'Island City': Film Review

Courtesy of Stray Dogs
A sure-footed first feature.

Three tragi-comic tales convey the flavor of today’s Mumbai.

The unique flavor of modern life in Mumbai is skillfully captured in the sly tragi-comedy Island City, which won best director laurels for filmmaker Ruchika Oberoi on its bow in Venice Days, before starting on a brisk festival life. Three very different stories coyly overlap in this sure-footed Hindi-language first feature, which entertains without deeply involving the viewer in the rather surreal characters’ dilemmas. Alienation is the common theme, but it is handled lightly and perceptively.

In the first story, “Fun Committee,” a Dilbert-like employee works nose to the grindstone in a big, modern white office. Though Chaturvedi (Vinay Pathak, who has the poker face of a silent comedian) does his best to stay in the background, he unexpectedly wins a fun day in the shopping mall, which the company obliges him to enjoy. Diligently following a sort of treasure hunt, he ends up crossing wires with a terrorist who is trying to find the parts to an assault rifle. The weird Big Brother tale is beautifully lit as an uneasy future world by cinematographer Sylvester Fonseca, but suffers from being too bitterly over-the-top to care about, one way or another.

Oberoi has more empathy with her female protags in the next episodes. “The Ghost in the Machine” refers to another office worker who is in the hospital on life support, hovering between life and death following an unfortunate incident at work. His wife (the charming Amruta Subhash) dutifully goes through the motions of pre-bereavement, but soon realizes his absence has its advantages. The most obvious is the family’s purchase of a previously off-limits television, and they soon become happy addicts of the hilariously kitsch “Purushottam” TV series. Simple but with much to smile at, it’s the most successful of the trio of stories.

The fine young actress Tannishtha Chatterjee is the moving heroine of “Contact,” an ambiguous love story that starts when she receives anonymous love letters with lines like, “Only I see your beautiful soul.” Her grubby backstreet neighborhood with its smoggy poverty, the joyless atmosphere of the run-down printing press where she works and her cramped, loveless home make it clear why she would let a wild dream overwhelm her. The sensitive letter-writer is the diametric opposite of her real-world fiancé (Chandan Roy Sanyal), a tough, foul-mouthed street denizen who seems to love her in his own crass way. Though the suspense ends in a glib conclusion, Chatterjee has quietly scored enough emotional points to make the tale satisfying.

Production company: National Film Development Corp.
Cast: Vinay Pathak, Amruta Subhash, Tannishtha Chatterjee, Chandan Roy Sanyal, Samir Kochhar, Uttara Baokar, Ashwin Mushran, Sana Sheikh
Director-screenwriter: Ruchika Oberoi
Producer: Nina Lath Gupta
Associate producer: Sahab Narain
Executive producer: Vikramjit Roy 
Director of photography: Sylvester Fonseca
Production designer:
Krishnendu Chowdhury
Costume designers:
Anirban Haldar, Rajesh Kumar
Editor: Hemanti Sarkar
Music: Sagar Desai
World sales: Stray Dogs 

Not rated, 110 minutes