Mumbai is a city with “the steepest property rates and the highest number of idiots”, according to the writers of Pia Sukanya’s debut feature Bombairiya. Some of these exemplars of low intelligence appear to have found their way into the production, which wants to be cool and cult but doesn’t work hard enough to enough to earn either label.

The 108-minute movie assembles an excellent ensemble of actors and then gets them to run around in circles in the hope that something might emerge out of their exertions. The screenplay, by Sukanya, Michael E Ward and Aarti Bagdi, aims for nothing less than functioning anarchy, which is never a good idea when the larger point is as elusive as a pothole-free Mumbai road.

Bombairiya is driven by the notion that chaos is at the heart of Mumbai, but misses the point that in reality, invisible order and impeccable logic are quietly working beneath. Phones and lives gets swapped during a traffic accident. The cellphones of frazzled film publicist Meghna (Radhika Apte) and confused courier Prem (Siddhanth Kapoor) exchange hands during a traffic snarl to which Abhishek (Akshay Oberoi) is witness. Abhishek attaches himself to Meghna, who is trying to retrieve her phone and placate her main client, movie star Karan Kapoor (Ravi Kishan).

In the first of many meanwhiles, Prem has a mysterious package that needs to be delivered. Police officer Gujral (Amit Sial) slinks about on a mysterious mission ordered by his imprisoned ex-boss (Adil Hussain). Karan’s wife Ira (Shilpa Shukla) gets into the picture, as do Akshay’s parents, Meghna’s father and grandmother, a police commissioner with the unlikely name Ramesh Wadia (Ajinkya Deo), a radio jockey, and one pair each of Karan Kapoor fans and hapless Mumbai police officials.

There are more contrivances than coincidences here, with Mumbai presented as the sum total of a few streets where characters are found as miraculously as they lose their way. In this anything-comes-and-goes city heaving with hysterical people who specialise in non sequiturs, the technology is dated (pre-paid SIM cards, older models of cellphones, music CDs), the humour not sharp or bizarre enough, and the narrative too disjointed to hang together.

There are some fertile patches of humour (a running joke about Meghna’s relationship status pays dividends) and the tedium is leavened by the lovely cast. While Radhika Apte is in familiar worrywart mode, Siddhanth Kapoor is impressive as Prem. Adil Hussain, as a crooked cop, Ravi Kishan, playing an entitled movie star and Akshay Oberoi, as one of the aforementioned idiots, seem to be getting the joke that most of us missed.

Bombairiya (2019).