Film Review: 8 A.M. Metro


Following up his 2019 directorial debut Mallesham, Hyderabad-based director Raj Rachakonda returns to screens with a romantic drama that draws heavy inspiration from Brief Encounter, Ritesh Batra’s The Lunchbox, and the Before Trilogy. 8 A.M. Metro is a sweet but ultimately shallow film whose final act ultimately finds depth and dimension too late to redeem its prior narrative shortcomings.

Following a complication with her sister’s late stage pregnancy, Iravati (Saiyami Kher) must travel by metro train to the hospital in neighbouring city Hyderabad to care for her, despite her her terror of rail travel following a traumatic childhood experience. Iravati’s husband, busy on business, cannot accompany her, so on her first day travelling to the city, she experiences a panic attack, but is helped by Preetam (Gulshan Devaiah), who is taking the same train to work.

Catching the same train day after day, the pair strike up a friendship, bonding over their shared love of poetry, each concealing their misgivings over their respective marriages, yet silently communicating their melancholy day by day. It’s all very Brief Encounter, but there’s a shallowness both to Iravati and Preetam’s love and to their home lives, the former of which relies far too much on lengthy, sickly sweet montages to communicate their falling for each other.

The ache at the heart of David Lean’s British classic was that no one, not even Celia Johnson’s dull husband, was particularly at fault, making the bitter sweetness of her and Trevor Howard’s unconsummated affair so unutterably unbearable. But throughout the majority of 8 A.M. Metro, no such depth is accorded to either the supporting characters or the leads. The blandness of the spouses remain but with little dimension, while the leads’ likeability is so doe-eyed and soft-edged as to require regular injections of rote narrative contrivance in place of genuine emotional conflict.

Sadly, this blandness extends to the direction, which is competently if perfunctorily executed. There’s little of the joy or tactility of The Lunchbox, from which Rachakonda’s picture also takes inspiration, and little is made of the the film’s central visual motif of the train. Nevertheless, both leads – Devaiah in particular – prove strong leads, propping up the material with compelling performances that propel the film and certainly add weight and emotional complexity to the the final act.

A visit to a cremation in the second act signals a true moment of emotional catharsis that deepens with knowledge that we gain later in the film, and allows the film to finally step out from under the shadow of its inspirations. And the final act, with a reveal that changes our understanding of Preetam and Iravati’s relationship, transforms the film into something less about romance and more about recovery from grief and trauma. It comes too late to warrant a recommendation, which is a shame because there really is something there that could have been explored in more depth, if only it had been accorded more time.

Christopher Machell