Production House: Kukunoor Movies, Applause Entertainment
Cast: Atul Kulkarni, Priya Bapat, Siddharth Chandekar, Sachin Pilgaonkar, Amrita Bagchi, Vishwas Kini and Eijaz Khan
Music: Tapas Relia
Cinematography: Aamir Lal
Editing: Farooq Hundekar
Producers: Sameer Nair, Deepak Segal, Elahe Hiptoola, Nagesh Kukunoor
Story:Nagesh Kukunoor and Rohit G Banawlikar
Direction: Nagesh Kukunoor
Premiere date: May 3
City of Dreams has a predictable story, that is on the lines of several South Indian political dramas like Chekka Chivantha Vaanam, Bharat Ane Nenu, and Leader, where a leadership crisis emerges within the family after the fall of a charismatic messiah. The series begins with an assassination bid on Maharashtra's veteran politician Ameya Rao Gaikwad by an unidentified gunman. Ameya survives, but his condition is far from stable. Ameya's son Ashish is considered to be the interim contender to Ameya's throne.
However, an initially reluctant politician and Ameya's daughter Poornima stakes her claim to the position. Equations change, people try to outsmart each other with their plots and poll strategies, the game only gets uglier with time. How long will this political uncertainty last? If at all Ameya returns to normalcy, whom will he choose as his political heir? Though filled with several subplots, the web series primarily revolves around this story.
The Mumbai backdrop is rightly complemented by the casting choices. The move to pick several Marathi actors to headline the series has paid off and boosts the authenticity of the political setup. If at all one had felt the Chak De-India girl Priya Bapat's talent was under-utilised in Bollywood, this series gives her enough material to showcase her mettle and the distance she could traverse to fulfill the potential of a role. She proves to be quite a handful in the later portions of City of Dreams, even as she stands up to veteran actors like Atul Kulkarni and Sachin Pilgaonkar; that's not a mean feat at all.
Atul Kulkarni, whose presence remains passive in the earlier part of the series, shows why screen-time isn't necessarily proportional to the impact of a performance. Nagesh Kukunoor taps this minimalistic side of his to good effect and Kulkarni's powerful screen presence does uplift the series. Eijaz Khan's under-credited cop role feels extremely similar to Saif Ali Khan's part in Sacred Games. Beyond the comparisons though, the actor adequately fits into the shoes of a grey-shaded police officer with ease.
Siddharth Chandekar's portrayal of Ashish appears to be all over the place, just like his role. He struggles to match up to the intensity of the performances by his co-actors. Vishwas Kini and Amrita Bagchi get to be a cute-little couple of a loan broker and a prostitute falling in love; the innocence in their eyes feels just right for the beautifully written romantic track. Sachin Pilgaonkar only gets better with each role and there's enough nuance in his role as the Maharashtra CM to push his limits.
Technical Merit -
Though City of Dreams is far from the best work that Nagesh Kukunoor has done to date, his ability to churn a multi-layered political drama comes across as a pleasant surprise for the viewer. While the Iqbal and Dhanak filmmaker is known to make feel-good, underdog victory films, Kukunoor, through City of Dreams, proves his tact to handle an untapped genre in his repertoire with relative ease. However, the story he has is fairly old fashioned, surrounding a leadership conflict that's so inherent in most political dramas to date.
Kukunoor's effort may not completely bowl you over, but his intermittent sparkles keep you glued to the episodes. Say, the affair between Ameya's accountant and an unmarried woman whom he meets at a theatre has wonderful moments. The two talk about love, sex, work and life with an uncanny frankness and the director uses the woman's character to take a dig at individuals who merely are a part of the rat race while serving no great purpose to the world with their existence. The romance between the loan-broker and the prostitute too provides a heartfelt vibe to the series. The conflicted sexuality angle to Poornima's character seems forced than necessary.
The series is wobbly when the director plays around with drama; however, it regains its mojo whenever the focus is on Chanakya-like strategies, mind games and so on. The director displays his clear understanding of caste, gender religion, hereditary leadership in regional politics. The later episodes of the series are especially Kukunoor feels home. All along, his trademarks of measured treatment and aesthetics put the series in a minimum-guarantee zone.
Although it has an old-fashioned story, the charm in this setting comes from its captivating dialogues. The lines are often cinematic, quite unusual for a Kukunoor work, but they are full of flavour and rigour. The duality of politicians when it comes to their public and private life is explored well through the dialogues.
Cinematographer Aamir Lal's understanding of Mumbai seems to be very cliched and the sequences aren't high on visual appeal. Though the art director does a reasonable job, there's nothing really uplifting in the camera work to benefit Kukunoor.
Honestly, Tapas Relia's background score for City of Dreams is an ode to mediocrity. While music is only expected to enhance the impact of a sequence in a story, Tapas seems to be a fan of the over-the-top approach a.l.a television and comes up with a soundtrack that painfully dominates the scenes.
The sequencing is among the series' significant strengths. The editor makes sure the emotional context to the sequences is seamless for a significant time.
City of Dreams is a series that scores big-time with its production values. A lot of effort appears to have gone into ensuring an enriching visual backdrop to the situations, especially the art direction. Strong technicalities are an asset to the viewing experience.
A Deja Vu storyline
City of Dreams, despite the familiar political setup, makes for an interesting watch, for the discussion on the gender dynamics that is functional in politics. The brother-sister conflict when it comes to a leadership crisis hasn't been a subject that often found a place in political dramas. The series gives the viewers a lot of interesting characters, enacted by a brilliant lineup of actors who come with power-packed performances. The episodes, though slow to take off, keep you on the edge.
The content steers clear of references to real-life politicians and rather uses universal conflicts surrounding political dramas to drive its drama quotient. The Nagesh Kukunoor-stamp lives up to its credibility. Though viewers expecting novelty would be disappointed here, the filmmaker's sincere storytelling approach warrants your attention. The series ends on a cliffhanger and a second season appears very likely on the cards.
Icing on the cake: Old-fashioned yet gritty political drama