8 A.M. Metro uses a modern transport system to explore an old-fashioned encounter between strangers. Raj R’s Hindi-language film has books, poetry by Gulzar, and characters who take it nice and easy. Even the names of the characters seem to have been plucked out of a well-thumbed novel: she is Iravati (Saiyami Kher), he is Pritam (Gulshan Devaiah).

During a visit to Hyderabad, the emotionally reserved Iravati befriends the kindly Pritam. He helps her overcome her fear of train travel, infects her with his love for literature and praises her poetry. The traffic isn’t one-way – Iravati too is helping Pritam deal with his own situation.

The metro network, usually associated with speed and momentum, slows down to allow Iravati and Pritam to get to know each another. Both of them are married and with children. They find common ground through the cerebral as well as the trivial. In the gentle rhythms of their encounters, the possibility of a new kind of companionship emerges.

The writer-director wants you to stop stealing glances at your cellphone and listen keenly not just to the ultimately life-altering exchanges between Iravati and Pritam but also the silences that punctuate their conversations. It’s a tough demand in these attention-deficit times. It’s even tougher when the staging is awkward, some of the dialogue stilted and the visuals telefilm-drab.

The consequences of the unorthodox pairing are jettisoned just when the picture gets more complicated. Yet, 8 AM Metro has its fair share of acuity. In Iravati’s relatable reticence and Pritam’s touching faith in the power of literature to solve all woes, themes of urban loneliness, lingering trauma and unacknowledged grief amble into view.

The smooth on-screen compatibility of the leads papers over the unevenness of their performances. Gulshan Devaiah does much of the heavy lifting, turning out a finely layered performance as the emotionally complicated Pritam. Saiyami Kher, playing a poetic type for the second time after the web series Faadu, looks the part of the sensitive housewife who has allowed her neuroses to eclipse her talent, even if she doesn’t fully inhabit it.

8 A.M. Metro (2023).