City of Dreams
Cast: Atul Kulkarni, Eijaz Khan, Siddharth Chandekar, Priya Bapat
Director: Nagesh Kukunoor
Hotstar's latest 10-episode web series, City of Dreams, has a star director and co-writer, Nagesh Kukunoor, who has given us films like Hyderabad Blues, Rockford, Iqbal and Lakshmi. These were small, tightly knit and probably easier to manage than City of Dreams – which runs to about eight hours and details the lives of innumerable characters, some who could have been dispensed with.
Set in the murky, crime-infested waters of Mayanagari or Mumbai, Kukunoor's series is in many ways a typical gangster/political drama with bad guys and good guys having a free run all over the small screen. The adventure begins with corrupt Maharashtra Minister Gaekwad (played with superb dignity and finesse by Atul Kulkarni) being shot when his car stops by a roadside shop. Two men on a rickety two-wheeler creep along the car and in an amateurish way pump three bullets into Gaekwad. If the assassins seemed like bumbling fools, the Minister's bodyguard appeared even more incompetent, failing to shoot down the criminals or get alert when he sees the tottering vehicle approaching the car.
Such bad writing, scripting and even helming do not give even a reasonably good first impression, and the series moves, towards a horrific climax, after littering the path with blood and dead men. Gaekwad's son, Ashish (Siddharth Chandekar) and daughter Poornima (Priya Bapat), get into the act of trying to figure out the villain of the piece, but then they also have to grapple with an uncertain future with their father slipping into a coma after the attack.
While Ashish and Poornima are close to each other, one cannot miss the underlying tension, worrying as they do about the future of Gaekwad's political party that the man had built over the years . And who is going to lead it if he does not wake up?
While Ashish is a drug addict and has a temper, Poornima is level-headed, has all the makings of a good leader. But in a country where male dominance often translates into male succession, Poornima realises the vulnerable position she is in.
City of Dreams has a couple of parallel narratives running, but at least one of them about a prostitute, Katrina (Amrita Bagchi), and her lover-boy (Vishwas Kini), appears completely redundant. And there are far too many scenes that could have been edited out, making the series tighter and an easier watch. Infused into the main plot is also the story of Wasim (a hard-to-forget performance by Eijaz Khan), the cop who thinks he is 007, trigger happy and switching sides with no qualms.
Honestly, Kukunoor and writer-companion, Rohit Banawlikar, give away too many clues, and viewers can easily guess how the series will pan out. While it is much too glossy, making the whole series look like the setting of a rich-fat Indian wedding (with Bapat and Chandekar appearing all dressed up all the time), the tendency to paint Ashish all black and Poornima all white is like letting the cat out much too soon.
And, though City of Dreams does get into the nefarious world of money politics (with Sachin Pilgaonkar essaying Maharashtra's wily Chief Minister, Jagdish Gaurav), there is precious little that we do not already know
(Gautaman Bhaskaran is an author, commentator and movie critic)
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