Written by Ashutosh Jha | Review by Helen WheelsAshutosh Jha’s “Inner City” is a sad commentary on life in the dark belly of the city of Mumbai, India. In this world, as in many cities across the planet, survival and exploitation walk hand in hand. Jha’s short film runs just over 10 minutes, and indeed that’s all we need to get a taste of the debauchery and lies that fill this character’s life.
Jha’s protagonist is his own antagonist as well; or rather he is a prisoner to the life he and his brother have built for themselves. He seems to have a moment when he realizes that what he is doing isn’t right; however, it is more talk than anything. He may hold a small kernel of guilt for lying to his wife, but ultimately it isn’t enough to take him away from the lifestyle to which he is accustomed.
We meet the main character from a POV as he invites a potential client to come and have a good time with one of his girls. The scenery is bleak. We’re standing in a back alley, and we know that anyone who comes here is looking for sex, drugs, and anything else they can get to satisfy their need for a fix. Our protagonist is here to help his customers in their quest, and he peddles women as if they were one of the drugs he’s offering.
Our character’s wife, Sati (Tina Bhatiya) is unaware of her husband’s dealings and waits for him in their apartment, situated in a little fishing community. Homelife comes as a peaceful contrast to the work he does downtown. Life here is quiet and sheltered from the harsh realities of how he makes money. So is Sati, young and innocent, she believes everything her husband tells her. Until the moment of truth, when she must decide for herself what kind of man she has married and if she will be able to love him, now that she knows that he is a pimp.
The cinematography in this seedy short film is it’s saving grace. Intimate moments are shot in close-up, or extreme close-up with a shallow depth of field. A blurry background gives us time to look at the character and to imagine what must be going through their minds. Bhatiya does a lovely job of speaking with her eyes and facial expressions. There is no doubt when she becomes suspicious, and she doesn’t have to say a word.
Ultimately, Ashutosh Jha’s “Inner City” is a warning about human desire and how we can be swept away without realizing that we have lost control. Jha’s antagonist struggles with the cognitive dissonance that he may not be able to escape; because the job he does has become an addiction. He peddles people and has no regard for human life. In the end, the price he will pay for his poor choices is his soul. He has already lost his humanity. Perhaps we should take this short film as a cautionary tale to steer clear of people and places that take human life for granted.
Helen Wheels is an independent filmmaker, freelance writer, and visual artist. She has produced, directed, worked as a set designer and scenic painter, and has been an assistant director on dozens of films. Wheels graduated from Shoreline College with an AAAS in Digital Film Production and is continuing toward her MFA in New Media Communications. Known for her eye to detail and advanced research skills, Wheels is currently researching historical events for her latest script and is in the process of developing her online writing business.