ART & ENTERTAINMENT

Movie Review: Citylights

Ramesh Menon

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Poverty can be grinding and agonizing. As aspirations go through the roof, millions in changing India want to rise above it, risking all they have for a better life not just for themselves, but also for their dear ones. We see them struggling every day in urban India.Toiling endlessly to see a new dawn.

Mahesh and brother Mukesh Bhatt have courageously produced a film that portrays reality without looking backwards at the boxoffice. In an interview, Mahesh said he loves creative destruction and now wants to dabble with meaningful cinema. CityLights’ rawness eats into you much after you finish watching the film. It reminds you of yesteryear when Mahesh produced films like Arth, Zakhm and Saaransh. Director Hansal Mehta sets out to narrate a heart wrenching story of Deepak Singh, a villager in Rajasthan, played realistically by Rajkumar Rao. After Love Sex and Dhoka, Talash: The Answer lies within, Shahid, Kai Po Che! and Queen. Rao has matured into a fine actor.

Saddled with debts and a collapsing minor cloth shop business, Singh (movie hero) persuades Rakhi, his hesitant wife, played superbly by Patralekha, to locate to Mumbai. He cajoles her saying that it is a city where no one ever dies of hunger. The city lights dazzle and so does the sea, but their dreams come crashing down as soon as they are entrapped by cunning manipulators in the big city. Their little doting daughter does not complain even once though she clings to the mother for a few moments before being deposited in a crammed one room crèche. At every step, life cheats them; they are jobless and homeless and finally are given
two weeks to stay in a building under construction. Cities can be so dehumanizing!

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A shy, conservative Rakhi fights her tears to force herself to dance at a bar with lecherous men stripping her with their eyes, while Deepak works as a driver. Both their jobs have ironies and tragedies, typical of a city like Mumbai, where everyone will have a story on how life cheated them, or taught them a great lesson. They navigate numerous contradictions, hopelessly wishing for a miracle that will transform their lives. It rarely does as poverty is such a leech.

There are some interesting directorial touches: Deepak tells Rakhi that he would take care of everything and the next second,he falls into her protective arms. He needs her so much as it is a lonely battle. The scenes with the daughter are extremely touching and intensely real. Manav Kaul, who plays Vishnu, a security officer who works with Deepak, puts out a flawless performance, gently taking Deepak to see the crudeness and indifference of the city and how he one day plans to get out of the demeaning muck. Life has its surprises and Rakhi gets one too, but it is going to be one long painful journey ahead, though life may have materialistically changed for the better.

CityLights is a remake of Filipino film, Metro Manila. The film’s tagline asks: Will love survive in the heart of darkness? If you know the kind of films that Mahesh Bhatt produced in his best years, you would have the answer.

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