Few days back, an FM channel was delving on ‘struggles’ in life while promoting the movie, Citylights. Their dhobi list included ‘struggles’ like sitting on a ‘hot seat’ in summer when one’s vehicle is parked by roadside, and braving the scorching sun to reach office, preparing for examination etc. Well, one cannot blame the FM channel in question, as our definition of struggle has come a long way from what our ‘I had just twenty rupees in my pocket when I came in this city’ stories that our father or grandfather love narrating us. Articulating ‘struggle story’ to an audience of our ilk is an arduous task for any filmmaker worth his salt. And director Hansal Mehta and producer Mahesh Bhatt do so with a finesse beyond compare.
The film’s basic premise reminds of the evocative question Arshad Warsi’s character in (equally brilliant film) Jolly LLB poses to the judge (essayed by Saurabh Shukla who bagged National Award for his performance): ‘Kaun hai yeh log? Kyu aur kahaan se aa jaate hain hamaare is shehar ko ganda karne?’ The character was referring to people migrating from rural areas to metro cities, only to end up a life of penury. The film, Citylights takes this query to next level and doesn’t hesitate to shake our perspective of right and wrong or moral values we uphold so reverently.
Citylights is about a couple migrating from Rajasthan to Mumbai with their little daughter in tow, in a desperate search for livelihood. While the wife (Patralekha makes a confident debut and there’s no doubt she’s here to stay) takes up the job of a bar dancer, the husband (Rajkummar Rao in a career-best performance) does odd jobs and finally lands up with a ‘well-paid’ job at a security company under his supervisor (awe-inspiring Manav Kaul). What transpires is a fantastic tale of strives, struggles, and deceit revolving around these three characters and the choices they make to change their circumstances.
Inspired by the British film, Metro Manila by Sean Ellis (a fact thrust upon us umpteen times during the opening credits), Citylights makes one realize the importance of money, and its futility in the same breath. Cinematography by Dev Agarwal is spot-on, especially the ‘birds on wire’ shot and those beautiful bouquet shots (Google it) as a backdrop, almost a character of the film.
The only ruse against this film is the music, which becomes a deterrent to the restrained narrative. Neither the lyrics by Rashmi Singh nor the music by Jeet Ganguly take the film to another level, something that we witnessed in films like Udaan and Lootera. Nevertheless, Citylights is replete with moments that linger on your mind long after you’ve walked from the comforts of an air-conditioned auditorium to lounge in your air-conditioned living room.
The stress on ‘air-conditioned’ is deliberate, purely because such ‘luxuries’ (or rather necessities in these times of 40+ degree sweltering heat) will make you feel guilty. The film creates such impact, and I kid you not, you might even start noticing people staying on the footpath or road dividers. Hell, it might even compel you to stop by, and stare at the way they ‘struggle’ to bake a roti in open air, kindling fire between two bricks, while their kids cry out in hunger.
If not such extremes of guilt trips, the film will surely make you sit up and chat with your parents or grandparents and ask them about their ‘struggles’ to build that ‘childhood home’ you cherish. They say films cannot change the world but hairstyles, but Citylights will surely change the way you perceive ‘struggle’. And folks, it’s far from the mundane ‘struggles’ like sitting on a ‘hot seat’ in summer when your vehicle is parked by roadside, and braving the scorching sun to reach office, preparing for examination etc. that FM channels would like us to believe.