Cidade de Deus, the sweaty suburb in Rio De Janeiro, that forms the backdrop of Fernando Meirelles' 2003 film that goes by the same name, does have some striking semblance to the port city of Kochi in Lijo Jose Pellissery's 'City of God', that lies a few continents away. Bustling with urban activity, these are the cities that people love to build their havens in; these are their 'Americas', where they finally get to live the life that they have always wanted.
It's into this Kochi, that Lijo sets his characters free, where they collide against each other time and again, never for a moment realizing the existence of the other. Swarnavel (Indrajith) is an icon of the immigrant population that has flooded the cities of Kerala from across the border. He works hard, earns a living and hopes to have a family of his own soon. Marathakam (Parvathy Menon) has a six-year old son and a terrible marriage stacked away at Palani, and at Kochi she intends to start anew.
Jyothilal (Prithviraj) is a high profile goon, who shares more than a professional relationship with his boss Sony Vadayattil (Rajeev Pillai). Being close friends, Jyothi advises Sony to get over his fatal obsession over budding actress Suryaprabha (Reema Kallingal). Surya on the other hand has plenty of personal concerns to deal with, and the call of the casting couch is just one of them. When a property deal with NRI businessman Punnoose goes kaput, Sony and Jyothi bump him off without a second thought. Viji Punnoose (Swetha Menon) , his widow bounces back in no time, and gets set to throw the dice all over again.
Kochi is more of a city of contrasts, that throws open its mammoth mouth to gulp down anyone who dares walk in. It engulfs all and sundry, and the skyscrapers stand tall amidst the shacks that are fast falling to shambles. It lets the cocktail flow in the cool confines of Viji's living room, while Lekshmi (Rohini) visits the local toddy bar to drench her days' earnings in a bottle of liquor. Swanky cars struggle to flit past on crowded roads, teeming with people busy with their tussle to get through the day.
The topography of 'City of God' consists of three plateaus of human existence that carry numerous correlations within them, that make them overlap time and again. The terrain of basic human survival, is the one on which Marathakam and Swarnavel thrive, where pleasures are primal and numerous and the pains no less. Jyothilal and Surya cross over the second plain, one that is marked by treachery and deceit, where a few lie in wait with their lures in line, and a few others thrash about to shun the bait. Viji is alone on the third landscape of emotional bankruptcy, where the emptiness is deafening, where she has it all and yet knows that she has lost it at all.
None of the women in 'City of God' are meek subservients to the ruthless games that life plays with them. Each one of them refuses to be distraught and servile, and battles it out claw and nail with life, even as it brutally tears them apart. Despite being beaten up black and blue by an abusive spouse, Surya still manages to be the much desired actress that she is by daybreak and face the arc lights as if the sun had never gone down. Marathakam is scared beyond her wits at the mere thoughts of what she has been through in the hands of a spiteful husband, but has startlingly retained the facility to find love again in the eyes of a prospective companion. The glass house life that has collapsed all around her astounds Viji, but she starts picking up the bits and pieces and soon walks away from the debris with a few relics that would set her sailing through the rest of it.
Performances by the lead actors are equally impressive. Prithvi is at his subdued best, while Indrajith is boisterous to the hilt. Parvathy is a revelation, and as the distraught Tamilian girl comes up with an over whelming feat. Reema is perfectly cast, and brings in the right amount of vulnerability into her portrayal of Surya. And if close-ups could do justice to any actor, it has to be Swetha. She doesn't require much screen time to prove what an amazing performer she is, and she does it yet again, in 'City of God'. Rajeev Pillai leaves a definite mark.
Prasanth Pillai's devastating background score sounds almost blood-stained, and the effects are quite phenomenal. It builds on the shady ambiance even further, and fuses readily into the dark tale being told. Sujith Vasudev is the man who has brought this city to life, the one who has made it appear alluring at a moment and daunting at the next, with his brilliant cinematography that befits the film's temperament and that focuses as much on the grandiose panorama that it sets out to capture on film, as the emotions that lie beneath it.
Lijo Jose Pellissery's 'City of God' is no City of Dreams. It's a raw and bleeding city that wails all night and day. A city where en eternal eclipse has cast a shadow over the rights and wrongs. A city where God has apparently deserted his illusory throne and vanished without a trace.