Shreepad Naik is a stellar representative of the urban poor generation. The perpetual freelancer drifts from one assignment to the next, lives on borrowed money and favours from his father and friends, and complains about being broke after spending his waking hours in coffee shops where the price of a beverage costs half as much as a manual worker’s daily wage.
When Shreepad (Arjun Radhakrishnan) tries to borrow money for petrol for his motorcycle, a friend tells him, who don’t you take the bus? But Shreepad is made of sterner stuff. He is done with writing unimaginative copy for a small advertising company and is determined to travel. He gets an opportunity when a friend sends him a ticket to his wedding. Several nightmarish and life-altering experiences follow, which jolt Shreepad out of his stupor but also reinforce his belief that he does not belong in the mainstream.
Sandeep Mohan, the director of the independent features Love, Wrinkle Free (2011) and Hola Venky! (2014), creates a convincing and consistent lo-fi conversational vibe. The characters speak as real people do, and even as Shreepad find himself in increasingly absurd situations, his reactions are all too human. Radhakrishnan is well cast as the slacker who is determined to pursue his path by mooching off others.
Shreelancer is the perfect ode to the numerous freelancers found slouched in cafes in cities around India. Shreepad is the patron saint of the young men and women who nurse their lattes and dream of being Booker Prize-winning writers or trailblazing filmmakers while banging away on laptops hooked to free wi-fi. All of Mohan’s films turn on smart ideas about unexplored urban realities, but Shreepad’s journey is not half as interesting as he imagines it to be. Like its aimless hero, the movie drifts in far too many directions.