Monday, May 14, 2007

LIFE IN A...METRO has its cake and eats it

LIFE IN A...METRO is not your typical escapist Bollywood froth. It's subject matter includes adulterous marriages, sex before marriage, closet homosexuality and winning promotion through patronage rather than merit. To that end, it begins with the crusading energy and refreshing honesty of recent art-house hits PAGE THREE and CORPORATE. The movie is set in the new Indian metropolitan middle-class and tells the inter-locking tale of affluent young professionals.

Shilpa Shetty once again shows her willingness to take on taboo-busting roles. After playing an HIV positive career woman in PHIR MILENGE, she plays a woman who has sacrificed her career to become a bored, cuckolded housewife, herself tempted into adultery. Her husband is a lecherous call centre manager, sleeping with an emotionally unstable girl called Neha. Neha in turn is the object of the affections of an ambitious young man played by Sharman Joshi (RANG DE BASANTI.) He is getting ahead by hard work, but also by lending his flat to his managers for their adulterous flings in return for guaranteed promotion. Neha is also the flatmate of Shilpa Shetty's character's sister. The sister is played by the ever-brilliant Konkona Sen Sharma (OMKARA). She is being used as cover by a closet gay co-worker, but is also spurning the advances of a sweet but shambolic colleage, played by Irrfan Khan (THE NAMESAKE.)

Each of these characters has to face a choice between duty, money and love. Some will choose duty and money. Some choose love, inspired partly by an old couple that were reunited briefly after unhappy arranged marriages. The most delightful of the interlocking stories in the Konkona Sen Sharma/Irrfan Khan love story - arguably because this strand contains the best actors. It also contains the most soupy, melodramatic, Richard Curtis ending, which is what I mean by the headline that LIFE IN A...METRO has its cake and eats it.

It wants to be taken seriously as a no-holds barred state of the nation movie, but it can't help giving the audience the emotional ending it wants. To my mind, the film just about pulls it off - feeding both heart and mind. The only thing stopping me from giving this movie a more ringing endorsement is the poor quality of the subtitles. They are often inaccurate - both mis-spelt and mis-translated - and I suspect that this would substantially impair the enjoyment of a non-Hindi speaking audience.

LIFE IN A...METRO is on release in the UK, US, Australia, the Netherlands and India.

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