Manjerakar’s take on this critical era in Mumbai’s history is diluted by uneven writing, excessive melodrama, feeble attempts at comedy and an inane ending, which undermines everything that has gone before. The film-maker completely reinvents himself with City of Gold: a hard-hitting, intense, unapologetic, yet heart-warming documentation of what the changing skyline of Mumbai has actually entailed. Manjrekar persuasively highlights the piteous and penniless plight of millworkers; he touches the politics of the plot only peripherally thereby losing on the immense potential of tapping the capitalist corruption that led to the collapse of an entire culture.
Screenplay by Jayant Pawar and Mahesh Manjrekar is character-driven with the story branching out into several subplots through each character. Manjrekar’s obsession with the underworld shows off as the narrative gives more importance to the origin of organized crime in Mumbai than the core conflict of mills. Watch the hungry, hopeless chawl kids frolic with violence in near-orgiastic glee and you'll get the Goosebumps like never before! The relationships, the violence, the language depicted in the film may shake you intermittently from your comfort zone. And it is these sequences, honestly, that are the mainstay of the enterprise. There's no denying that Manjrekar leaves an indelible impression in several sequences.
But there are also parts of the film that flit between exceedingly melodramatic and impossibly exaggerated, and after a point the director's grim, cynical and utterly despondent perspective fails to ring true. He is unable to find the right narrative tone for this difficult material. He begins on track but somewhere along loses grip and instead of focusing on mill workers and their plight, he moves off, and takes cinematic liberties focusing more on crime and more crime. It feels like the director can’t decide whether he wants to go for hard-hitting realism or over-the-top exaggeration and so he gives us generous helpings of both.
But he must be given credit for paying due attention to detail. The entire film is set indoors and the era has been re-created painstakingly. 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 in what could easily be rated as his finest most cogent work to date. He holds a universe in the eye of the camera. Manjrekar's expansive canvas dares to capture this entire socio-economic battle that scarred the soul of the city in the 1980s. Its world of the doomed and damned, no frills attached.
So, final rating:
2.5 / 5