Shallow two-faced celebrities, humans who are dead inside, sniggering voyeurs, betrayal, shady politics and prejudice and on and on and on... Madhur Bhandarkar´s "Page 3" is a movie on the world of showbiz and it captures the many aspects of human life.
In a sense, it reminds you of the many offbeat Hollywood offerings of the 1970´s (especially Robert Altman cinema, but only in terms of plot structure). Like much of Altman cinema, "Page 3" has no main plot but looks through many stories of many characters. Bhandarkar attempts to tie things together by looking at incidents through the focus of naive journalist, Madhavi (Konkona Sen Sharma) but even then, as viewers, we are shown things happening that even Madhavi herself would not be aware of.
As a showbiz reporter, Madhavi writes for page 3 of a daily tabloid (for those unfamiliar with the world of Indian newspapers, page 3 carries celebrity gossip and society news) and attends party after party. She shares a flat with a talkative but good-at-heart airhostess Pearl (Sandhya Mridul) and sensitive struggling starlet, Gayatri (Tara Sharma). Gayatri begins a romance with Bollywood star, Rohit (Bikram Saluja) while Pearl finds herself a rich millionaire to make life easy for herself.
After these flatmates depart, Madhavi is left on her own. And on her own, she makes some drastic decisions such as switching from entertainment news to crime beat after her conscience is pricked at by crime reporter, Vinayak (Atul Kulkarni). Here, she sees the grim side of life and from this step into reality; the world of showbiz starts to look even more ugly. The suicide of a respected socialite makes Madhavi question the purpose of her life. Madhavi´s aim to get the truth out into the public has her clashing with her editor, Deepak (Boman Irani). The grim ending shows Madhavi being sucked back into the world of showbiz once again and meeting many familiar faces who have changed, either for the better or for the worse. As she leaves, the party behind her carries on pumping up the volume showing that this glittery world that is trapped in its own fantasy will carry on forever, come what may.
I don´t regard Bhandarkar as a filmmaker with great cinematic flair or vision. His style of storytelling is often dry and straightforward relying mainly on dialogues to get the point across. He does not trust the viewers to be intelligent enough to decide for themselves what each character is about. In "Page 3", Bhandarkar employs the tactic of staging short conversations between characters, such as the chauffeurs and the gatecrashers, to spell out how hypocritical and shallow the rich and famous are. These brief but regular scenes are tedious. Bhandarkar may as well have written it all in white chalk on the blackboard. He uses these same characters to preach about how spiritually empty most celebrities and politicians are.
These criticisms aside, the film´s strengths lie in the strongly etched characters and its refusal to consider any topic as taboo. Appropriately, Madhavi is a levelheaded character with a strong sense of ethics and principles. It is her sanity that makes so many other people, within the stories, seem so absurd and so cruel. The diverse characters lend a rich touch to the story. There are three gay male characters and the fact that they are all totally different from each other shows the effort gone into staying away from senseless stereotyping. The girl buddies (Madhavi, Pearl and Gayatri) are also very different from each other bringing in a nice mixture of humour and emotional bonding. To explore in to the depths of such characters, Bhandarkar is not afraid of delving into the darker matters. Revelations of the casting couch, gay sexual favours and child abuse leaves one resoundingly shocked precisely because they are caused by characters that you don´t expect such depravity from. As the closing credits roll silently, the audience is left to reflect on the distressing developments that have taken place.
Konkona Sen Sharma is an intense performer and she proves this once again with "Page 3". As the film grinds its way to the climax, Sharma brings out the heart-wrenching agony of her character. She excels in the final scene as she wanders through the crowds looking at the rich and famous as if they are nothing but empty skeletons. The other actresses who also leave an impact are Sandhya Mridul and Tara Sharma. Though this is not quite a breakthrough performance, Tara Sharma´s surprising change of look and attitude in the final scene suggest a sensitive actress whose talent has not been seriously tapped into by other directors. Sandhya Mridul must be very familiar by now with the role of a strong-headed single female and she once again tucks into this character with relish. The remaining actors (and there are many to mention!) such as Boman Irani, Atul Kulkarni, Upendra Limaye and Bikram Saluja lend solid support. Jai Kalra is okay as Madhavi’s love interest, Tarun.
"Page 3" is perhaps the first Madhur Bhandarkar film with a seriously strong musical soundtrack. Shamir Tandon has come up with a varied selection of tunes that range from rock to bhangra to sweet melody. Most of them are used in the background except for Lata Mangeshkar´s "Kitne Ajeeb Rishte Hain Yahan Ke". This song, one of the best moments in the movie, shows new relationships and friendships developing among the characters.
Not a film that would satisfy everyone, "Page 3" should be seen by all because of the important issues it raises and its ruthless insights into the world of socialites.