Sunday, March 18, 2018


Release date:
March 9, 2018
Arjun Mukerjee

Renuka Shahane, Pulkit Samrat, Masumeh, Sharman Joshi, Richa Chadha, Aisha Ahmed, Ankit Rathi, Saunskriti Kher, Tarun Anand, Himanshu Malik

In a crowded middle-class apartment block in Mumbai, Flory Mendonca (Renuka Shahane) demands a price so exorbitant for her flat that no one has been willing to purchase it for years. Then along comes a potential buyer called Vilas Naik (Pulkit Samrat), anxious for a house near a train station.

In the same building, Varsha Angre (Masumeh) bonds with her kind neighbour and tends to her little son, while coping with daily abuse – sexual and otherwise – from her unemployed, alcoholic husband.

Flory and Varsha watch indulgently as young Malini Mathur (Aisha Ahmed) and Suhail Ansari (Ankit Rathi) fall in love, much to the chagrin of their respective parents. The girl dares her mother to explain her objection to Suhail. Say it, we will her too. C’mon, say that you do not want your Hindu daughter to marry her Muslim boyfriend. But Mum cannot bring the words to her lips and in a sense it comes as a relief that an apparently prejudiced human being is aware enough and therefore ashamed enough not to articulate that prejudice.

A couple of floors below them, lives a glamorous, dolled-up woman (Richa Chadha) with flowing black hair, a sari pinned so low below her navel and a lifestyle so unconventional as to send pulses racing among the horny men in her locality and their gossip-mongering allies.

This is the setting of debutant director Arjun Mukerjee’s 3 Storeys, a housing complex that serves as a microcosm not just of the bustling city beyond but the country as a whole. In these homes, people grapple with their past and present, with domestic violence, casteism, communal biases and long pent-up anger. Some look placid and collected on the outside, but inside there are festering wounds that will kill them if never healed.

Mukerjee’s film moves along at a clipped trot, without appearing too hurried. Each segment in 3 Storeys comes armed with a twist in the end, not in the style of crime thrillers, but in the tradition of some of the world’s greatest short-story writers in the league of one of my favourites of the lot, O. Henry.

3 Storeys serves up its best right at the start. The motivations of the eccentric Mrs Mendonca and the youthful Vilas, who looks too well turned out to fit into that grubby society, are intriguing and hold attention till the final frame. Bollywood has stereotyped Goan Christians from the beginning of time, so this lady comes as a pleasant change. The industry has not yet thought it fit to make a film featuring a sari-wearing Goan (yes, they do exist, Bollywood!), but it does show this one speaking Konkani in addition to English and broken Hindi, which is refreshingly different from the portrayal of the community as quasi-foreigners so far. Shahane is nice to watch and packs some interesting detailing into her performance (note how she pronounces “truth”) which begs the question: why do we not see her more in films?

When the denouement in Flory and Vilas’ saga comes, it should be unnerving, but instead it is executed so matter of factly and with such little fuss, that a guilty laugh escaped my lips as I watched it.

(Spoiler alert) The credits let on that this one is “based in part on the short story by Henry Slesar titled ‘The Right Kind of House’”. I had not read Slesar’s tale earlier, but managed to find it once my curiosity was piqued by Shahane and Samrat, and I cannot understand the “based in part” claim, since “based entirely” is more accurate. Ah well, in a film industry that has only in the past decade begun routinely citing its sources, this is an act of honesty worth appreciating considering that the work of fiction in question is little known in India.

If you have not read The Right Kind of House, do not go looking for it until you watch 3 Storeys. Why rob yourself of the fun to be had in discovering its secret? (Spoiler alert ends)

The remaining stories in 3 Storeys are just as efficiently related by Althea Kaushal-Delmas’ screenplay and Mukerjee’s directorial hand, though the endings in two of them are less exciting.

(Spoiler alert) Varsha’s inter-caste romance feels somewhat antiquated in its climax and the Suhail-Malini affair’s conclusion could be seen coming from a mile. I have heard a similar real-life account so perhaps it is unfair to expect an acknowledgement of the original literary source in the credits, but if you have watched The World of Rudra in Bejoy Nambiar’s bilingual Tamil-Malayalam venture Solo last year, there is a point at which you will know exactly where this one is headed. (Spoiler alert ends)

Be that as it may, 3 Storeys’ brisk pace, realistic feel and undramatised tone make it worth a watch. It would help if you do not know what the finale in each short carries, but even if you do, there is considerable enjoyment to be derived from this film. Besides, the way it is wrapped up too defies expectations. And its running time of 99 minutes and 49 seconds is just right for the written material at hand.

Mukerjee is a business-like storyteller who has clarity about his approach to the project. He does not overtly try to make a grand statement about life in Mumbai, focusing instead on particular lives that catch his eye and, as it happens, making a point while he is at it.

The cast is uniformly good. While the rare big-screen appearance by Shahane is the centerpiece of 3 Storeys, each of her co-stars is gifted. Debutant Aisha Ahmed is a commendable find, and the presence of both Masumeh and Sharman Joshi here raises the question I asked earlier about Ms Shahane: why on earth do we not see more of these talented artistes in films? For them, and much else, 3 Storeys is time well spent.

Rating (out of five stars): **1/2

CBFC Rating (India):
Running time:
99 minutes 49 seconds 

This review was also published on Firstpost:

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