Interview Entertainment

Nagesh Kukunoor discusses his first web series 'City of Dreams'

Director Nagesh Kukunoor

Director Nagesh Kukunoor   | Photo Credit: K V S Giri

Nagesh Kukunoor discusses his first web series, City of Dreams, a multi-layered narrative set in Maximum City

The first episode of Mayanagari or City of Dreams, sets the stage for a multi-layered story in Mumbai. A veteran political leader (essayed by Atul Kulkarni) is shot, in a manner reminiscent of the 90s’ underworld. A former undercover cop (Eijaz Khan) has to revive his dormant informant networks. He may have the potential to nab the culprits, but will he be allowed to? Meanwhile, the political leader’s hotheaded son (Siddharth Chandekar) is eager to step into his father’s shoes. Unlikely competition comes from his sister (Priya Bapat), who until then has been content being a homemaker. Parallelly, there’s a story of a call centre employee and a sex worker.

At the helm of this web series that will stream on Hotstar from May 3, is writer-director Nagesh Kukunoor. Going by the first three episodes that we got to watch, he presents these stories like a Mumbai insider. The series is primarily in Hindi, and Hotstar has also dubbed it in Marathi, Bengali, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam.

This is the first time the Hyderabad director has filmed a project completely in Mumbai.

Speaking from Vikarabad, near Hyderabad, where he’s shooting his first Telugu feature film, Nagesh states that in his two-decade career, he’s never filmed extensively in Mumbai. “I shot for five days for Bombay to Bangkok and a few days for Aashayein,” he remembers.


Ahead of the curve
  • Nagesh is considered a pioneer of indie cinema in the country. His debut film Hyderabad Blues (1998) embodied that spirit, at a time when the Indian film fraternity hadn’t warmed up to the idea. His exposure to international cinema and television series had made Nagesh contemplate on a series long ago. “I am a huge fan of HBO. They were the trendsetters; Netflix popularised the web series format in recent years. I’ve been wanting to make a series for 15 years, but never had the opportunity,” he reflects.

Cinema to series

Mumbai is Nagesh’s third home, after Hyderabad and the US, where he studied and worked before he turned to filmmaking. “Though I moved out of Hyderabad, I never left my roots,” he says. However, having been in Mumbai in recent years for his film projects, he says he is able to understand the city’s ethos better.

The idea for City of Dreams came from one of Nagesh’s team members, writer Rohit Banawlikar. Nagesh and Rohit co-wrote an anthology of stories, originally intending to make a feature film. However, the film didn’t materialise. “When digital platforms began to grow in India, I felt there was scope for a series,” says Nagesh.

While he says that web series are still in a fledgling stage in India, he understands the potential. Nagesh and Rohit returned to writing, converting their film script into a series. They wrote for 15 months, beginning August 2017. The director concedes that writing a series is a long-drawn process: “In a series, you can’t hide behind gimmicks. The writing has to be terrific to keep viewers hooked to each episode that typically spans 40 to 45 minutes.” City of Dreams will have 10 episodes in its first season, with scope for more seasons.

Discussing Mumbai, Nagesh says it’s a city of extremes. “When you live in a city, you understand its vibe better. While we were absorbing the multiple layers of Mumbai, Rohit and I had to decide what stories we wanted to share in the first season. The story of a political family is the core and it’s completely fictional, with no references to real personalities; I also wanted to look at urban loneliness,” he says, referring to the track where a call centre employee ends up pitching a loan to a sex worker, and an unlikely bond develops. “People live in cramped homes in this overcrowded city but can feel absolutely lonely.”

Native flavour

He chose Marathi-speaking actors for the key characters and reasons, “I felt it would be authentic to have Marathi-speaking actors for a political family in Mumbai. These actors have a distinct accent and slip into Marathi words with ease. My assistant director Shruti Mahajan introduced me to a bunch of terrific actors from Marathi cinema, and I was blown away.”

However, he admits that he wasn’t too happy with the experience of filming in Mumbai. “It’s the worst city I’ve filmed in,” he says, not mincing words. Judging by his favourite locations, Nagesh tends to enjoy shooting in the middle of nowhere — for instance, Dor was in the deep interiors of Rajasthan, and his Telugu film is underway in Vikarabad. Mumbai, he says, “is noisy, the studios are always booked, everything is overpriced since many film units shoot here, and it took an hour and a half to commute to the sets each way.”

The shooting schedule too, he says, was brutal. Unlike a couple of other recent Indian series that had two or more directors on board, Nagesh chose to direct the entire series himself: “Every frame was directed by me. We would shoot one episode in eight days; I would consider two episodes to be the length of a film, and to shoot that in 16 days wasn’t easy,” he says.

Telugu film

The conversation veers towards his first Telugu feature film. He says, “In the last couple of years I’ve been thinking of doing a Telugu film. After the long schedules for City of Dreams, I wanted to do a quick feature film.” The film stars Keerthy Suresh, Aadhi Pinnisetty and Rahul Ramakrishna. But Nagesh won’t reveal any more information. Not even the title. “You know that I always have a title when I start writing a script,” he says, adding with a laugh, “They (the producers) don’t want me to reveal it now. It’s a marketing strategy.”

City of Dreams streams on Hotstar beginning May 3.

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Printable version | Apr 6, 2020 2:58:12 PM |

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