Ruchika Oberoi’s absorbing debut feature is set in Mumbai of the past, present and future. A corporate drone is forced to “have fun” by his management; a housewife and her family experience the joys of television while the husband lies in a coma; a press worker falls in love with an anonymous letter writer. The invisible hand that yanks at their intertwined fortunes is Systematic Statistics, a corporate behemoth situated inside one of Mumbai’s many glass-fronted warrens.
Events that take place inside this soul-crushing office in the first chapter ricochet throughout the unusual narrative, and even though Oberoi’s critique of the march of the machines and the corrosion of human values is a whisper rather than a rant, it will especially resonate with Mumbai residents.
It all begins when Suyash (Vinay Pathak) is ordered by his company’s Fun Committee to enjoy himself in order to improve productivity. Suyash is reluctantly packed off for a day at the mall, where he is overloaded with things he doesn’t need and a pedicure he does not care for. A mix-up leads to a tragedy that carries over to the following chapter. As her husband lies in a coma, Sarita (Amruta Subhash) and her family treat themselves to a television set, which was previously not permitted in their household. A new show featuring an ideal male specimen sucks the family into its fictional world, which seems more attractive than the real one.
In the third and best realised chapter, introverted newspaper press employee Aarti (Tannishtha Chatterjee) starts receiving love letters from an unknown source. The deeply romantic missives, which seem to understand her personality better than her loutish garage owner fiancé Jignesh (Chandan Roy Sanyal), embolden Aarti into trying to shake off her shackles.
The 111-minute movie has been beautifully shot by Sylvester Fonseca, set in vividly captured locations, and perfectly performed by its ensemble cast, but the screw-loose narrative needed some tightening to have been truly effective. Oberoi sometimes takes too long to set up and spell out obvious moments and scenes. The time-stretching technique works best in the second episode, in which a neighbour takes forever with her tea and biscuits while Sarita’s mother (Uttara Baokar) anxiously waits for her departure so that she can catch the TV serial’s latest episode.
The first two chapters rely on absurdist comedy that is played deadpan straight. Oberoi’s targets for satire – soul-crushing corporate culture and the fake idealism of television soaps – are lightweight, and the dark forces that govern the actions of Suyash and Sarita are patted away with mild humour. The realistic treatment of Aarti’s adventure is the most memorable, and deftly brings together the themes of the city resident striving against powerful and indomitable invisible forces. As Aarti confronts the reality behind the letter writer, Tannishtha Chatterjee’s face provides a vivid snapshot of the lived Mumbai experience. It has its fleeting and infinitesimal moments of pleasures, but the harsh and unfeeling reality of the megapolis always wins out in the end.