Free Press Journal

Citylights: Fab performances


Film: Citylights

Cast: Rajkumar Rao, Patralekha, Manav Kaul

Director: Hansal Mehta

Rating: *  *  *

A legitimate inspiration, Vishesh Film’s Hansal Mehta directed ‘Citylights,’ repackages the 2013 Sundance premiered, British-Filipino Indie production  ‘Metro Manila,’ written and directed by Sean Ellis. Set within an Indianised setting and rewritten to suit the milieu in Rajasthan and Mumbai, it loses most of it’s charm in the bargain.

This film was first offered to Ajay(B A PASS) Bahl who due to differences of  opinion, had to leave the film at the discussion stage itself. Hansal Mehta, fresh from his National Award winning success with ‘Shahid’ was then brought on board. It’s obvious that he was willing to work with the ‘locked-in’ screenplay. And that probably was the biggest mistake here.

The screenplay by Ritesh Shah,  sets the origin of the problem in Rajasthan where the protagonist Deepak Singh(Rajkumar Rao) runs aground, deep in debt, while running a cut-piece store. He has a loving wife(Patralekha) and adorable daughter, a largish traditional, rundown home and no other family to speak of.  Based on a lark(i.e. having a friend in Mumbai) he makes the life changing decision to move to Mumbai, India’s city of dreams, in search of employment. The situation doesn’t read as desperate enough for him to take his family along. He could well have left them behind and found a job first before moving them to the new  abode. Once in Mumbai, his friend is nowhere to be found so that leaves the young family flitting helter-skelter in search of a home and a job. A few nights on the footpath later, they bump into a helpful sort who takes them to a cubbyhole flat that speaks of possibilities. But the scoundrel, not exactly a good Samaritan, bounds off with their Rs.10,000 and leaves them high and dry.

Another helpful sort , a woman this time , shows them to an unfinished building for their stay. Now Deepak searches a job in earnest and finds yet another good Samaritan(Manav Kaul) to help him don the mantle in a private security agency. While Patralekha gets persuaded to work as a bar dancer to offset their desperate situation. The pot is now well set for some darkly ominous development.

It’s a fish out of water situation alright. Deepak’s naiveté and eternal belief in the good of humanity comes across as fake mainly because, as a cloth merchant, as he’s shown to be, he would have definitely been a little more street smart and less trusting. Especially after having to give up his shop and business following an inability to pay-off a loan. It’s also difficult to imagine such a person getting cheated repeatedly, even if it’s in a city he has no clue about. His wife’s decent, as a bar dancer also comes across as contrived. At no time do you get to feel the desperation or gravity of the situation. It’s all too cursorily formulated with the nuances and grittiness of the original missing throughout. It’s only when Hukum( a respectful address for a person in a higher position) played by actor-director Manav Kaul, enters the frame,  that things get interesting. But even thereafter, the construction is a bit too lame to be completely involving.  Scrawny looking Deepak’s selection as a private security guard appears implausible. And the attempt to turn the story on it’s head by manufacturing intrigue, only waylays the tedium for a bit.

Performances are all first rate. Rajkumar Rao, fresh from his National Award winning turn in ‘Shahid’ plays true even if the character he assays is poorly constructed. Patralekha looks pretty and shows off her mettle to good effect. But it’s Manav Kaul who actually steals the show. Unaffected and confident, he makes full use of his unusual looks to give the character he assays a striking intonation. Hansal Mehta. tries hard to make the narrative more meaningful, making good use of traditional motifs and lofty cityscapes. But the tone and tempo are not gravitating enough. Raju Singh’s minimalistic background score helps  but the overabundance of melodious songs under Jeet Ganguli’s baton hampers the effectiveness. Even Apurva Asrani’s competent editing fails to make the carelessly contrived look affecting. This film is definitely a cut above the routine run-of-the-mill but it’s just not smart or brilliant enough to engage you completely!