CityLights is an official remake of the acclaimed British-Filipino film Metro Manila (2013), a fact that is reinstated more than once during the opening credits of the film. It is a story of a family who makes it to the big city, Mumbai - 'a city where no one sleeps hungry', in hopes that they could make something better off their lives.
The big city dreams have often been explored in literature and cinema. Many of them have found a chord with the audiences. Sometimes the tales are of heroic rise, like in the recent Hawaa Hawaai and at other times about the protagonist disappearing into the vastness of the city - Do Bighaa Zameen. In a broader sense hence, CityLights probably does not stand unique.
Yet, CityLights stand clear and shines. That's because of the screenplay and the characters it manages to bring up. In the face of stark realities, CityLights is a love story that touches you. Of course the tagline "How far will you go for the love of your family' sets the plot up - A man's attempt to bring happiness to his small family, by honest means and the struggles that he endeavors.
Named after Charlie Chaplin's masterpiece City Lights (1931), Hansal Mehta's film has a couple of elements common with the iconic piece of cinema - a man willing to go through anything for his lady love. The protagonist Deepak Sigh (Rajkummar Rao) telling his wife that he would not let anything happen to her and their daughter even as he sees no end to his troubles. The film makes you fervently wish that they scrape through the hardships and make it to the brighter side of the tunnel. You can't but sympathise with the family.
Aiding Mehta's direction is brilliance in acting. Rajkummar Rao at his usual best refuses to let you down. In his first outing since his National Award for Shahid, Rao reinstates his prowess an actor who can pull of some difficult characters. Manav Kaul, earlier seen in Kai Po Che, comes across as a very confident actor. Debutante Patralekha strikes with her capability to hold her own in presence of a performer like Rao. One confrontation scene with Rao is more than enough to testify for her capabilities.
Mehta's proficiency as a director also comes to fore with the use of music in his narrative. Songs by Jeet Gannguly serve as magic.
Of course the film could be better. For one it could definitely be shorter. Wonder if the director and editor together fell in love with some of the shots, which look so beautiful that they decided to keep them. And then, in comparison to Metro Manila, it does not make as much an impact and neither does it manage to draw out statements on faith like the Filipino film did.
To write about CityLights is difficult. It is one film that brings up so many thoughts that I rather shut up that write anything that does not do justice to the film. That's the impact Hansal Mehta's direction left on me. This film soaks you in, and refuses to leave you much after you have left the theater. The songs continue to haunt. Recommended must watch!
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