Release date: May 30, 2014
Directed by: Hansal Mehta
Cast: Rajkummar Rao, Patralekhaa, Manav Kaul, Vinod Rawat

How many times have you seen a family with their luggage, asking you to hand out some money to them because they’re running dry or just new to your metropolitan city? You want to trust them but your hardened instincts advise otherwise. You aren’t a heartless asshole, it’s just your ability to trust someone on facial value has been diminished for various realistic reasons.

CityLights, adapted from Sean Ellis’ Metro Manila, presents a tale of one such family voluntarily uprooted from its humble countryside origins. Deepak (Rajkummar Rao) looks for an out to his debts and other woes by turning his dreamy gaze to the dreadly city of dreams, Mumbai. He convinces his wife Rakhee (Patralekhaa) that no one goes to sleep hungry in Mumbai, and nor will they. The two of them along with their little daughter Mahi migrate with a goal to earn big and return back to their village.

On their very first day in town, they are greeted with the coldest of welcomes. The struggle starts here. The struggle to get a job,to find a place worth living in, and trying to save themselves from getting into the endless abyss of feeding off of leftovers of the entire populace. Vishnu (Manav Kaul) shows trust in Deepak by lobbying for a job in a security company. The company provides vaults to anyone who wants to stash their fortunes and transport them to where they want.

Deepak, even after the initial betrayals, still remains a simpleton at his core. He doesn’t let go of his morals even when a convenient con job is chalked out for him. What Mumbai forces him to sacrifice forms the base of the film’s primary conflict. Rajkummar Rao talks with the sweetest of Rajasthani accent and even sings a song, making you suspend your disbelief. He presents an unabashed Deepak and never falls out of his self-created mould. Patralekhaa and Manav Kaul in their respective debuts have so much screen time which could rattle any ‘newcomer’ in their boots and every other body part. Patralekhaa brings out the best in Deepak with her Rakhee. Kaul provides the necessary fringe touch.

Hansal Mehta with his DP Dev Agarwal paint the celluloid canvas with a varied range and are in complete control of their task. Be it a paradoxical wide frame of skyscrapers and heaps of garbage with the protagonists in the foreground or handheld gauging closeups, the palette of colors and angles are tight. I could have done without the excessive background score at certain junctures though. The sound of the season, Arijit Singh delivers two engaging songs which cover the story arc through its highs and lows very well.

CityLights presents a grim authentic representation of how things can go awfully wrong in an attempt at making them better. Personal bias aside, I hope this film proves to be a beacon of hope in the heavily template-dependent approach of filmmaking at Vishesh Films.

My rating: **** (4 out of 5)

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