Page 3‘s strength is in its frankness. Subjects like homosexuality, drug abuse, sex, infidelity and yes, even pedophilia are depicted, no holds barred. Despite the inherent shock value of all these things, the film didn’t leave me with the impression that it was only for shock; things flow quite naturally.
If you would have told me two years ago (when Amit Saxena’s Jism was doing the rounds) that today a frank, slice-of-life movie about Mumbai’s high-society would be the first hit of the year (while skin flicks that try to out-thigh and out-cleavage Jism are being released), I would have told you it was highly unlikely.
But here were are in February 2005, THE FUTURE, and Madhur Bhandarkar’s Page 3 is out and strutting proud, even in the face of such heavily star-laden competitors like Black and Shabd (more on this film in a later post).
To be honest, I’ve never seen Madhur Bhandarkar’s work (despite the fact that he worked on one of my all-time favourites, Rangeela. Chandni Bar didn’t interest me in the least, Satta I have only ever seen half of (it did nothing for me, which is the worst thing a piece of entertainment can do), and Aan… well, it came out in the same year as Khakee, need I say more?
The only reason I actually trekked all the way down to Sterling to see Page 3 was Boman Irani. I could watch Boman Irani watching paint dry, and even though his screen-time in the film is limited, his performance alone is well worth the price of admission.
Irani plays the editor of a fictitious newspaper called Nation Today (which looks suspiciouly like the Bombay Times suppliment of the Times of India), and sparkly-eyed 22-year-old reporter Madhavi (Konkona Sen-Sharma) is the kid in charge of page 3, the page dedicated to pictures of the high-society parties and the people who populate them. Most of the time, nobody knows who these people are or what they do, but that they are famous and appear on Page 3 now and then.
The film opens, appropriately enough, on a PR agency pitching to a newly US returned NRI businessman (that guy who played Dr Rustom in Munnabhai M.B.B.S.) who can speak very little English, a subtle and realistic joke. The PR agency arranges a party in his name, marking his arrival into Mumbai society, and it is in this party that we are introduced to the major players in the movie. All the usual archetypes/stereotypes are present: the air-kissing middle-aged wives, the drink-drug-sex binging teenage kids of said wives, their armani-clad industrialist husbands, starlets, politicians, mafia, etc. In addition to this, a separate track involving all the chauffers of the party people runs concurrent to each do, and this serves as depricating comedy/commentary to what his going on inside.
In all this Madhavi does her reportergiri, not entirely reluctantly too. The rest of the film does have a plot, and a pretty decent one too, but to summarise it would be to take something away Let’s just say that in high society everyone is not as they seem, a few people die, a few people change (Madhavi among them), but the parties, inexorably, go on.
Page 3‘s strength is in its frankness. Subjects like homosexuality, drug abuse, sex, infidelity and yes, even pedophilia are depicted, no holds barred (okay, the pedophilia is not exactly shown — that would be illegal — but nor is it merely hinted at off-camera; this caused quite a shock in the Indian audience I saw it with, as we’re not very used to even hearing of it here). Despite the inherent shock value of all these things, the film didn’t leave me with the impression that it was only for shock; things flow quite naturally.
What is clunky is the dialogue, especially in the party sequences. It’s as if every line is tailored to be some kind of illustrative vignette out of a 50s school documentary. Because of this most of the already plastic characters appear even more two dimensional. In stark contrast to this, all dialogue involving Madhavi and her spunky room-mate Pearl (Sandhya Mridul, amazing as always) is punchy and entertaining, as is the office banter between Madhavi, Boman Irani and Bhandarkar favourite Atul Kulkarni (as a crime reporter, another well essayed role by the actor).
As the protagonist, Konkona Sen-Sharma is adequate, but doesn’t really endear and is a bit plain; in a film populated by dislikeable cardboard cutouts, it would have helped immensely to have a lead with some charisma. Oh well, on second viewing I’ll just substitute her with Rani Mukherji. I’m getting quite adept at this.
Another letdown is the cinematography. It’s functional, but that’s about it.
And finally, the worst offender is the audiography and dubbing, which ranges from okay to horrendous, and really takes away from the viewing experience.
Without giving away the ending, let me say that it impressed me; for once a realistic film has a realistic, mature ending. Too often do these kinds of films devolve into either sugary, deus-ex-machina meets jingoism endings (Nayak… oh wait, the entire film was like that) or total dystopian megatragedy (far too many to list here). Page 3 has a Mumbai ending; it seems cold, unfeeling, and harsh, but it’s actually empowering and positive.
One thing to note, though: there’s a sequence later in the film that is very gory (it’s the aftermath of a bomb blast, so what do you expect?), so stay away, all ye of gentler constitutions (as if the mention of pedophilia wasn’t enough).
Page Three is worth a watch on DVD (the TV-like cinematography will lend itself well to the small screen), or a cheap ticket at a matinee show.
Oh, and dear Mr Bhandarkar: do not tease us with Hrishitaa Bhatt in the music video and not have her in the actual film. I was sorely disappointed. Now that woman would have made an excellent Madhavi.