What startsÂ off seemingÂ to beÂ a takeoff on Mani RatnamâsÂ most recent political drama Chekka Chivantha Vaanam turns into an engrossing cracklingÂ cat-and-mouse dramaÂ about a politicalÂ empire in Maharashtra whereÂ siblings squabble for power after the patriarch(Atul Kulkarni) isÂ gunned down.
Straightaway, City Of Dreams encircles aÂ clusterÂ of power-hungry characters whose motives areÂ never cogent let alone comprehensible. There isÂ always a senseÂ ofÂ more going onÂ here than meetsÂ the eye.Writers-directors Nagesh Kukunoor, Rohit Banawalikar peel of layers after layers of subterfuge to reveal a system of governance thatÂ thrives onÂ corruption andÂ deception.
Deftly inter-woven, theÂ plot moves inÂ mysterious ways embracing characters whoÂ are atÂ onceÂ cunning and naÃ¯ve. TheÂ aforementionedÂ wounded politicianâsÂ daughter Poornima (a very lovely and emotionallyÂ empoweredÂ Priya Bapat) fightsÂ it out withÂ her out-of-control debauched brotherÂ Ashish (SiddharthÂ Chandekar, forceful).
The two actors playÂ off against one another withÂ controlledÂ acerbity, bringing out Shakespearean levels of power-greedÂ asÂ the plot unfoldsÂ inÂ a gripping gameÂ of one-upmanship. Priya Bapat is speciallyÂ effective, negotiating theÂ power spaces that her father has vacated withÂ guarded velocity.
In one sequenceÂ PoornimaÂ GaekwadÂ accompaniedÂ byÂ the family advisor(Jiten Pandya)Â meetsÂ a business benefactor friendÂ of her father whoÂ informs her in very crude words, that heâsÂ readyÂ toÂ beÂ ravaged inÂ the missionaryÂ position but wonât be sodomised.
âAage se ya peeche se, aapka faisla,â the seemingly pertÂ politician-daughter rejoins. Much to our as well her own shock.
The characterÂ shock themselves with their sudden swerve into sleaze , noneÂ more than Sandeep Kulkarni playing the political familyâs money launderer. Playing a placidÂ family-man withÂ crippling financialÂ liabilities (money launderer withÂ no money: get theÂ irony)Â he cultivates a secret life where he watchesÂ âSunnyâ(as in Leone) inÂ Badan Part 4Â and befriendsÂ a mysteriousÂ seductress. Kulkarni bringsÂ out the frightening stillnessÂ that defines his characterâs existence.
Not one to go down without aÂ fightÂ is AjazÂ KhanâsÂ burnt-out encounter-cop act. He is aÂ once-powerful manÂ now forced to look at his patheticÂ personal andÂ professional life straight in the eye. The partÂ is memorably written. AndÂ Ajaz Khan makesÂ theÂ best of, though he could haveÂ mumbled hisÂ linesÂ more coherently. TheÂ problem with being Marlon Brando is, we donât know what heâs saying.
The series has some striking threadsÂ of plotting, fluttering across theÂ episodesÂ with inviting assuredness. MyÂ favourite is the loan agent Gautam (wonderfullyÂ playedÂ by Vishwas Kini)Â and his unlikely telephonic friendship with the brutalized sex worker who calls herself Katrina (Amrita Bagchi). ThereÂ is potential in thisÂ friendship for aÂ full-fledged feature film.
City Of Dreams focuses notÂ so much on the cityÂ of Mumbai as itsÂ ambitious power-hungry charactersÂ whose yearnings spill into a bloodbath .This isÂ a well-writtenÂ finely-performedÂ web seriesÂ withÂ significant recall-value.
The writing is bold andÂ effective never afraid to call outÂ its characterâs flaws, noÂ matter how embarrassing. AtÂ one point when the two siblings squabbleÂ over their fatherâs political throne,the brother tells his sister, âI am not willing to be Manmohan Singh to your Sonia Gandhi.â Politics never seemedÂ more interesting. And farcical.