her.
Chatterjee, a warm and engaging actor, pops up sporadically as the troubled Reena, mostly in the early scenes of conflict with her authoritarian father who wants her home every night by 7:30, and then reappears in Raj’s dreams and visions in Italy. She exemplifies the many ways the odds are stacked against women from the start in a traditional Hindu family. As a girl she excelled in math and physics, but her father’s limited resources meant only her brother got to pursue his engineering studies. Her parents planned the usual life of a stay-at-home wife and mother for her, but she demurred. Now, as Raj searches for her on random walks through the grande bellezza of old Rome, he follows a girl he thinks is Reena into an architecture school where she may be studying. But the scene ends in a surreal encounter with a bevy of costumed, Fellini-esque women and men whose sensuality frightens and overwhelms him. He seems prudishly uptight when a beautiful Italian girl (Valentina Corti) befriends him. It’s doubtful she’s a real living woman, however: in some mysterious way, she seems linked to the Baroque painter Artemisia Gentileschi, who is celebrated today as a feminist precursor.
His frequent encounters with two smug plainclothes Italian cops investigating his sister’s disappearance are played for easy laughs. They lead him to Robert (Andrea Scarduzio), a good-looking architecture lecturer whose relationship to Reena is more complicated than he imagines. In flashback we see how, years before, Raj ruined Reena’s love affair with an Indian student, and he still has a hard time coming to terms with her sexuality. (He’s only three weeks away from his own marriage to a professional woman, and it’s a question how this hot-headed, emotional, knee-jerk nationalist is going to start a family.) His unnerving encounters culminate in one with a bizarre aristocratic couple, played by veteran actors Urbano Barberini and Pamela Villoresi.
As Raj’s certainties about the roles of men and women in society break down, so does the viewer’s faith that all will end happily. Deliberately blurring the line between reality and fantasy, Chatterjee often leaves the audience perplexed. But the multiple narrative and emotional threads do pull themselves together in a bittersweet finale that emphasizes Raj’s change of heart.
Shot in a merry tumble of Hindi, English and Italian, the film could use more accurate English subtitling, at least the Italian dialogue. More meaningful than the recurring language misunderstandings, however, are the cultural differences that get pointed out, like the cops’ total incomprehension of Raj’s possessive attitude toward his adult sister.
The mixed Indian-Italian crew is led by D.P. Sunita Radia, whose vision of Italy is never banal, despite most of the scenes being shot in the most touristic places since Roman Holiday. Alokananda Dasgupta’s score adds a further modern Indian note to the surroundings.
Production companies: Eros International, Rising Star Entertainment
Cast: Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Tannishtha Chatterjee, Valentina Corti, Isha Talwar, Francesco Apolloni, Andrea Scarduzio, Urbano Barberini, Pamela Villoresi, Vineet Kumar, Sapna Sand
Director: Tannishtha Chatterjee
Screenwriters: Tannishtha Chatterjee, Abhishek Chatterjee
Producers: Ravi Walia, Pankaj Razdan
Director of photography: Sunita Radia
Production designer: Valerio Romano
Editors: Protim Khaound, Archit Rastogi, Nitin Baid
Music: Alokananda Dasgupta
Casting directors: Cristina Puccinelli, Kunal Shah
Venue: Mumbai Film Festival (Discovering India)
World sales: Eros International
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