City Of Gold
Director: Mahesh Manjrekar
Actors: Sachin Khedekar, Seema Biswas
The film’s title City of Gold is an obviously intended pun on the Brazilian gangster cracker City Of God (2002). The film itself appears a remake of movies Mahesh Manjrekar’s himself produced or directed before (Praan Jaaye Par Shaan Na Jaaye, Kurukshetra etc)
The setting is the Mumbai ‘chawl’ – the city’s infamous shabby constructions with little ‘kholis’ (boxes) on either floor that usually house hundreds, often packing in half a dozen to each room. A common toilet and a shared open space bring everyone together. Intimacy of such nature will inevitably produce friction of some kind. The families in this film work the cloth mills in their neighbourhood.
‘Chawl flicks’ usually concern gossip or comedy around what this movie calls the “phateechar log” (tattered tattlers). Sai Paranjpe’s Katha (1983) is my personal favourite. Or it makes for street crime and gang war: Manjrekar’s Vaastav (1999) remains an inspired work of true brilliance. This one attempts a bit of both.
It pretends however to narrate the history of Bombay: a ghinauna sach (dirty truth) behind a city of gold – a Gangs Of New York, as it were. Tough luck. That’s all in the sell. Even the history of the minima within the maximum city they talk of, tiny pockets around mid-town – Lalbaug, Parel, Deslisle Road – is, to this date, history under construction.
The year on the screen is supposedly 1982, when some may recall (though this film doesn’t mention), the cloth mills of Bombay had shut shop for two years. Striking workers were organised under a unionist and medical doctor Datta Samant, whose personal ideologies were yet unknown. The unions demanded an increase in minimum wages by about Rs 200. The management refused to budge an inch.
The mill worker here, the father, is yet to receive his retirement benefits from a Khaitan Mills he worked for. One of his sons joins the local organised crime as a hit-man (Karan Patel; appears worth watching out for). The other one bums around eyeing a young aunt. The daughter takes to prostitution. The eldest one, the narrator, struggles it out as an aspiring playwright.
Never mind a generic trivialisation of an important mill workers’ issue, though that's disturbing enough. You’d imagine at least the family’s backdrop is essential to this plot. It isn’t. These angry young men, the ‘lukhas’ and Packiyas of the grimy world, playin’ carom, shootin’ the wind, could exist in any bombastic film such as this, without any burden of context. It’d still work. Violence and catharsis is essentially the point. The moment a worker lands a tight one across a blood-sucking capitalist’s face, you can tell, is the stuff of immediate applause.
‘70s Bollywood made for many such moments. Some over-analysed those movies as some liberating response to the general disenchantment of young India against its failing political system - before and after the Emergency! Yeah; right.
Pop-psychology is fun, though usually suspect. Those seemed just smart angry, action dramas. Masses love the convenience of poetic justice still. They just find them more in their regional cinema, or hits like Wanted or Ghajini. I’m not surprised this one got released, dubbed in Marathi first.