Rating: 3.5/5 Stars (Three and half stars)
Star cast: Raj Kumar Rao, Patralekha, Manav Kaul
Director: Hansal Mehta
What’s Good: Raj Kumar Rao is simply captivating. The guy’s fascinating rendering gives Citylights fluidity and intensity. The film’s first half has the edgy factor and is perfectly crisp.
What’s Bad: The convoluted climax and the film’s poignant story that has been battered to death by cinema, sucking out all its novelty.
Loo break: Nearly none.
Watch or Not?: Citylights is fashioned as an old wine in a new bottle as director Hansal Mehta seamlessly beaded together a heart wrenching story with a crime drama. Keeping intact the milieu of Mumbai in the film, the pace and packaging is all done to perfection. Though I have my reservations about the half baked climax, which lacks both thrill and conviction, the film is true to the word overwhelming in every sense of the term. It will be crime to cinema to miss Rajkumar’s best work till date.
Deepak (Raj Kumar Rao) is a small time shop owner in Rajasthan who lives with his wife (Patralekha) and daughter. Life goes haywire for him suddenly when his shop gets taken from him due to his inability to clear debts. Unable to find another way out, Deepak convinces his family to shift to Mumbai – a place that has better prospects for their small dreams, that nearly comes with the assurance that their needs will be fulfilled.
However Mumbai’s harshness takes a toll on them when they end up robbed, on the streets with nothing to feed their child. Will the family win the survival war against Mumbai or lose the game is the story of this film.
Citylights Review: Script Analysis
This film will have parallels to many depictions on the same theme, the most memorable one being Madhur Bhandarkar’s Chandni Bar. But Hansal Mehta doesn’t take the repetitive route and blends the Quintessential Mumbai story with a crime drama, giving it a very thrilling quality. Deepak, a small time shop owner of Rajasthan is forced to dream big and leave for Mumbai in search of livelihood. The harsh city doesn’t have any kind words for the young man and his family. Mugged and abandoned on the streets, the script’s ability to reek of despair is ace.
And still, hope is at bay at all times. The play with the irony in the script is also tackled with intelligence. On one hand, the family is mugged off ten thousand rupees and they end up living in an under construction building in a flat which will cost 3 crores when finished. One of the film’s most memorable scenes is when Deepak finally gets the job by blurting out a joke he probably barely understands, almost like a parrot. At every cue, the writer harps upon the fact that life never stops being whimsical for the havenots.
The gentle vein of the story loses its way half way through the film but the first half has ample of tender portrayals. The excited love making of the couple, the couple learning tid-bits of English from their young daughter are all images from the film’s happy moments. One cannot help but feel choked in the scene where Rao breaks down after hearing that his wife was compelled to take up a job as a bar dancer. Not only Rao’s top notch perfection makes the scene a somber delight, the impact of their rough realities forms the tone of the story then onwards. The distant memory of a hopeful Raj Kumar saying ‘Bambai mein samandar bhi hai.’ while convincing his wife to shift fizzles out.
Though the ‘desperate to please audiences’ ending doesn’t quite fit the bill in a film which thrived on realism for all its runtime, the climax was unexpectedly ‘filmy’. Had the writers given it an open ended finish, the film’s after realization would have been something far more undiluted.
Citylights Review: Star Performances
It’s only Raj Kumar Rao who can be so perfect in a character that is familiar and runs the risk of being caricaturish. But Rao brings his genuineness to the role emerging as the stronghold for the film to rest on. He is classic and a class apart, never failing to pleasantly surprise his audiences.
Patralekha attempts her best at achieving the caliber of her better half, matching consistently at most times. For a débutant, she is a treat for the industry. The blankness in her eyes and the coldness at her work quite steals your heart away.
Manav Kaul is fascinating in his role and is the perfect casting. A little more insight into his role would have helped the film but Kaul’s baffling work isn’t easy to forget.
Citylights Review: Direction, Editing and Screenplay
Hansal Mehta invests his best in the film that has the correct haunting quality in it. For most part, he achieves India’s Metro Manila but for the climax alone, I cannot make my peace with it. With a solid build up and the throbbing intensity, so much could have been done with the climax. Eventually what came out was an ending that lacked the soul of the film, seeming right out of a parallel universe of cinema.
The film’s editing in the first half is crisp and the fast pace helps in making the story’s fabric appeal better. Though the motive of slowing down the second half was probably to help audiences sync the workings better, the grit was half lost in the second half due to the slowing pace of the film. It seemed too stretched with a climax that was completely unsatisfactory. The music and the background score is brilliant and Jeet Ganguly is wonderful in every bit of it.
Mehta connects the last scene so well with its beginning and as the metaphor settles down, one realizes without words the simple fact the filmmaker was trying to convey.
Citylights Review: The Last Word
Citylights might have its flaws but is overall a film that must be watched. A befitting commentary on social exploitation, the film’s humane touch and the expressive treatment catapults it to a different league. But mostly I find it hard to not sing praises of Raj Kumar Rao whose superlative work gives the film it’s mettle. I ordinarily was going to go with a 3 but for Raj Kumar’s brilliance I am giving this one a 3.5/5. Industry has found an heir to Irrfan Khan and when it comes from a fan, understand that he is a keeper.
Citylights releases on 30th May, 2014.
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