Island City movie cast: Vinay Pathak, Ashwin Mushran, Amruta Subhash, Uttara Baokar, Tannishtha Chatterjee, Chandan Roy Sanyal
Island City movie director: Ruchika Oberoi
There are several striking visuals in Ruchika Oberoi’s maiden venture which instantly communicate its central theme of dystopian alienation: a large city can turn so impersonal, our relations have become so transactional and empty, and our lives can become so mechanistic that the only one capable of any human warmth, is, ironically, a robot.
Island City works best through these fleeting, arresting visuals, their impact diluting when the director turns her attention towards building the narrative arcs. The core idea is expanded upon in all three segments, but the results are uneven: some parts work (especially in the second segment), the others not so much.
Vinay Pathak as an office drone who is forced to ‘fun-and-frolic’ via a monster boss (Ashwin Mushran) and committee directives comes off familiar. Its flatness is rescued by its shocking end: at what point does a worm turn? How much can you push a man, before he turns into a killing machine?
The middle segment gives us parallel narratives, one being played out in the home of a pair of women whose breadwinner is in hospital in a coma, and the other unspooling inside a TV in the lives of the fictional ‘adarsh purush’ named Purushottam. This leaves you with a bunch of ideas: are all ideal men a figment of florid TV screen-writing, are all real-life men such boors, and where does real life begin and where does reel life end? Is dutiful love a false negative? This one is the most effective and Amruta Subhash and Uttara Baokar, good actors both, tag-team well.
In the last, Chatterjee plays a woman who lives a drab assembly line existence, both in her home and on the back of a scooter of her foul-mouthed, coarse fiancé (Chandan Sanyal), and who livens up when she receives a ‘love letter’. She smiles to herself and makes us realise that smiling could be a new expression for her: she may never have smiled before. And then she discovers that it was all a hoax: that the softness of those words cannot take away the hardness of her surroundings. That was not real, this—the dust and the construction and the bulldozers and the incessant noise and rush surrounding her—those are her constants and will always be.
That big cities are empty and soul-less (and Mumbai, Oberoi’s location, is our biggest) is a familiar theme. Oberoi renews it with a couple of good ideas, but doesn’t manage to give us an underneath layer: you are left wanting more, more depth, something that goes beyond the obvious.
But there’s no doubt that Oberoi has an eye. I will be keen to see what she comes up with next.
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