Rajeev Masand – movies that matter : from bollywood, hollywood and everywhere else

April 23, 2010

Run of the mill

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 11:19 pm

April 23, 2010

Cast: Seema Biswas, Ankush Choudhary, Satish Kaushik, Kashmira Shah, Karan Patel

Director: Mahesh Manjrekar

City of Gold, directed by Mahesh Manjrekar, is one of those films that had the potential to be better than it ultimately is

Adapted from a play by Jayant Pawar, the film examines the plight of Mumbai’s mill workers who were rendered redundant in the ’80s when the mills shut down to make way for plush malls.

Focusing on one particular family struggling to make ends meet when the closure of the mills robs them of their livelihood, Manjrekar tells a hard-hitting story without pulling back any punches.

You empathize with the mother (played by Seema Biswas) who watches helplessly as her family disintegrates before her very eyes. One son, a struggling playwright toils away at scripts, hoping his work will be noticed soon. Another son loses his bank job after his involvement in a fraud. The unmarried daughter becomes pregnant with the neighborhood grocer’s son, who as it turns out, is already married. And the youngest son gets involved with the local underworld.

Manjrekar extracts credible performances from his actors, but sadly there is no one to rein in the director himself. So there are parts of the film that flit between exceedingly melodramatic and impossibly exaggerated, and after a point the director’s grim, cynical and utterly despondent perspective fails to ring true.

The core story unfolds in flashback, and is book-ended by present-day portions that are laughably silly. Even the violent climax appears ridiculously contrived.

In the end, the film is salvaged to a fair extent thanks to the arresting performances by the mostly unknown cast — particularly Veena Jamkar as Seema Biswas’ daughter, and Karan Patel as the youngest son who turns to crime. There are also several disturbing scenes that Manjrekar films uncompromisingly — like the one in which we learn that one of the brothers has sold a kidney to raise money, and the one in which the family discovers their daughter is pregnant. These portions punch you in the gut with their unrestrained intensity.

The film is watchable for the most part, and might have worked perfectly as an honest slice-of-life drama if it weren’t for the filmmaker’s tendency to go over the top. I’m going with two-and-a-half out of five for Mahesh Manjrekar’s City of Gold. Watch it because it makes some disturbing yet important points. Watch it also to understand just how compelling it could have been!

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