Tales highlighting the innocent who arrive from the countryside to a metropolis, falling prey to the scheming and calculating ways of smooth talkers and getting corrupted and tarnished in the process have been a staple diet of cinema for eons. Hansal Mehta presents the immoral and dark side of Mumbai in his newest outing CITYLIGHTS, an adaptation of the 2013 British-Filipino crime drama METRO MANILA, directed by Sean Ellis. For those not conversant about METRO MANILA, the well-made film won tremendous critical acclaim and awards, besides getting selected as the British entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 86th Academy Awards.
Indeed, it's a herculean task to recreate a movie that has won laurels across the globe. And what makes matters arduous is that a majority of remakes tend to look inferior and mediocre when compared to the original source. Not CITYLIGHTS. Hansal borrows from METRO MANILA, but the talented storyteller makes sure CITYLIGHTS is not a xerox or replica. Much like the original source, CITYLIGHTS leaves you troubled, disturbed and distressed. That's one of the key reasons why the film works!
Let's enlighten you about the premise of the film. CITYLIGHTS narrates the story of a family comprising of Deepak [Rajkummar Rao], his wife Rakhi [Patralekhaa] and their daughter Mahi, residing in a village in Rajasthan. All's well for the family till the debtors come knocking and take charge of Deepak's shop due to his inability to pay off the loan. Armed with a mobile number of a friend, the crestfallen family leaves for Mumbai, the city of dreams, hoping to make a living there.
Once in Mumbai, they not only fail to trace their friend, but also get conned by a property agent. While in police station to file a complaint, Rakhi meets a bar dancer, who subsequently helps them find a roof over their head, besides getting a job for Rakhi in the bar. Meanwhile, Deepak too gets a job in a security bureau, an agency that undertakes the transportation of cash and expensive commodities in specialized armored cases.
During one such delivery, Deepak's collaborator [Manav Kaul] divulges a master plan that could make them rich overnight. Does Deepak succumb to the temptation?
Let's clear one misconception at the very outset. This one is *not* art house cinema or a 'festival film', as being understood by few. CITYLIGHTS reflects the times we live in. And Hansal encapsulates the rural migration, penury, exploitation and adversities in an overcrowded metropolis with utmost realism. The transformation from a social drama to a disturbing thriller is gradual, evoking myriad emotions, leaving you troubled and distressed at the plight of the couple. The shocking finale is disheartening, while the gut-wrenching images of a once-happy family leave you distraught as you step out of the auditorium.
Fresh from the laurels of SHAHID, Hansal maintains the grip for most parts. A few sequences do appear stretched, while the pace at which the story unfolds tends to get sluggish at times, which makes you fidgety and impatient. Even though you may have watched the original, you are eager to how Hansal would conclude the film. Will he fall prey to the diktats of the market and opt for an all's-well-that-ends-well finale or leave you feeling uneasy and perturbed? Fortunately, Hansal makes you empathize at the emotionally-shattered family, which remains true to the essence of the film.
In a film like CITYLIGHTS, there's zilch scope for music, but the good news is, the movie has two haunting tracks [music: Jeet Gannguli] that stay with you and have become popular with cineastes too -- 'Muskurane' and 'Soney Do'. The background score [Raju Singh] accentuates the goings-on wonderfully. The DoP [Dev Agarwal] captures the tone perfectly.
After winning plaudits in LOVE SEX AUR DHOKHA, RAGINI MMS, KAI PO CHE!, SHAHID and QUEEN, Rajkumar Rao delivers a stunningly raw and absolutely believable performance as Deepak. The supremely talented actor seems to be raising the bar with every film and you've got to hand it to him for stepping into the character and emerging trumps. Although Patralekhaa doesn't get as much footage as Rajkummar, it must be noted that she achieves in her very first film what many do not, even after being part of multiple films. She's first-rate! Both Rajkummar and Patralekhaa also deserve kudos for getting the dialect spot-on. The child artist portraying their daughter wins you over with her innocence. Manav Kaul is in terrific form. It's a pity that the actor hasn't got the due that he deserves in Hindi films. Sadia Siddique, as Manav's wife, is super, especially during the sequence when she breaks down.
On the whole, CITYLIGHTS is one of the most captivating movie experiences of late. An expertly-crafted heartbreaker, this tragic tale has a riveting plot, power-packed narrative, soulful music and arresting performances to haunt you much after the screening has concluded. A must watch!