In Ruchika Oberoi’s anthology, three strangers and their fates interconnect in unexpected ways, giving us an intimate and wonderfully observed film about people who are, in some form or the other, isolated and desperately looking for an anchor in their lives.
Set in Mumbai but with characters that could belong anywhere, Oberoi manages to sketch the lives of three lonely people eloquently and with great attention to detail. From the bachelor’s sparse apartment, to the middle-class household where the flat-screen TV occupies centre-stage, “Island City” gets the small things spot-on.
In the first story, Suyash (Vinay Pathak) works crazy hours at a Big Brother-like corporate house where an announcer cheerily talks about pay cuts and extended working hours as if they were a good thing, and where employees are forced to take a “fun day” of activities outside work to increase productivity.
Used to absolute subservience, Suyash doesn’t stop to think when one of the “fun” activities involves doing something unusual, leading to a chain of events that reverberate through the film.
Suyash’s story is the weakest in the film, and the absurdism doesn’t quite have the sharp edge it should have.
In the second story, evocatively titled “The Ghost in the Machine”, Sarita (Amruta Subhash) finds that her life and that of her family’s (two sons and an aging mother-in-law) are in limbo after her husband goes into a coma.
To get them by, the family buys a TV, previously banned in the house, and gets immersed in the life of Purushottam, the leading man in a prime-time series. Soon, the crisis in their lives pales before the drama unfolding on TV and the family faces an uncomfortable decision.
In the third story, titled “Contact”, Aarti (Tannishtha Chatterjee), a quiet print worker receives an unexpected and effusive love letter from an anonymous admirer. Soon, the pink letters full of flowery phrases take over her life, and her garrulous fiancé Jignes (Chandan Roy Sanyal) starts to pale in comparison to her unknown suitor.
All three stories have their strong points, but there are times when Oberoi cannot resist the temptation to spell everything out. That takes some of the edge off from what is otherwise a rare and honest portrait of the lives of urban dwellers.