Synopsis – “3 Storeys” is an intriguing film full of twists and turns. Over the course of 3 acts, dark secrets and past regrets are revealed, and it becomes clear that life in this small community is not quite what it seems.
My Take – If there is one thing Bollywood filmmakers don’t know how to do is – is to make a good anthology. While the stories can range from a variety of any genre from crime and horror to drama, to love and comedy, yet since the success of Darna Marna Hai (2004), despite trying umpteen times, commercial success has always alluded the genre. Some notable examples, like the DMH sequel Darna Zaroori Hai which left without a whimper, despite the presence of a bigger and better cast, Love Sex Aur Dhoka bowled over the critics but didn’t make much money, the Nikhil Advani directed Love Actually remake Salaam E Ishq crashed on arrival, while Dus Kahaniyaan failed to do anything. For some reason the general cinema going audience of India have never been up for a complicated story structure, where the emotions are generally subtle along with the plot of the film usually about being characters untangled between each other and how their different lives are affected by one incident or person. However, the case seems a little different here. In order to appeal to the common man, it seems like here, Arjun Mukerjee for his directorial debut, has set this film in the most common grounds of all, a Mumbai chawl, where in real life itself the lives of residents intersect and clash in several unexpected ways. Based in part on the short story by Henry Slesar titled ‘The Right Kind of House’ and backed by Farhan Akhtar and Ritesh Sidhwani’s Excel Entertainment, this film takes us right into the cozy tenement and captures a microcosm of city life, with its myriad communities co-exist. The film shows three different stories and imagines what might actually be the stories of those living behind some of those uniformly designed doors. Sure, the film shares a similar set of problems which anthologies share, yet, for all its rough edges though, there is an attempt to stay off the routine path and a few sincere performances to match that effort, and for that the film deserves some credit.
Set in a crowded middle-class apartment block in Maya Nagar area of Mumbai, the story follows Flory Mendonca (Renuka Shahane), an elderly Goan lady, who after losing both, her young son Anton and her husband Dominic, in a matter of weeks has been living all alone. While she wants to sell her house, her exorbitant conditions has been driving buyers away, until Vilas Naik (Pulkit Samrat), a businessman anxious for a house near a train station comes in willing to accept her conditions. Meanwhile, on the other side of the storey, Varsha (Masumeh Makhija), a working class woman who while tending to her little son and coping with daily abuse from her unemployed, alcoholic husband (Tarun Anand), lives her life still dreaming about her time with her kind ex-boyfriend, Shankar (Sharman Joshi). There are also two star-crossed young lovers in the form of Malini (Aisha Ahmed) and Sohail (Ankit Rathi), who despite the religion barrier, continue to flagrantly express their love, much to the dismay of Malini’s mother (Sonal Jha) and Sohail’s father Rizwan (Dudhi Pandey). And finally there is Leela (Richa Chadda), a glamorous, dolled-up widow with flowing black hair, who lives her life in her terms, while seeking out the attention of men in every age group, yet somehow remains unknown about the presence of a meek bald constable Ganpatrao (Himanshu Malik) who has been besotted with her a long time and has not yet gathered up the courage to talk to her about it. Without over lapping each other much, each story has a certain gripping element along with a surprise ending that some may or may not see it coming. Moving along at a clipped trot, without appearing too hurried, the film takes us on a journey across three floors of these lively residential apartment building, while presenting a microcosm of human existence amidst Mumbai’s bustling urban landscape, all the while providing a playful and moving study of these intricately intertwined lives, lost love, revenge and the forbidden. Over the course of three acts, dark secrets and past regrets are revealed, and it becomes clear that life in this small community is not quite what it seems. The film begins with the idea that behind every face, there is a story to be told. This give a promising start to a film that itself has three different premises to offer, even in that common setting. The film works like a storybook told by a narrator – it offers us something different with every story, even though not all leave the same kind of impact, and yet you don’t really want to stop reading, even when the best part is over. One of the overarching themes of the film, and true to each of the individual story lines, is the unshakeable baggage of the past. In each case, the past is either a trigger or a burden that weighs down the characters and director Arjun Mukherjee, working from a script by Althea Kaushal, delivers a sting in every tale. Serving up the best right at the start, the motivations of the eccentric Mrs. Mendonca and the youthful Vilas, who looks too well turned out to fit into that grubby society, are intriguing and hold attention till the final frame. Bollywood has stereotyped Goan Christians from the beginning of time so this lady comes as a pleasant change. Yes, the film doesn’t live up to the brilliance of the first act, but it moves at an engaging pace, with some reality-invoking moments. Like that scene where the court employees judge the interracial couple for eloping, while also issuing the paperwork for the marriage or the manager of a seedy hotel that rents out rooms on an hourly basis who insists on seeing the girl. We have seen such characters in real life and the film acknowledges their presence, but thankfully, they are not used for shock factor. One more thing to be appreciated is that, despite being set in a chawl, the film doesn’t make its inhabitants look miserly or languish in poverty.
Be that as it may, the film’s brisk pace, realistic feel and undramatized tone keeps us engaged. It would help if you do not know what the finale in each short carries, but even if you do, there is considerable enjoyment to be derived from this film. Besides, the way it is wrapped up too defies expectations and its running time of 100 minutes is just right for the written material at hand. One thing abrupt here is that film tries too hard to make sure that audience understands the philosophy that the lives are affected, which reflects in the title of the film as well, which itself is trying to sell the idea that this film is of a certain kind instead of what’s in it and director could not possibly hide this with in the narrative of the film. Instead of focusing on the detailing of any character, the screenplay jumps back and forth a lot to make sure that the viewer does not forget the arc of another story which was just shown hence it becomes dis-balanced. The least fulfilling track involves an inter-faith story between teenagers, which has a back story that is too poorly sketched to be remotely credible. In Alankrita Shrivastava’s film Lipstick Under My Burkha (2017), Sonal Jha’s character opposed her daughter Leela’s (Aahana Kumra) relationship with a Muslim boy, Arshad (Vikrant Massey). This film too has a similar story, but the mother’s reasons for refusal here will shock you. She does a fine job, but it’s the actress who played the mother of the Muslim boy who leaves you stunned. Here is a poor lady who is so intimidated by her dominant husband that she is too petrified to even bat an eyelid. I get it, the need to set all the stories in one place is a necessary conceit for the film to work. But the contrivance that is an inevitable result of restricting the twists and connections between the residents to a single location shows up the most in the romance between a Muslim teenager and his Hindu neighbor. Yes, I do wish that the execution, overall, could have been more polished, and some portions have been written better. There was potential here to create a compelling drama about the dark secrets that ordinary folk bury out of sight. But the culmination of the film, that will make you see these characters in a different light, is done beautifully and will leave you with a smile if you are someone who has a knack of writing stories. After all, stories are someone’s perceptions too, right? Thankfully the film is bolstered by some admirable performances. Renuka Shahane makes a long due return to Hindi cinema and doesn’t disappoint playing the Konkani Catholic aunty. If not perfect, she makes a sincere attempt at getting the accent right. She aced the look with short grey hair, floral dresses, and a duck gait. Sharman Joshi leaves you pleasantly surprised with his intensity here. As opposed to recent roles, Sharman doesn’t let the emotions get the better of him here, chipping in with a restrained yet convincing performance. The underrated Masumeh Makhija wins you over with her simplicity. She’s got the gift of the gab, but more importantly, Makhija succeeds in bringing out the emotional depth of her character. Equally impressive is Tarun Anand, who plays the abusive, chauvinist husband. Pulkit Samrat also appears competent in his role of a businessman. Debutantes Aisha Ahmed and Ankit Rathi perform admirably. Himanshu Mallik is completely unrecognizable here, but remains likable. Richa Chadda in a small role, looks gorgeous. On the whole, ‘3 Storeys‘ is a decent anthology which despite its short comings deserves a watch for its endearing characters and stellar performances.
Directed – Arjun Mukerjee
Rated – PG15
Run Time – 100 minutes