This is a multiple narrative film that could have been more inventive than it is. Set in a dilapidated three storied community living apartment complex in Mumbai, it tells interweaving stories about the lives of long time residents in the building. What is nice is the setting; the authentic flavour of a ‘chawl’ that resists redevelopment in the heart of Mumbai. We see the festivals that the society jointly celebrate in their compound, and the eclectic mix of Christian, Hindu and Muslim old timers who have learned to be tolerant of each other as individuals, and not slot each other as stereotypical representatives of communities.
A creative spark is missing though. A much better film with several interconnected stories set in the ethnic and class mix of Mumbai was Kiran Rao’s ‘Dhobi Ghat’, a film that surprised and moved you. In ‘3 Storeys’, the tales are interesting in themselves, but they do not connect in a manner that transmits the idea of the human fraternity; that our daily lives, dreams, aspirations and troubles are uncannily and intuitively linked in a sort of spiritual oneness of the soul. Instead, despite the revelations of long hidden skeletons of the past, sneaking out of the creaky floors and walls in the woodwork of this ‘chawl’, the movie’s characters are not interesting in themselves. They seem too concerned with the mundane and the material. They are not rounded enough to enter the third dimension of the best of the multiple narrative genre; communicating intangible tissues of the connective thread that bind people together in seemingly separate stories.
So we have Flora Mendonca (Renuka Shahane), an elderly Goan lady who puts her flat up for sale at four times the market price. Her harried estate agent hasn’t been able to get a buyer for six years, but Flora is not bothered. She waits, because she knows that one specific buyer will arrive and pay whatever she demands. Sure enough, a young man called Vilas Naik (Pulkit Samrat) turns up one day and signs on the dotted line, without demur.
All the residents have at least a nodding acquaintance with each other and so Flora knows Varsha Atre (Masumeh Makhija), a quiet housewife who detests her alcoholic husband and seems indifferent to the joys of the world. Until one day she is introduced to a neighbour who has just moved in downstairs, a woman who is empathetic to her. The two get along very well and Varsha is now happier, because she knows that she has a friend and ally in the building. Then one evening she is invited to dinner downstairs and is shocked to meet the husband of the lady, a man (Sharman Joshi) who is a ghost from her past.
The third story about two teenagers falling in love, one Hindu and the other Muslim, is more social engineering than a believable narrative. This is indicative of the inherent flaw in ‘ 3 Storeys’ – the tales do not emerge organically from the setting. Nor is there any cinematic innovation in the warp and weft used by the director to bind the fabric of his stories together.
So though the performances in ‘3 storeys’ are competent, and the absence of melodrama a relief, it is not a film that impacts an audience, either emotionally or intellectually.