PEDDLERS: The Ghost Town of Mumbai

Director: Vasan Bala
Main Cast: Siddharth Menon (Mac); Kriti Malhotra (Bilkis); Gulshan Devaiah (Ranjit)
Language: Hindi
Duration: 116 min
Release Date: May 2012

In deciding which films to watch at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) this year, I wanted to take my chance with an obscure piece with unknown actors and directors… Partially so it would be a breeze getting tickets and also because the movie may never be released on a Blockbuster level; thus, being my only chance for a viewing. After watching the film, I wasn’t sure what to think of it; there was an unsettling feeling in my stomach. The Q&A session with Director Vasan Bala afterwards certainly helped bring clarity to the film and its intentions.

In his debut film, Vasan Bala set out to portray what he calls “the ghost town of Mumbai”. Along with the charcoal dark scenery the majority of the film is set in, the three main characters depict complex individuals with hard life decisions ahead of them. Mac is a street smart orphan who makes ends meet by performing odd jobs and dealing drugs. Bilkis arrives in Mumbai and is set up to work in the drug trade as well, despite her growing cancer and responsibilities for her child and family back home. Ranjit is a misogynistic cop with a case of erectile dysfunction, whose insecurity sends him reeling through a dark path. The three characters find themselves intertwined in a mess of unfortunate events that ends in brutal violence. That’s all I’ll say without giving too much away.

Don’t watch this movie expecting it to be the next Slumdog Millionaire! It shows a very different side of Mumbai – one that’s gritty, cold, and isolated. Director Vasan Bala did a great job drawing his audience in to its ghostly ambience, but maybe a little too much for my liking. It was far from the typical exaggerated and colourful Bollywood movies, as this film had all shades of grey smeared over the canvas screen. I did appreciate how surprised I was with some of the characters’ actions, which only added to the complexity and grittiness of the individuals. The overall movie was quite drawn out and could have been edited down to 90 minutes. However, I was quite shaken up at the grand finale, but had a sympathetic understanding of why it ended the way it did. Tough cookies.

Director Vasan Bala and Producer Guneet Monga @ TIFF 2012

My appreciation for the movie grew during the Q&A Session with Director Vasan Bala. THIS is why I pay $20 for tickets at TIFF! Having been his debut film, Producer Guneet Monga told us the story of how they gathered funding for the movie through Facebook. That’s right, FACEBOOK! One of the best sequences shot in the film (of Ranjit the cop chasing after Mac through the back alleys of Mumbai slums) was only done with one camera in a single day – impressive! I’m used to watching a lot of Blockbuster films so it hadn’t occurred to me until that point (stupid me) that this indie film was created with hardly any budget, but with great passion and spirit to tell a difficult, but honest story. I applaud that.

My Overall Rating for this Movie: If you have patience and determination to sit through a two-hour foreign indie film that’s deeply rooted in unpleasant issues, it’s a possible movie stream.