To comment on Indian cinema growing beyond the Bollywood aesthetic that has defined it for so many years would be almost passé at this point. With films like Gangs of Wasseypur crashing onto the scene with great flourishes of gritty violence and a complete absence of sweeping shots of colorfully dressed dancers, it has become clear that the international perspective on Indian cinema is maturing along with the filmmaking coming out of the region itself. I.D., the first feature by director Kamal K.M. continues this trend of using a stark realism that is antithetical to big Bollywood -- aiming to reveal a very different version of India.
I.D. stars Geetanjali Thapa as Charu, a young woman living in Mumbai. At the start of the film, a laborer arrives at her flat to paint a wall. While working, he collapses and Charu is unable to wake him. Panicked, she tries to call the authorities, but there are no ambulances available. The inept bureaucracy forces Charu to improvise in an effort to save the man's life. In trying to identify the man and get him the help he needs, Charu goes up against an overly-inundated and under-resourced medical system and a cadre of unhelpful authorities and friends.
The strongest elements of I.D. have to do with the raw and understated scenes of life in India. This film eschews anything showy (a la the typical Bollywood song and dance) and instead exhibits a handheld, cinema vérité presentation of the story and its setting. In this way, there is some interesting insight into another way of life.
Unfortunately, I.D. feels like one long B-story in a movie that forgot to have an A-story. The film goes along something like this: "Hi, can you help me?" "No, ask someone else." When Charu asks someone else, the scene repeats itself. "Hi, can you help me?" "No, ask someone else." ...And so on. Nothing much else happens, which would be fine if it was a character piece, but instead, little to no insight is given as to Charu's motivations or what her life is like beyond this small story. We never learn much about John Doe either and so ultimately, one is left with a feeling of futility in the face of "The System" much akin to spending the morning at a DMV. If feeling that futility is the point, then it's rather difficult to truly grasp the reasoning. That point is made in real life, all around us, all the time.
While there is surely value to be appreciated in a film such as I.D. that offers a window into another society, ultimately this film feels more like a missed opportunity. The aforementioned stark realism is wonderfully contrapuntal to many of the films that make it out of India and into Western cinemas, but in this case, too little is expressed to make an impact. If only the characters were given more depth, this film could be just as expressive as Italian films during the Neorealism movement. Instead, I.D. does too little to move the trend forward.