Director: Arjun Mukerjee
Cast: Richa Chadha, Sharman Joshi, Pulkit Samrat, Renuka Shahane, Masumeh, Ankit Rathi
If you search short films on YouTube, you will get approximately 2.7 crore results. These include terrific films like Neeraj Ghaywan’s Juice, Jyoti Kapur Das’ Chutney and Sujoy Ghosh’s Ahalya, which I think was the breakthrough for short films in India. When all of this wonderful short form storytelling is available for free on your phone, it becomes impossible to recommend that you pay money and go to the theater to see 3 Storeys.
3 Storeys refers to a chawl with three storeys but it’s also three separate yet intertwined stories in which the same set of characters appear but the focus shifts. So the first, which is also the best, deals with an elderly Catholic widow, who is trying to sell her flat. The second is about a man and a woman who once loved each other and now meet in unusual circumstances – actually the reason they don’t marry is so foolish that you almost feel that they deserve to be apart. And the third is about young lovers who, once again, are separated by circumstances they can’t control.
All of these characters live in the sprawling chawl, which was built in 1926. The space becomes a microcosm of the world. Debutant director Arjun Mukerjee also celebrates the nature and necessity of storytelling – we tell stories to survive and make sense of our universe. The ensemble cast includes fine actors like Richa Chadha, Renuka Shahane and Sharman Joshi. It’s a pleasure to see Renuka as the wily widow and Masumeh as the abused housewife clinging on to the love that eluded her. Pulkit Samrat, who looks like he strolled in from some other film, which required bigger biceps and more swagger, also makes an appearance.
Arjun creates a few quietly powerful scenes, like a moment in which a loan is given and a favor is asked for. Some of the minor characters like a rough shopkeeper and a lovelorn constable are intriguing. But the stories, especially the second and third, don’t have enough bite.
The multi-story format isn’t novel – we’ve seen it both locally in films like Mani Ratnam’s Yuva and internationally, in classics like Alejandro Iñárritu’s Amores Perros. So the surprise has to come from the stories but the plots, except for the first, don’t deliver. The film doesn’t have the sparkle of Sai Paranjpye’s Katha, also about several characters living in a Mumbai chawl. Or the sting of the Oscar-nominated Wild Tales, six short stories about how people behave in extreme circumstances.
This isn’t a film that lacks ambition but it never becomes one that is essential.