I wonder what the purpose of Madhur Bhandarkar’s India Lockdown is. The film tries to capture the first 15-20 days of the nationwide lockdown announced in March 2020 because of the Covid pandemic. There are multiple tracks happening parallelly but there’s no story as such.
Prakash Belawadi plays Rao, an old man whose daughter (Hrishitaa Bhatt) is pregnant and her due date is in a couple of weeks. Rao is cautious about social distancing norms and sanitation. He wants to go to Hyderabad for his daughter’s delivery.
Rao gives his domestic worker (played by Sai Tamhankar) her salary for two months and asks her not to come to work before the restrictions are lifted. She lives with her husband (played by Prateik Babbar) and two daughters. The husband runs a street food stall for which he has taken a loan. Because of the lockdown, this migrant family is left with no choice but to walk all the way to their village.
There’s a sex worker, Mehrunisa (Shweta Basu Prasad), whose work has come to a standstill. She is lying to her mother who stays in a remote village that she is a nurse. There’s a guy from her village who threatens Mehrunisa that he will reveal her secret to her mother and Mehrunisa has sex with him to keep his mouth shut.
There’s a horny teenage couple who are planning to lose their virginity. The boy has his uncle’s flat to himself for a week as the uncle goes out of town. The boy meets a pilot from his uncle’s society. Aahana Kumra plays this pilot, Moon Alves. After flying frequently, she finds herself locked at home with nothing to do. She dresses up in her uniform just to feel good. There’s a strange feeling of intimacy between the boy and Moon.
The thing is that we all have experienced the trauma of the pandemic in big or small ways. Many of us have lost people close to us. There have been anthologies such as Unpaused on Prime Video that were shot during the pandemic. But even now by the end of 2022, people haven’t come back to normal as one would think. It is still difficult to see what we have already seen/experienced in real life. So, what do you try to give the audience when you decide to make a film/series on the pandemic and its impact? A sense of closure, understanding, healing maybe? But Bhandarkar’s India Lockdown offers nothing of that sort. It merely documents, that too in a shoddy way, what we had already seen in media coverage of the pandemic.
The characters are generic, and amateurish writing doesn’t give them any standing. The dialogues are filmi and simplistic which were best suited in Bhandarkar’s earlier films when he was exposing one industry/strata after the other – Page 3, Fashion, Corporate, Heroine, Traffic Signal.
The most poignant track here is that of the migrant family walking back to their village. Bhandarkar keeps it real for the most part in this track and Sai Tamhankar is sincere as the domestic worker. Prateik Babbar makes a sincere effort but his performance looks like an effort. Somehow the city boy didn’t convince me as a migrant worker. Surprisingly, he was superb and natural as a laundryman-cum-rat killer from Dharavi slums in Kiran Rao’s Dhobi Ghat (2011).
Shweta Basu Prasad is cast in the done-to-death character of a chirpy (and annoying) sex worker with a heart of gold. Aahana Kumra, an otherwise courageous actress, gets to say the most unconvincing lines in the script. Her track is a prime example of amateur filmmaking. Prakash Belawadi does what is offered to him with everything that he can.