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"Page 3"

WHEN ANYONE thinks of the Page 3 of a newspaper, that too a popular one, there is a certain impression that persists — of popular people, happening stars, the wannabes, the stylish and the rich!

But behind the glamour and glitter are many stories of horror and perversion. A lot of it is camouflaged behind beautiful facades, but the Page 3 continues to survive and titillate. Much of all this and more is what Madhur Bhandarkar's "Page 3" is all about.

After his melancholy "Chandini Bar," which shows the life of the dancing girls in sleazy bars, he now comes up with the utterly urban phenomena of the Page 3 people. The film takes a gritty and honest look at the brittle, high strung and egoistic people who are labelled celebrities. However hard-hitting, it also entertains.

Madhavi Sharma (Konkona Sen) is really quite a nice girl. Coming from an army background she makes her way to the bustling city of Mumbai to be part of the exciting world of journalism. Assigned to the page three column by an ambitious and uncompromising editor (Boman Irani), she attends the most glamorous parties only to go back in the train to a flat which she shares with a rough talking airhostess, Pearl (Sandhya Mridul Singh), and Gayathri (Tara Sharma), a starry-eyed girl wanting to be a heroine.

The film traverses through the various parties thrown by the rich and famous to draw out the oddballs and their perversions — it includes film stars, politicians business men, top police officials, aspiring starlets and models, fashion designers.

As the press continues to cover all the shenanigans, Madhavi discovers how false and unrewarding her work is. And even the love that is promising to blossom becomes a bitter betrayal — something so common in that world.

Suicides, wife-swapping, drug addicts, homosexuality, networking no matter what the forum, child abuse, prostitution and, of course, the famous casting couch syndrome — are issues that come up in an unrelenting succession as the characters come into the big picture. The chauffeurs these people employ become sort of suthradhars with their observations and comments that add that extra colour to the already depraved and degenerate lifestyles of their employers.

Many of the issues, especially homosexuality and child prostitution, have been done with great candour and realism. It is happening and Madhur has not shied away from showing how ugly it can be.

A lot of the credit also goes to Konkona who has done such a good job of her role that there is not a single false note to her portrayal as Madhavi. She takes the viewer though the whole narration and what we see is through her eyes and her angst over what finally constitutes good, worthy journalism. While her half-hearted romance with a budding model is not very convincing, the subtle chemistry between her and Vinayak (Atul Kulkarni), the crime reporter, comes across as more meaningful. Vinayak, who is rough but grounded in reality, shows her where the real stories come from. And Atul Kulkarni, yet again, proves what a brilliant actor he is.

Boman Irani is marvellous too and the three (Konkona, Atul and Boman) though with differing lengths of their roles, impress equally.

It makes the film even more acceptable when the climax is left nebulous. Probably, because such situations will continue to exist. And injustices will keep happening. Just how a professional works around the impediments and still do a good honest job is a more realistic outcome. And you can relate to that. Sometimes there are no simple straightforward solutions or happy endings.

In a film such as this the production values are not what you look for. Sometimes it gives you the impression of a home video and the songs and background score are not particularly impressive. And some of the characters come across as larger than life — but then the script and narration are so strong that these things don't matter.

CHITRA MAHESH

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