8 a m Metro movie review: Gulshan Devaiah is affable but this slice-of-life slips off the track

8 a m Metro movie review: Gulshan Devaiah is affable but this slice-of-life slips off the track

The film tumbles in a poetic hangover, and the performances by the leads eventually start seeming like a stage play
Rating:(2.5 / 5)

It’s either love or murder when two strangers meet on a train. Locomotives serve as a great setting for characters to introspect as they watch high-rises, fields, or lakes pass by the window. The state of motion, the proximity, brings vulnerability between them. Either love blooms or conspiracy hatches.

Starring: Gulshan Devaiah, Saiyami Kher

Directed by: Raj Rachakonda

Written by: Shruti Bhatnagar and Raj Rachakonda

Although there is death, 8 a.m. Metro is no Strangers on a Train (1951). Director Raj Rachakonda’s (Mallesham, 2019; Paka (2021) Hindi debut aims to be Before Sunrise (1995) but ends up being a bland Lunchbox (2013) being served on a sluggish train. The central plot (adapted from the popular Telugu book Andamaina Jeevitham), about two strangers striking a friendship, serves as a wide playing field, but 8 a.m. Metro clings to the obvious, never soaring into possibilities.

The narrative revolves around Iravati (Saiyami Kher), a timid Maharashtrian middle-class homemaker. Her husband is always caught up with work and her kids only want pasta. If not choked, she does feel suffocated in the humdrum of life. She pens poetry over cups of filtered coffee on lazy evenings. I didn’t know it was possible, but even Gulzar’s poems sound awkward in Saiyami’s recital. She weighs each word on her lips and rather than a portrayal of coyness it seems like a distress call for the teleprompter.

Doom strikes when Iravati has to take a train from Maharashtra’s Nanded to Hyderabad, where her sister is in need of prenatal care. A childhood trauma has infused a fear of railways in her. Amid an overdramatic depiction of panic attacks (sounds dimming in the background, visuals blurring) she reaches the Telangana capital. The hospital, where her sister is admitted, is far (“It costs Rs 500 in an auto”) from Iravati’s residence in Hyderabad. Now, she has to undergo the torment of travelling via the Metro every day. Gulshan Devaiah’s Preetam lends a helping hand. He is a haggard-looking corporate employee who is socially awkward and seeks solace in books. The poet and the reader strike up conversations. Gulshan is affable as the reserved Preetam. He brings an easy charm to the character with his muted smile and casual strolls.  

Although an obvious setting for a film with the word Metro in the title would be Delhi, Hyderabad brings fresh visuals to the screen. It’s calming to watch Iravati and Preetam walk around Chowmahalla Palace or take a ferry to the Buddha statue towering in the centre of Hussain Sagar Lake. Contrastingly, their conversations lack depth. Preetam, who has portraits of Chekhov and Dostoevsky in his house, says nothing revelatory about the human condition. Instead, he keeps dropping trivia on various tribes and their mannerisms. Iravati’s poetry, rather than garnishing the drama, feels ill-fitting. The film tumbles in a poetic hangover and the performances by the leads eventually start seeming like a stage play.

8 a.m. Metro aims to serve a life lesson. That happiness is sometimes not in the world outside a train window but in the smiles of your family sitting in the opposite berth. Just that you have motion sickness and the train is shaking a lot.

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