Exactly three years ago a new virus came into being and wreaked havoc. Thanks to Coronavirus, words like lockdown and quarantine entered the everyday lexicon of the common man.
Three years down the line the maverick filmmaker Madhur Bhandarkar decided to look back at that period when everyone was forced to coop and bring some lockdown stories to life again.
At the start of the ‘India Lockdown’, there is a disclaimer warning the audience that these stories are a work of fiction and any resemblance to the living or dead is purely coincidental. However, all those who have lived to tell the tale of the pandemic can easily jog their memory and recall those trying times when people ran out of ration, lost their jobs, and had to walk miles to reach their homes.
Hence teaming with Amit Joshi and Aradhana Sah, Bhandarkar picks four stories from different strata of society to show us how their lives were hit. We have guest workers Madhav (Prateik Babbar) and Phoolmati (Sai Tamhankar), then Nageshwar Rao (Prakash Belawadi) and his daughter who is expecting her first child, a pilot Moon (Ahana Kumara) who has been grounded and a sex worker Mehrunissa played by Shweta Basu Prasad.
Moon’s track tells us how the well-heeled were doing. They did not face a dearth of anything but were solving their own first-world problems.
The second story is of an old father Nageshwar Rao who is trying his level best to reach Hyderabad from Mumbai but is not able to do so as flights and trains are not operational.
However, it is the story of his house help, Phoolmati that emerges as the main plot and tugs at the heartstrings. Nageshwar Rao asks her to stop coming to work as society decides not to allow maids due to Coronavirus. Her husband too is a daily wager. Their lives get seriously impacted as the duo is left jobless. They struggle to make both ends meet and hence decide to walk to their hometown. It is their travel travails that will make the audience relive the ordeal thousands of other guest workers underwent. During their walk back home, men want to take advantage of Phoolmati thus unmasking how people behave even during tragedies. Madhav slogs to feed his family. In one instance he is shown even rummaging through a dustbin to find food. In another, the family of four is forced to eat rotten bananas.
The story, screenplay, and dialogues by Joshi, Sah, and Bhandarkar are straightforward and simple, rather simplistic. No attempt has been made to over dramatize the trauma and angst. Strong female characters have been a specialty of Bhandarkar. But in ‘India Lockdown’, he focuses more on what the society went through than just individuals. Therefore, performance-wise too everyone does justice to their characters with no one overshadowing the other. However, Shweta, Prateik, and Sai shine bright.
‘India Lockdown’ can not be termed as a definitive work on the pandemic but certainly, it is the first and major work on this subject. Even in this movie, a blinkered view has been presented with many other aspects and sections being completely blanked out. It just scratches the surface and no attempt is made to delve deep. Much more had happened and chronicled which needs to be told and retold.
Bhandarkar has taken every care that the movie does not hurtle into a documentary and he succeeds only to that extent. This is not his best but is much better than his last, ‘Babli Bouncer’.
Pandemic literature is a genre that is best understood in retrospection and this pandemic is still not even over. Till then, ‘India Lockdown’ is playing on Zee5.