A Gen Y-er in Mumbai gets reluctantly drawn into a bureaucratic nightmare when an undocumented worker collapses in her apartment in Kamal K.M.'s socially engaged and thought-provoking "I.D."

A Gen Y-er in Mumbai gets reluctantly drawn into a bureaucratic nightmare when an undocumented worker collapses in her apartment in Kamal K.M.’s socially engaged and thought-provoking “I.D.” Building to a quietly powerful climax, and grounded by a gutsy perf from model-turned-actress Geetanjali Thapa, the pic would be immeasurably improved if its early faux-horror elements were eliminated, though they’re eventually replaced by a blunt neorealism that impressively utilizes the slums of northeastern Mumbai. A proud indie effort whose producers are looking for creative distribution options at home, fest play should continue to generate buzz.

Charu (Thapa) is a typical yuppie: Originally from Sikkim, she has a degree in economics, and has lined up a promising job interview. Having recently moved to a desirable building in a regentrifying neighborhood with a couple of friends, she’s the only one home when a worker (Murari Kumar) comes to paint a wall before a big birthday bash that evening. For Charu, the guy’s presence is a minor annoyance, and his obvious bottom-rung position on the social ladder makes him barely worth a glance. Then he collapses, and she doesn’t know what to do.

There’s no reason why helmer K.M. shoots these opening scenes as if they’re part of a horror pic, complete with tension-filled pauses, “meaningful” attention paid to ultimately irrelevant details, and even a smeared handprint that makes it look like the painter has devil’s claws. Such stylings mislead auds without offering anything in return apart from misguided expectations; it’s clear Charu is plunged into a nightmare, but there’s nothing supernatural here.

Unable to get an ambulance, Charu reluctantly accompanies the painter in a cab to a hospital, where she’s forced to log herself in as the responsible party (and shell out nearly $400 in fees), even though she doesn’t know the guy’s name. When he subsequently dies, he’s got no I.D., his cellphone is about to be disconnected, and there’s no answer on the numbers last dialed. The contractor denies any liability, claiming the guy was hired through a subcontractor, and the police simply thank her and tell her to walk away.

But Charu is determined to find out the man’s identity. Armed with a photo she took of the dead man in the morgue, she goes to a place where itinerant laborers gather, and a few think they recognize the painter as someone from the slums of Rafiq Nagar. Bravely, some might say naively, Charu sets off, showing the phone image to residents young and old, male, female and transgender, hoping someone can tell her the painter’s name.

With the camera tracking Charu through a welter of destitute humanity as she anxiously tries to discover the dead man’s identity, the pic delivers on its most potent aspect; most of these scenes were shot docu-style, as the people Charu speaks with weren’t told it was a fiction film until after the camera stopped rolling. The ruse gives an immediacy to the search that K.M. couldn’t have gotten had everything been set up beforehand, and emphasizes the very real nature of his theme. There’s a terrific moment when Charu receives a call about her marketing experience as she’s standing on an enormous trash heap, the sense of surreal disconnect not even dawning on her until after she hangs up the phone.

Thapa, with very little acting experience, delivers a superb performance that captures the socially apathetic urban professional who believably awakens to her humanity, and heads far outside her comfort zone. Considering the fly-by-the-seat-of-her-pants way she had to interact with slum locals, never knowing where she would wind up in each successive shot, Thapa’s concentration and naturalness are remarkable, especially as the camera barely leaves her for a moment.

So, too, Madhu Neelakandan’s flexible handheld lensing is more at home in neorealist mode than in the earlier thriller-like sequences. Editing matches the fluid camerawork, and sets the pace, modulated by Thapa alternating between hope and disappointment.

I.D.

India

Production

A Collective Phase One production, in association with Jar Pictures. (International sales: Collective Phase One, Mumbai.) Produced by Resul Pookutty, Rajeev Ravi, Madhu Neelakandan, Sunil Babu, B. Ajith Kumar. Executive producers, Alan McAlex, Ajay G. Rai. Directed, written by Kamal K.M.; dialogue, Prateek Vats, Pankaj Purandare, Kamal K.M.

Crew

Camera (color), Madhu Neelakandan; editor, B. Ajith Kumar; music, John P. Varkey, Sunil Kumar; production designer, Sunil Babu; art director, Amit Tankaria; costume designer, Vaishnavi Reddy; sound, Vivek Sachidanand, Anish John; line producer, Tushar Radhakisan Tupe; casting, Mukesh Chabbra. Reviewed at Turin Film Festival (competing), Nov. 29, 2012. (Also in Busan Film Festival -- Asian Cinema; Abu Dhabi Film Festival -- New Horizons.) Running time: 84 MIN.

With

Geetanjali Thapa, Murari Kumar, Rukshana Tabassum, Shinjini Raval, Shashi Sharma, Bachan Pachera, Alok Chaturvedi, Divyendu Sharma, Vinay Sharma, Karma Takapa, Tushar Tupe, Archana Nandi, Pankaj Purandare, Harry Satnani, Dinkar Gavande, Preeti Sharma, Arun Sukumar, Ashish Verma, Gaurav Sharma, Pawan Singh, Kishor Mukhi, Vinod Hegde, Sashi Bhushan, Mehek Kiran Jadhav, Saharsh Kumar Shukla, Habib Azmi Shaikh. (Hindi, English dialogue)

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