India Lockdown Movie Review: A middling ode to human resilience in times of Covid-19
The film encapsulates a few poignant yet aspirational stories of individuals whose lives come to a standstill during the first 21-day lockdown in India
It's been three years since we first were aware of the presence of the Covid-19 virus. Since then, the world has changed in unrecognisable ways for many. It was, and continues to be a harrowing memory that we wish to forget. Loved ones were lost. Livelihoods were destroyed. Dreams were stalled. We missed the endearing touch of our near and dear. While some longed to reunite with families, some felt suffocated as their family dynamics tipped over. The proverbial search for the light at the end of the tunnel was the only hope that kept us moving ahead with resilience and perseverance.
Madhur Bhandarkar's latest directorial, India Lockdown, encapsulates a few poignant yet aspirational stories of individuals whose lives come to a standstill in the wake of the announcement of the first 21-day lockdown in India. But do they move us? Unfortunately, no, as the film mostly fishes on the surface.
Director: Madhur Bhandarkar
Cast: Shweta Basu Prasad, Prateek Babbar, Ahana Kumra, Sai Tamankar, Prakash Belawadi
As the film begins, it is a few days before the lockdown in Mumbai. We are introduced to individuals from different socio-economical backgrounds who cross each other's paths. There is Moon Alves, a commercial pilot. Returning home, she realises flight services are cancelled. There's a college-going couple Dev and Palak, and an elderly man Nageshwar Rao, who is planning to visit his expectant daughter in Hyderabad. There is a migrant couple, Pulmathi and Madhav, and Mehru, a sex worker from Kamathipura.
The director has seamlessly weaved the stories of five different individuals through a hyperlink narrative. It is interesting to witness how this multilinear narrative structure with multiple characters unifies under one unifying theme, lockdown.
Among the ensemble, Shweta as Mehru offers a compelling performance with an authentic portrayal. Through her journey, we see how the community strived to run the show by switching to offering digital services to their clients. Besides, Mehru is one of the well-written characters in India Lockdown. She is the only breadwinner of the family and her mother, who lives miles away, does not know what her daughter does to earn a living. At a forlorn point in the film, Mehru says, "Iss shehar me toh kuch umeedh hai," and stays back in the city. As the film progresses, we explore other facets of Mehru, including a riveting moment of personal liberation.
Likewise, Sai Tamhankar, who plays a domestic worker, showcases a subtle and riveting performance. She bears the brunt of low-paid and inconsistent work. As her unemployed days bleed into weeks, survival becomes tough. On the other hand, her husband, Madhav (Prateek), represents street vendors and their struggle to pay the debt collectors.
With no other go, they decide to walk back to their village. These visuals remind us of the hardship faced by over one crore migrants who, hit by the lockdown, were stranded on roads. They scripted a painful page in our history by walking on foot to reach their homes. However, this segment doesn't fully justify the adversity faced by the scores of migrants.
Prakash Belawadi's Nageshwar Rao is a Telugu-speaking person, but the actor seems to struggle while conversing in the language. His portions feel stilted, and is once again a dismal representation of the South in Hindi films. Also, the father-daughter bond explored around Nageshwar Rao is just lifeless. However, to give credit where it is due, Rao's character represented those who were extremely precautious during the pandemic.
And, of course, love in times of Covid-19 was testing. As a reflection on a budding romance, India Lockdown shows Dev and Palak. Separated by lockdown, their long-time plan to make love at the perfect time and place comes to a standstill. Now, all that they can resort to is meeting each other virtually. Things become rough when there's a new unexpected entrant, Moon, in Dev's life. Moon is an independent woman who only does what she loves. What could have been a poignant interaction about love in the times of covid and modern-day romance, we do not really find it compelling enough to warrant empathy or even basic engagement.
Through all the angles explored in the film, it is disappointing that the makers don't really dive deep into the period. Considering it is a time period where most of us have lived-in experiences, it would have been interesting to see more stories, with multifaceted people. With series and films like Putham Pudhu Kaalai, Putham Pudhu Kaalai Vidiyaadha, and Unpaused, the idea of merely brooding on the slice of lives of different individuals during the pandemic is not novel anymore. Perhaps India Lockdown, which has its heart in the right place, would have worked better if it was released a year or two earlier.