Madhur Bhandarkar’s latest miserabilist drama goes back to the time when a nationwide lockdown was imposed to combat the coronavirus pandemic. The events of early 2020 are still fresh in the minds of those who fell sick or watched family members die, lost jobs and walked hundreds of kilometres to their villages.
For the fortunate few who emerged unscathed, a film about this phase needs to do much more than state the obvious. That film most definitely isn’t India Lockdown.
The movie is out on ZEE5, but it could have been well been a radio play, going by the talk-heavy script, drab visuals and floor-level production budget. As four sets of Mumbai residents from different economic strata attempt to make sense of the lockdown and the pandemic itself, Bhandarkar and co-writers Amit Joshi and Archana Sah rehash the cliches and pile on the plasticky sentiment.
The maid Phoolmati (Sai Tamhankar) and her husband Madhav (Prateik Babbar), who operates a roadside food stall, embark on a perilous trip to their village in Bihar. Accompanied by their children, the couple face despair and exploitation along the way.
Sex worker Mehrunissa (Shweta Basu Prasad) has to find new ways to survive an unprecedented health crisis. Senior citizen Nageshwar (Prakash Belawadi) wants to drive to Hyderabad to visit his pregnant daughter. The pilot named Moon (Aahana Kumra) comes to the aid of a young couple who want to have sex.
Many scenes are so colourless and visually impoverished that they appear to have been filmed over Zoom. The sub-plot that had some potential – Phoolmati and Madhav’s trek – looks like it has been filmed in the same place from different angles. The most vibrant track is at the brothel, with Shweta Basu Prasad’s Mehrunissa emerging as the feistiest actor in the cast.
While banana bread is among the lockdown elements that is namechecked, the song Unlock Me is surely a revelation. It’s the one inspired moment in a film that says nothing new about the early days of the health crisis, and doesn’t have the filmmaking skills to make the familiar interesting.