“Itne saare chehre hain
Aur tanha sab ke sab
Tere shehar ka kaam hai chalna
Yun hi bematlab”
He wants to see his family happy. He wants to see them content. From a small village in Rajasthan to a city like Mumbai where you can barely see the stars, Deepak (Rajkumar Rao) and Rakhi (Patralekhaa) take a plunge that changes their lives forever, just like the many who come to Mumbai every day trying to make their place in the maze of dreams, trying to find a foothold in the moving sands. He was a driver in the Army before he set up a small shop in Rajasthan, that he was forced to leave, failing to pay his debtors. He reaches Mumbai with Rakhi and his 5-year-old daughter, promising them a good life and in the city ‘jahaan samundar bhi hota hai‘. From the moment he sets foot in the city, his life keeps shuffling between expectations and disappointments. Rakhi falls prey to the city’s hunger and more so, her daughter’s starvation and takes up work, dancing in a bar. After being duped, living on the street and in an under construction flat, Deepak gets a job at a security firm, that from the beginning looks like a very cheesy affair. But of course, that is the thing about being an outsider. You don’t know what is going to be the end of you.
Let’s talk about performances and when we do, let’s talk about the ability of a debutante to get you so involved in her character that you start thinking like her, you want to reach out and help her. That is Patralekhaa for you. The girl has completely lost herself in being Rakhi and has given the most commendable debut performance I have ever seen. Rajkumar Rao is at his best, we all know he is outstanding. A common man whose world begins and ends with his wife and daughter, his anxiety, his helplessness makes you quiver. But his performance would not have been complete if Rakhi was a weak character.
Their character development is slow, but it is the right kind of transition. When they come to Mumbai, they are not prepared to work their way into this urban jungle but eventually, you will see that they are not who they came as, that they had absorbed the jazz of the city lights and their shadows belonged to Mumbai. Hansal Mehta has two beautifully evolving characters that grow with time and learn to look at the world around them more cautiously and he has the perfect combination of simple yet powerful actors who carry the load of their character sketches perfectly.
There is a scene where Rakhi goes to meet the bar owner for a job, and he ‘tests’ her for the job. The scene literally rips you apart because it depicts the ruthlessness of the city, of how mechanical everything is around here. Then there’s the insecurity of a husband who sees his wife doll up just to make enough money to fill their stomachs. And there’s his helplessness in not being able to do anything about it. This brings forth the difficulties and that feeling of being torn between despair and hope faced by millions of people in this city. The background score compliments the scenes well and Arijit Singh‘s Muskuraane Ki Wajah makes your heart skip a beat every time you pin the song against Rajkumar’s facial expressions.
The concept of the film is common and a little cliché because we know that there is a story behind every person attempting to keep up with the pace of the city. But what makes Citylights stand out is the blatant ugliness of mankind that is brought out and thrown at you. It makes you cringe, it makes you look away but not because of its dramatics and dark nights but because you know what you are seeing is the truth. It may be a remake of Metro Manila but for an audience that needs to see a transparent picture of the society that they breathe it, Citylights is Mumbai’s reality check.