Friday, January 21, 2005

Page 3 

It was a subject begging to be lampooned or analysed seriously—this relatively new trend of people famous just for being seen at parties night after night. Even before the Page 3 culture was thus named, there were high society parties in Mumbai and there were people who filled empty guest lists, so what is it that makes Page 3 a phenomenon worth dissecting? That’s a question that needs answering seriously or humorously. Pity then that Madhur Bhandarkar’s Page 3 has neither wit nor depth—it’s a ponderous so-called expose on life in high places with the strident rich-are-bad-poor-are good tone that you thought went out with the generation of left leaning screenwriters.

Madhavi (Konkona Sensharma) is a middle-class Bangalore girl, who works for a Mumbai newspaper covering the Page 3 beat. Bhandarkar shoots parties with a manic camera, semi-clad girls swinging in the background as guests air kiss, gossip and network. What is wrong is not the partying, but the media’s slavering, with too much column space expended on them. Still, as the case of the NRI in the film illustrates, a Page 3 mention is enough to get a rich nobody a place in society. But Bhandarkar is not interested in criticising the media’s power despite this shallowness; his attitude seems to be that of the group of drivers standing outside making fun of their employers and their perverted lifestyles. It would make the ordinary viewer feel very good about the fact that they are not as morally empty as those rich people.

Madhavi shares her flat with an air hostess (Sandhya Mridul), who aims at hooking a rich man and does. The other is an aspiring actress (Tara Sharma) who gets depressed about a filmmaker’s pass, but goes on to have an affair with a married star (Bikram Saluja)

Most part of the film has these disjointed episodes (the starlet’s pregnancy and attempted suicide, Madhavi’s perfunctory romance with an upcoming model, the girls’ run in with a bully in their building, etc) about people, which lead to nothing in particular. Madhavi’s crime reporter colleague Vinayak (Atul Kulkarni), who seems to specialise in tipping off cops and then covering the raids, is contemptuous of her work. And Madhavi does a turnaround when a ‘good’ socialite commits suicide and her socialite friends come to the funeral to be seen and covered by the media– hardly a revelation!

But Madhavi now wants to be a ‘real’ journalist and is assigned the crime beat with Vinayak (as if the only real beat is crime reporting!). When she does a shocking expose the paper’s kind but helpless editor (Boman Irani) is forced to kill the story and sack her. Madhavi’s opportunistic boyfriend (Jai Kalra) turns out to be unfaithful (the only surprise in the film), and though she wins Vinayak’s respect, she is back to covering the party beat for another paper.

There are a few observations that make sense, but ultimately the film is as superficial, scattered and pointless as the people it tries to condemn and has terribly crude dialogue. Konkona SenSharma—a jhola-type journalist stereotype that filmmakers are stuck on—plays Madhavi with a surprising vacuousness, considering she has already proved her credentials as an actress. She leads a cast of actors who are a mix of very good (Boman Irani, Sandhya Mridul) or very bad (Bikram Saluja, Tara Sharma). Mumbai audiences might be amused at seeing some real Page 3 fixtures playing themselves in a sporting self-parody. The film should have been able to portray more of an irreverent quality, ironically it ends up paying tribute to Page 3, which couldn’t possibly have been the intention!


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