Director: Raj R
Writer: Raj R
Cast: Saiyami Kher, Gulshan Devaiah, Umesh Kamat, Kalpika Ganesh
Iravati (Saiyami Kher), a housewife and our protagonist, takes a train from Nanded to Hyderabad to be with her pregnant sister who might deliver a baby any day now. A no-nonsense, to-the-point, bullet train writing introduces the conflict right at the beginning. Trains cause Ira to sweat and panic. When she was a child, travelling on the train with her father, he had gotten off at a stop to buy cigarettes, leaving her alone as the train resumed its chug. This moment of abandonment has traumatised her, and like any writer-director whose mouth waters at the idea of emotional damage, the film turns trauma into a personality, embodied in one frazzled Ira.
In the Hyderabad Metro, she meets Pritam (Gulshan Devaiah), a fellow traveller, also married, and a freshly-minted poet-enthusiast, who melts this trauma to build that bridge of connection. He reads a lot, and brings up what he reads in conversations — Verrier Elwin? Kalidasa? Dutch poets? Panic attacks? Pritam will coo your ears with his literary exploits. Ira coos back with her poetry — written by Gulzar, but attributed to the pained interiority of Iravati.
All this cooing — the language of this film — has a fluttery-eyed staging and lyricism that feels not just insincere, but false. 8 AM Metro as a film, as an idea, feels false, like it has come from an imagination that cannot distinguish performance from being, platitudes from profundity, depth from sadness. It is shockingly inept writing and filmmaking, where dal becomes a marriage-resolving metaphor, factoids on tribes become a cause for conflict, and Hyderabad tourism acts as a filler, padding the runtime. A scene where Ira brews filter coffee, for example, has that uppity formal grimace of an ad, the way she smells the decoction, the way she smells the powder, the way she places the lid on the filter — it’s all full of consumerist choreography.
Not just inept, but this inability to think of any character — not just Ira, but her sister, and even Pritam — without tragedy is disturbing. Sadness is the only way to elevate these people to characters. Tragedy is both the foundation of a character and the twist that clarifies who they really are — either as panic, depression, suicide.
But when you externalise trauma so dramatically, so emotively, so expressively, as Saiyami Kher does, it begins to feel like there is no trauma that’s been internalised — everything is on the surface; once you have glimpsed the surface, you have glimpsed everything you need to know. Kher’s face — gorgeous, wide eyes lined with kohl, a softness of expression that can often feel like a blankess of expression — holds this trauma with such fragility, it’s as though too much has been imposed on it.
Gulzar’s poetry, too, which in most minds is an ideal, almost a benchmark, beyond criticism — often beyond clarity — here, comes like suffocating arabesques, pretty sounds, empty words, tired circumstances. So much of my aversion to this poetry in this film is in how it is read. Spoken word poetry requires a ravishing voice, one that could hypnotise you into feeling. It is a charismatic sculpting of space and time. Kher’s feeble voice reads these heavy, often hollow words with a schoolgirl sincerity. Gulshan Devaiah’s repetitive goodness — Badhaai Do, Dahaad — gives Kher charmless company, (think English Vinglish but butchered) and together they travel the path of the road taken too much, the one frequently travelled. That’s a Robert Frost reference. But who am I kidding? I’m sure Pritam got that.