It was not too long ago that I came across a fascinating essay by Paromita Vohra, titled ‘One Billion Rupee Home’. It had the author vividly chronicling her life and times in a Mumbai chawl with several storeys, a courtyard, the Bombay bandicoots and plenty of stories in and around. It was nearly a decade and a half ago that Mahesh Manjrekar gave us an over-the-top look at Mumbai’s popular dwelling option for the lower middle-class via Pran Jaaye Par Shaan Na Jaaye. Director Arjun Mukerjee brings back the same setting, with lesser chaos and more intrigue, in his directorial debut 3 Storeys.
Unlike Basu Chatterjee’s Piya Ka Ghar, Mukerjee’s film does not centre around a single story in a chawl setup. The film finds stories from all corners with the characters and their lives getting intertwined briefly. The film doesn’t belong to a defined genre either as it runs almost in dissimilar episodes. If one story flaunts thriller textures, another is a domestic drama and the third one is a teen romance. One might question whether a link was necessary between them because each one of them run in their respective loops with the characters only bumping into each other at shops and corridors. However, it needs to be highlighted how some of these stories work, especially the eerie one featuring the embittered Flora Mendonca (Renuka Shahane, a fantastic comeback) and the sceptical Vilas (Pulkit Samrat).
The second story is one that carries severe déjà vu all over it. We see flashes of An Affair To Remember (or Mann in Hindi) and several quintessential lost love requisites. Even if we excuse the overt familiarity in the way it is written, Mukerjee’s self-conscious making renders it further tiring. This is a little sad especially because you feel like rooting for the characters, earnestly performed by Masumeh and Sharman Joshi.
Director Arjun Mukerjee displays a reasonable flair for the thriller genre. The buildup and execution are spot-on in the first story. Right when he slips into romance and domestic drama palettes, we immediately feel a stale taste. However, it was a wise decision to keep the runtime less than two hours and not wavering much outside the stories’ immediate environment. It is the chawl’s giddiness that lends the film somewhat of a personality although it doesn’t fully soar. The twist in the love story (featuring Ankit Rathi and Aisha Ahmed) might have looked scandalous on papers but the ultimate impact is half-baked. Probably because 3 Storeys doesn’t let their love story hit the crescendo of intimacy. The uneven writing and the resultant limited screen time is fully at blame here.
Nevertheless, Arjun Mukerjee’s 3 Storeys is not completely devoid of flesh. The young director seems far too ambitious within the film’s limited screenplay that doesn’t go beyond safe territories. Althea Kaushal’s writing is unoriginal and patchy with the chawl backdrop remaining just that – a backdrop. How we wish it could play a great role or, at best, become a character by itself. Well, that would be too much of an ask, I assume.
Rating: ★★ 1/2