The “Island City” Review

I love anthologies ! The sheer excitement of what the next story would have for you, the anticipation of an equated catharsis, the playfulness of the changing moods and dimensions make anthologies even more challenging for a film-maker than a conventional story. Although it may still seem like a novel concept to most of us, this is not new to Bollywood. Directors have been experimenting with anthologies for a long time and we have some brilliant references to look back at before we talk about the film in question today. Acclaimed director Dibakar Banerjee’s Love, Sex or Dhokha (2010) was one of the most brilliant pieces of screenplay that we had seen in a long time. The almost raw, amateuristic visage projected exactly what the director had intended to – our voyeuristic penchant for sensationalism, even when we are presented with the basest of human emotions. Kiran Rao’s Ship of Theseus was another masterpiece which introduced us to a very different aspect of film-making and how real stories should look like.

Some more anthologies you might want to check out: 10 Indian Film Anthologies

Ruchika Oberoi’s Island City is an unabashed homage to Maximum City and its people. Through a series of three short stories each connected to the previous by an invisible umbilical chord, Oberoi reminds me of Twilight Zone and the more recent Netflix’s Black Mirror. 

Coming to our subject today, Ruchika Oberoi’s Island City is an unabashed homage to Maximum City and its people. Through a series of three short stories each connected to the previous by an invisible umbilical chord, Oberoi reminds me of Twilight Zone and the more recent Netflix’s Black Mirror. Through the three parts – Fun Committee, Ghost in the Machine and Contact, Oberoi speaks about a Mumbai which is a master of disguise, having wide-ranging shades of personalities each as authentic as the next.

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Fun Committee is based in a white-collar stratus where fascist behemoths control people’s lives in metal and glass buildings. Soon we become so used to a robotic life that we forget to understand the meaning of fun. Suyash Chaturvedi, played by Vinay Pathak, is the quintessential employee who abides by the organization’s rules and lives a life completely devoid of any human interaction.We get to see some on-your-face satire when he is chosen to have “fun no matter what” as a part of company policy wherein he is given a set of coupons which he is instructed to use throughout the day before which he would not be allowed to return to office. The stark insight on how companies laughably try to portray the illusion that they understand their employees is accurately shown through Pathak’s dilemma when he is frustrated by the coupons and tries to flush them down the toilet just so that he could return to office and get out of an uncomfortable day-off.

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Ghost in the Machine is the story of a middle class oppressed wife whose husband’s lack of respect for her has seeped into the household and keeps everyone subdued all the time. Through a chance accident due to which the husband goes into a coma, the family experiences a liberation of sorts. They can now talk freely amongst themselves, enjoy television together and have a life. During this time they get hooked to a soap opera called Purushottam which portrays how an ideal patriarch should be. We see how they start to care about this fictitious character even more than their relative who is in the hospital on life-support. The storyline within the TV and in their lives reach parallel arcs when the protagonist (also in a coma, attacked by his evil brother) is about to come to life. About the same time, the wife actually receives a call from the hospital that her husband is about to recover and would be home soon. The contrasting emotions wherein they celebrate the recovery of Purushottam as compared to their dejected looks when they learn about the recovery of the husband, shows a deep understanding of the human emotion by the director.

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Contact takes us even lower in the social ladder to a lower middle class family where the father runs a shop and his eldest daughter Aarti (played by Tannishtha Chatterjee) works in a printing press to support her family. Without any real identity other than a bread-earner, the girl’s father fixes her up for marriage with a local loafer who claims to have a booming business and is also from their community. Her to-be-husband constantly insults her in front of his friends throwing taunts like – “I don’t have time to find a pretty face.” and “She is lucky to have trapped me, otherwise who else would marry her ?” which she quietly takes in her stride. In the filth surrounding her home and workplace, she only seeks genuine human contact, someone who would let her feel valuable again. During this time, she receives a romantic letter from a mysterious admirer who expresses through words what she really wanted to hear deep within her heart. As she secretly starts to exchange letters with this person, she finds her despair lifting until things take a strange turn, connecting this seemingly disconnected story to the first one. Nope, my lips are sealed!

Something that caught my attention was how each one of these stories had a different imagery associated with it. Throughout Fun Committee you get to see patterns everywhere in buildings, lobbies, landscapes. Even the motto of the organization Systematic Statistics had the word “Orderliness” in it. You are subliminally fed this presence of a deep-rooted system which employs humanoid machines not humans who are obliged to succumb to this Orwellian Big Brother. Similarly, Ghost in the machine shows you the imagery of huge posters of the soap everywhere even before the story begins. The characters in the story are seen to be noticing the huge posters by the highway in the first few scenes, again subliminally feeding us the fact that we keep finding solace in fictitious things when reality isn’t a comfortable place to be. Contact’s imagery is a little more subtle. Through various disjointed shots we see large soil-diggers digging dirt and muck along the road and under bridges. Its as if a projection of Aarti’s life was being shown through those diggers. She quietly works away to “clean” and provide for her family but nobody notices her. She is the embodiment of the machines in the sidelines which clean our cities.

Even though the stories are independent in their messages, there is singular undercurrent that is common to all of them. We are all slaves to machines. It would be difficult for us to explain this connection to you without giving away the plot but lets just suffice to say that Island City is a phenomenal piece of film-making. Sylvester Fonseca’s captivating cinematography brings out the modernistic as well as the raw pulse of the city. From glass buildings in the first story to the dark, decadent tenements in the last we are taken on a journey of the Island City.  Although I have tried hard to capture all the little nuances that I could catch while I marveled at each turn, I have a feeling that there is still a lot that I may have missed. This is one of those films which will have some new meaning for you every time you watch it – some unexplored little shot will make you sit up and gasp – “How did I miss this !”.

 This is one of those films which will have some new meaning for you every time you watch it – some unexplored little shot will make you sit up and gasp – “How did I miss this !”.

For me, Island City opened my eyes to become much more aware of my surroundings. As I left the theatre, I walked in a daze where every little sound registered in my brain – from the gentle buzz of the neon lights, to the silent brushing of the crowd passing by. You start to notice patterns and how we live our lives around them. Technology has pervaded our psyche in such a manner that every one is glued to their phones, strutting like zombies as we immerse ourselves in social gratification. Island City will make you look up from your phones and take in the humanity that surrounds you.

gobblscore: 7.5/10

gobblpoint: Oberoi is witty and undauntingly accurate in her portrayal of the society we live in. The perceptive observations strike chords in a way you may not have felt before. Watch it for one of the best anthologies yet and some great performances by the characters.

 

Disclaimer: The images used in this post are the sole property of the makers of this film and are not owned by us in any form whatsoever.

 

 

 

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