Director: Nagesh Kukunoor
Cast: Atul Kulkarni, Priya Bapat, Siddharth Chandekar and Eijaz Khan
While watching Mayanagri – City of Dreams, the latest offering from Hotstar, there is a constant feeling that one is watching a homage to the ‘90s, by earnest film school students. Dialogues, probably last heard only by elder millennials, are used liberally in the ten-part web show directed by Nagesh Kukunoor. Set in 2015 — (why, we wonder, as that neither qualifies it as a period show nor is it contemporary) — City of Dreams is essentially the story of Poornima (Priya Bapat) and Ashish Rao Gaikwad (Siddharth Chandekar), the two children of Ameya Rao Gaikwad (Atul Kulkarni), who’s a prominent political figure in Maharashtra and has eyes on New Delhi. A failed assassination attempt on the senior Gaikwad, which has rendered him comatose, leads to a polarised power-tussle between the petulant, man-child brother, Ashish, and his suave, thinking and even-tempered sister, Poornima. The assassination attempt is described as ‘flashback style’ by the cops — as a throwback to the 90s, and we see that style sporadically rearing its head all through the show.
The aftermath of the assassination brings the other story arcs into the mainstream narrative. The search for the two assailants brings in the disgraced ‘encounter Wasim’ (Eijaz Khan), a police officer who’s seeking to redeem himself and his vardi. Credited for having cleansed Mumbai of the underworld in the late ‘90s, he now rides his Enfield everywhere, wears aviators and has a network of informants that includes the local butcher and bar dancers, who serve as veritable mines of information. Wasim, at one point, mentions that he was discriminated by the department on account of his religion, but it’s not built upon much. There is also the ‘hooker with a heart of gold’, who goes by the name of Katrina and helps out with the good cause, and dispenses pearls of wisdom like “Mumbai ka paisa, Mumbai main hi rehta hai”.
The mesh of dynasty politics, dirty money and power struggles, could have made for some extended binge-watching over the weekend, but, City of Dreams doesn’t deliver on that promise. The characters, for starters, are nothing to write home about. This is a surprise, as Nagesh Kukunoor has given us some memorable ones – including Iqbal (Iqbal, 2005), Rajesh Naidu (Rockford, 1999) and Meera (Dor, 2006). For someone who has been groomed as heir to the Gaikwad empire, Ashish’s hot-tempered stance and over-the-top reactions don’t ring true. Poornima, as the dutiful daughter, who had always sacrificed her own desires, suddenly wakes up. “I want everything that was denied to me not because I was incapable, but because I have a vagina between my legs”, screams Poornima, as she readies to take on the mantle as her father’s successor. And we reel from the impact. The unruly son; the reluctant, but worthier successor; the fallen-from-grace police-officer; and the other array of characters, City of Dreams, brings in nothing new.
Smoking has been used as a recurring motif throughout the show to denote ‘modern’, ‘progressive’ women. Poornima’s friend, who is an actor, smokes, and in her company so does Poornima. The sensuous, sari-clad mystery woman, who has trysts with Purshottam, the accountant of the Gaikwads, too, enjoys a smoke after their sexual interludes. Adding insult to injury, there’s a problematic depiction of sex trade, where Katrina is subjected to repeated violence as a result of her profession.
With Kukunoor as director, the expectations were high from City of Dreams. Even the repeated, but not-needed, ‘strong language, violence, nudity and sex’— used as labels for the show — do nothing to salvage it.
(City of Dreams streams on Hotstar)
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