The urban desire and despair

– A commentary on Anurag Basu’s Life in a Metro by Samuel Thambusamy

Globalization has changed the hue and texture of our cities. What would life in a city be like today? Anurag Basu’s Life in a Metro (2007) gives a preview into the urban Indian middle class and their tryst with Love, Romance, Dreams and Lust.

Life in a Metro is not just about infidelity or casual relationships. Although, that’s the first impression the promos give (Blame Bollywood for it). Life in a Metro is about people either uprooted from smaller towns or re-rooted within the changing Urban cultural space. On a closer look, the film is about breakdown of relationships, the commodification of sex, chasing dreams, the greed for success (read power), and letting go of personal values.

The film raises the question: What is it that people are running to? What is it that they are running from? and most importantly “why?”.

Life in a Metro essays the lives of Akash, Rahul, Neha, Ranjit, Shikha, Shruti and Monty. As the story unfolds, we see the urban ‘desire’ and ‘despair’ through their everyday interaction – their romance, marital breakdown, love, and lust.

We are introduced to the characters and we quickly learn a few things about them.

  • Neha: I need someone who really loves me
  • Ranjit Kapoor: I want to feel twenty again
  • Shikha Kapoor: I feel trapped within a failed marriage.
  • Akash: I am a loser
  • Rahul: I am here (in the city) to win the race not a morning walk
  • Shruti Ghosh: Everybody’s falling in love. I am 28 and still a virgin

Well…you surely have to pay a price to live in a city. The price is not always the ‘crowded streets’, ‘traffic jams’, ‘long working hours’, ‘insensitive neighbors’, ‘stress’ and ‘strained relationships’. More often than not, it is the rumble and tumble you go through – in your attitudes, beliefs and character – in your fight for (economic and emotional ) survival. The city constantly strips you of your humanity. You begin to grab everything, hurt everybody and trade anything.

So much so, sooner or later everybody in the city carries a price tag. You can buy (or sell) love, sex, career and just about everything…

  • Rahul trades his Uncle’s trust to negotiate his growth plans at the workplace.
  • Neha sells sex to buy love.
  • Ranjit flashes perks to buy a bit of happiness (read sex) without commitment.
  • Shikha lends support to buy herself some comfort.

It’s all a heartless transaction. You wonder if you can have meaningful interactions within the urban space! Why do they do what they do? Well…each one has neatly worked out a line of defense.

  • Neha: I need someone to love me
  • Rahul: You don’t get rich with a regular job
  • Ranjit: Nobody’s hurt. Who cares?
  • Shikha: I am hurt and neglected; It is only natural that this happened.

Nevertheless, each one hurts himself (let alone others) and through time become comfortably numb. What is it that they are seeking? At what cost?

  • Can’t Ranjit get the same happiness at home? of course he can. But, he’s got to deal with his ego. Ranjit’s real problem is not sex, it is power and control. He knows Shikha (his wife) is better than him, probably can earn better than him. (Is that why he stopped her from working?). Neha, his subordinate at the workplace gives him a sense of power and control.
  • Neha is angry and upset at the male world. And yet, she was willing to have an affair with an older man. Probably, Ranjit satisfied her longing for a father figure (I am looking for my father who abandoned me).
  • Rahul is searching for success. But… can’t he not get it through his hard work and determination? Why does it have to be through a short cut?
  • Shikha is looking for comfort. It is obvious that her marriage has completely broken down. Worse, even their silences hurt. As a neglected wife she needs care and attention. She grabbed it when Akash gave it. But… was Akash honest? Why does she drift away?
  • Akash is looking for success. But…on the flip side isn’t he looking for a trophy partner? Shikha is not just any other girl. Shikha is hurt on the inside and a hurt Shikha satisfies his hurt male ego. It’s his way of getting even with his wife who left him (because he was a loser).
  • Shruti is looking for companionship but she’s looking for a perfect partner. (” I have one life to live. How can I waste it with a wrong man?“)
  • Monty is looking for a wife but he has loads of expectations that she needs to fulfill. In fact he is in love with himself. He is looking for a toy – the right shape, color and size – which he will call WIFE. Not suprisingly, he is willing to wait for his dream toy.

What is it that they are all seeking and what do they get? Interestingly, there is deep down a desire for togetherness, meaning, significance, success, identity etc. But, the desire is located elsewhere and so they get nothing but despair.

“It-doesn’t-hurt-anybody excuse” is a myth. A friend of mine once said, “There is nothing personal. Everything is interpersonal”. Neha is hurt. Shikha is hurt. Akash is hurt. Rahul is hurt. Ranjit is hurt. After all money (and perks) is not everything in life. Interestingly, Rahul and Neha discover this (It is better late than never). If money was everything, Rahul would have sold the piece of land that was part of his father’s dream. If money was everything, Neha would have killed herself. There’s more to life. Can we clear the mess-up?

Among the six, it is Rahul who seeks course correction. Monty and Shruti too in a small way. Rahul in chasing his father’s unfulfilled dreams is a prisoner of his hopes and fears. He tries every short cut – even at the cost of demeaning himself. He’s worked out his defense: Its all for his salary hike, promotions, climb in the social ladder. But…For how long? As long as he can ‘sell’ his Uncle’s trust (and more importantly, as long as there are takers for it). Rahul realizes that he is a poor shadow of himself.

Rahul seeks transformation. He pulls himself together and tells his boss enough is enough.

But do the others – Akash, Ranjit, Shikha – seek transformation? May be not. They go on to make the same mistakes again. Ranjit leaves Shikha. Akash is still struggling for Shikha’s love. Shikha still has a soft corner for Akash. Even Shruti makes a mistake – even if she thinks its right to follow the heart. She shows up at Monty’s wedding to confess her love. But… is it love? Monty dumps his bride…Is it commitment? Would they play out Ranjit and Shikha in the near future.

In other words, life is simple. It’s got to be lived by simple rules. We make it complicated and then seek simplistic answers. Worse, we forget to live.

What’s about this life in a metro? We don’t have to give up and go away ( Rahul says:” I can’t cope with the city“) or become comfortably numb ( Neha: ” This City has made me strong“). Well… if we can keep it simple and not mortgage our lives for mobile phones, discotheques, pizzas, flashy cars, palace like apartments…we can live.

Transformation is not difficult. It just needs our decision and determination. We like, Rahul and Neha can start a new life.


Our entire life could be beautiful…The obsession to get something more, the search for something all this you lose what you have. The search never ends…time does… (That’s pretty much the film’s answer to the urban woes)


One Response to “The urban desire and despair”

  1. Good indepth analysis. Keep writing.


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