In the chawl drama, that fast diminishing sub-category of the Mumbai-set film, neighbours know your thoughts before you do and bad news spreads faster than a rumour about a celebrity death. Arjun Mukerjee’s directorial debut unearths a chawl whose residents have managed to keep secrets from their family members and the discreet folks down the corridor.
As the title suggests, the main characters live on different floors of the Mayanagar chawl. Richa Chadha plays the local beauty, a ground-floor resident who swishes her hips this way and that and has a string of male visitors to the envy of others.
The first chapter, and the most compelling one, follows Flory (Renuka Shahane), a Goan Catholic widow who meets a prospective tenant (Pulkit Samrat) for her apartment. The nervous broker is afraid of Flory, and understandably so. She remembers her tragic past all too well, doesn’t suffer fools gladly, and because she is played by Renuka Shahane, is both genial and sinister. Shahane has been typecast as the teeth-baring Mrs Congeniality for far too long. In 3 Storeys, one of the most famous set of canines in India is on full display, but the prosthetic-laden Shahane ensures that Flory is no cuddly matron.
The next story jumps a floor and lands at the door of Varsha (Masumeh Makhija), who has an abusive drunk for a husband and a sad story of a lost lover (Sharman Joshi). Varsha’s past catches up with her when a new family moves in next door. The story has some potential and a poignant sting in the tale, but Masumeh Makhija is miscast as the housewife who is caught between hard choices.
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. The need to set all the stories in one place is a necessary conceit for the movie 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 neighbour.
The directness of the stories, each of which carries a twist, ensures that some degree of suspense is retained. Mukherjee directs his cast well and creates a convincing middle-class milieu, but the hothouse of desire, deceit and death that Mayanagar supposedly represents simply does not emerge from the lightweight and toothless material.