By Subhash K. Jha
Film: "City Of Gold"; Director: Mahesh Manjrekar; Cast: Seema Biswas, Karan Patel, Ankush Chowdhary, Satish Kaushik and Kashmira Shah; Rating: ***1/2
There is no room for artifice in Mahesh Manjrekar's latest work. A raw, gritty look at the world of the ravaged, "City Of Gold" is as powerful in portraying a bereft working class as "Molly Maguires" was about Irish mine workers... Except for the fact that there is no room for pretty visuals in "City Of Gold".
Manjrekar's chawl-life, captured on camera with merciless frankness by Ajit Reddy, is a bleak world of dreamers and losers who are often the one and the same. His heroes (if we may call the young characters that) are offered no hope of solace or redemption. This is the side of the slum that Danny Boyle missed when he made "Slumdog Millionaire".
"City Of Gold" is neither stylish nor swanky enough to attract elitist readings of poverty. Fiercely radical in thought and intensely socialistic in execution, the film plunges beneath the poverty line to emerge with characters whose despair is not an act for the camera. The sweat and grime, the corruption and crime are characters of their own in Manjrekar's chaotic world.
Mumbai never looked murkier and less inviting.
Taking a panoramic look at the lives of thousands of mill workers in Mumbai who went on an indefinite strike in 1982 is like trying to hold the ocean in a tea cup. Manjrekar, in what could easily be rated as his finest, most cogent work to date, does just that.
He holds a universe in the eye of the camera. It is a world of the doomed and damned, no frills attached.
His return to fine form and the enrapturing energy level that sweeps across a multitude of lives without trivializing any of the characters are reasons enough to celebrate the joys of neo-realistic cinema.
But wait... "City Of Gold" not only marks the return of a storyteller who tells it like it is, without the comfort of shortcuts. It's also a macroscopic look at people who populate the fringes. Their silent protests are seldom heard in cinema.
Not for a second do we feel any comforting distance from the misery of Manjrekar's characters.
Manjrekar shoots his characters' emotions in tight, comprehensive close-ups but wastes no time shedding excessive tears over their lives. The editor (Sarvesh Parab) cuts the raw material with ruthless economy, leaving no room for humbug and certainly no space for commercial embellishments.
So the question, what happened to those thousands of mill workers who were overnight rendered bankrupt after the mills closed down? You will find some uncomfortable answers in "City Of Gold". But most of the time you will be faced with questions about the quality of life we choose to hand over to those who are economically and emotionally weak.
Would this film have worked without the actors who don't look like they are facing a camera? The whole batallion of characters flicker to life as though they were a part of an extended family shot by hidden cameras for a reality show.
Television actor Karan Patel as the youngest scion of Manjrekar's troubled family is a revelation. He portrays pain, humiliation, angst, compromise and anger with complete authority.