What is it all about?
Lacking in authenticity, identity and sentimentality the Indian version of Sean Ellis 2013 Sundance sensation and UK Oscar entry 'Metro Manila' by Fox Star Studio and Vishesh Films involving the year's 'Shahid' fame national award hall of fames director Hansal Mehta and actor Rajkumar Rao is an atmospheric disconnect of what was supposed to be said and what is shown.
The original Sean Ellis film was applauded for its authenticity, identity, characterizations, dimensions; its smart improvisation of twining the elements into a thriller made it a winner.
Hansal Mehta's articulation of the immigrants in Mumbai stumbles from start resulting in a wearing experience and credibility problem for the audience as they are baffled to decide whether 'City Lights' was meant to be a thriller, a family drama or a diary to Mumbai.
Ritesh Shah (B.A. Pass) adapts Sean Ellis story for the Indian version.
Failing to pay his debtors ex Army driver Deepak (Rajkummar Rao) abandons his village and his shop in Rajasthan and comes to Mumbai with wife (Patralekha) and a five year old daughter. He dreams of making it big in the city of dreams convincing his family that life will be better in Mumbai.
Destiny however has something else in store for Deepak first he gets conned for a house forcing his wife to work in a dance bar. However a silver lining in a security agency job gives hope but life takes a dreadful turn when he finds himself pitted against his family, his colleagues gratefulness and morality..
Unfortunately Ritesh is not able to 'exploit' the dilemma of the immigrant as the script doesn,t establishes the impoverishment of Deepak properly... he is straightaway shown as a shop owner in Rajasthan and behaves like a poor peasant from an Indian village when he lands in Mumbai.. as the film progresses we come to know he was a driver in the Indian army.. such background fail to support Deepak's naive nature.. writer Ritesh Shah does the biggest flaw here he fails to establish his protagonist amongst the audience by not giving him the proper structure, build up and establishment.
Metro Manila had an underlining comment on God and faith.. City Lights script fails to make a profound cinematic statement as desired in such genre.
What to look out for
Hansal Mehta sets the atmosphere as required and does comes out with some enchanting symbolic moments like the landing of white swans seen through shanty alleys of a Mumbai slum. Deepak and is family sitting helpless at marine drive staring at the sea.
Hansal Mehta pumps pace in the second half though his Mumbai diary from an immigrant is left a lot to be desired, he is decent during the thriller moments and saves the film from further embarrassment.
Rajkumar Rao is a completely gifted talent and here he gives a flawless performance in spite of the writer failing to establish his character Rajkumar Rao still manages to hold your attention and carries the film on his shoulders. Sheer Brilliance.
Debutant Patralekha gives a superb performance and stands out on her own.
Manav Kaul as Rajkummar's colleague is first rate.
The film's intentions are good so given a choice the flaws can be ignored but sadly over here the flaws are so glaring to turn a blind eye..
The plot of poverty stricken immigrants coming to big city and facing alienation, exploitation and busting of dreams is an off repeated subject.. Bimal Roy's 1953 Cannes sensation "Do Bigha Zamin", starring Balraj Sahini and Nirupa Roy and Muzaffar Ali's 1981 thought provoking Gaman (1981) starring Farooq Shaikh and Smita Patil stand out..
It will be unfair to compare Hansal Mehta's City Lights to these masterpieces but the point we want to make here is Indian cinema already had great gems if a movie on immigrants was the desire.. why opt for a Brithish Filipino inspiration.
Even here the writer Ritesh and director Hansal Mehta fail and give a disjointed and unconvincing film.
City Lights is supposed to make our heart beat for the trauma of impoverish family torn between want, need, greed and principles but sadly the audience feels conned for unwanted thrill for which they are not prepared properly.
Director Hansal Mehta and his writer Ritesh sadly make 'City Lights' work partly as a soulless fictional thriller rather than a stark reality take on immigrants coming to big city for good the choice they take and the path the city makes for them.
The background score by Raju Singh gives a soap opera feel which goes against the proceedings. Jeet Ganguly music is strictly average.
Conclusion: The Indian version of Sean Ellis Sundance sensation Metro Manila is named after the great Charles Chaplin's classic 'City Lights' featuring the years national award hall of fames director Hansal Mehta and actor Rajkummar Rao turns out to be just a pat on immigration realisms and unwanted smack on con thriller sensationalisms.. Ironically it reminds you what the genius Charles Chaplin once said "In the end, everything is a gag"..