City of Dreams review: Not a good enough reason to renew your Hotstar subscription post Game of Thrones
City of Dreams
Director - Nagesh Kukunoor
Cast - Priya Bapat, Siddharth Chandekar, Atul Kulkarni, Eijaz Khan
Rating - 2/5
Over the years, many filmmakers have drunk from the Godfather’s well. It’s a story with such universal appeal - it has that unique mixture of masalas that Bollywood loves so much - that it’s slightly surprising that we don’t see a rip-off every year.
City of Dreams, Hotstar’s second dramatic offering as part of its ‘Specials’ slate, opens with a political assassination. Amay Rao Gaekwad is purchasing his favourite paan from Nariman Point, when a couple of goons wanting a taste of the ‘supari’ ride up alongside his car and put three bullets in his back. Gaekwad had sensed the incoming danger; he’d tried to duck for cover, while his slovenly bodyguard fumbled with his gun. But before he could shield himself, the goons had hit their target.
Watch the City of Dreams trailer
It’s the moment that sets the story in motion, just like a similar scene did in the Godfather - only the blood oranges have been replaced by a gallon of spilled milk.
Gaekwad was - or is, at least in the three episodes that were provided for preview - a controversial figure. He isn’t the Chief Minister, but that hasn’t stopped his fringe right-wing party from accumulating loyal support, especially in Maharashtra. Gaekwad’s bigoted ideas about Muslims are vaguely alluded to, and on one occasion, he is referred to as a ‘tiger’.
One of the individuals who experienced first-hand the wrath of Gaekwad’s divisive politics was Inspector Wasim Khan, who despite repeated warnings decides to take it upon himself to find the culprits behind the assassination attempt. This is just one of the several intersecting plot lines that weave in and out of City of Dreams.
The most prominent one deals with the relationship between Gaekwad’s two children - his Sonny Corleone-esque hothead of a son, and the more calculating daughter, who has successfully distanced herself from the ‘family business’. But in this grave moment, when the entire Gaekwad dynasty is at stake, it is suggested that she be presented as the face of the family. It has the makings of a compelling sibling rivalry - the son has assumed that he is the obvious successor, for no apparent reason other than the indisputable fact that is a man. And despite what she tells herself, the daughter finds a certain thrill in politics that her mundane life of domesticity can hardly provide.
This nifty flip of gender roles is one of the most interesting ideas that writer/director Nagesh Kukunoor has had - despite the show’s rather annoying tendency to flirt with intriguing possibilities and swiftly swerve away. For instance, simply calling Gaekwad ‘controversial’ and not taking any further stance is hardly brave, especially in an age when Sacred Games has shown how far the boundaries can be pushed.
It’s a similar situation with all the Godfather nods. The act of plagiarism is infuriating in itself, but at least RGV had the decency to do something with the loot after he’d put in the effort of stealing it. City of Dreams, instead, chooses to simply sit on it, and waits to be found out.
It was a poor decision to launch the Hotstar Specials slate with a remake of a foreign show, but it could be argued that it made business sense. More importantly, Criminal Justice was actually quite good, with enough new elements to justify its existence. But to produce yet another unoriginal programme immediately after the first one is pushing your luck too far - especially when there’s no excuse for the leading streaming platform in the country to have made something that looks this cheap.
They’re pouncing on the market like a vultures on a carcass right now. But only the fittest will survive once this feeding frenzy is over. City of Dreams is simply a necessary evil, a means to an end. At best, it’s something to watch while the prime time news becomes too shrill to bear, at worse it’s a reason to agree with Salman Khan’s opinion on online streaming.