Citylights: Weak content, strong acting

May 31, 2014 04:59 pm | Updated 05:03 pm IST - chennai:

Remakes are always tricky. More so if the sensibilities of the producer, the director and the original material are all poles apart.

The Bhatts want their music and melodrama, Hansal Mehta wants his gritty realism, and the original is all about restraint and subtlety. You have to pick a side and spin the remake around one of these three drastically different treatments.

But director Hansal Mehta attempts to find a middle path in the official remake of the absolutely gripping British-Filipino thriller Metro Manila . And succeeds, somewhat.

The broad strokes do take away a lot of the detail, and the brilliance of the original lay in those masterful touches of class and heart. In Metro Manila , the protagonist Oscar takes up a dangerous job of driving armoured trucks carrying little vaults of high value consignments not to broadly “earn for the family” but for a very specific reason. When he is asked why he needs the job, he tells them the truth: My daughter has a toothache. It was as simple as that. That’s how much the man loved his family. A toothache was enough to make him sign up. Bollywood reasoning: Toothache pushing man to take a dangerous job? How silly!

In the remake, there’s no reason except blanket poverty. Just the good old cliché of villagers getting conned in the city and striking deals with the devil. The husband signs up with a deadly high-risk security agency, while the wife goes to a dance bar. Both run by stereotypical villain types because this is a Bollywood film. While the original gave even the greyest of characters human shades (like the head of the security agency lends the hero some cash despite suspending him till the insurance investigation is done after a hold-up), bad guys here are completely one-dimensional. Bollywood reasoning: If he’s the villain, he must not help in any way. Or have any redeeming quality.

When the mentor-partner gives the villager a place to stay, he puts in a poster of the hills to remind him of his home-town — a lovely little nuance that’s completely lost here. Bollywood reasoning: Why unnecessary detailing? What will the audience do with all that extra niceness once we have established that the partner had a good heart?

Be it that poignant little story of Alfred Santos or the genuinely funny joke the hero narrates during his job interview, the original sparkled with brilliant writing, philosophical depth, spectacular imagery and captured the angst of the great divide between the rich and the working class.

An interview joke in Metro Manila makes a statement about interviewing criteria itself. Fully meta. Citylights replaces it with a two-line PJ. Bollywood reasoning: Our audience won’t get meta-jokes.

The good news is that this rather weak adaptation in content is made rather watchable by solid performances from the cast. Director Hansal Mehta knows to extract the best from his actors and this fresh cast, led by Rajkummar Rao, newcomer Patralekha, and a promising Manav Kaul, lends the film a lot of warmth, improvisation and sincerity in spite of the manufactured earworm nature of the Bhatt-film score template (one catchy melody picturised to sex and kissing scenes that keeps cropping up during different moods all through the film)

But full points to the makers to give credit where it’s due and mention the original at least half a dozen times in the credits. That’s integrity.

Now, if only the film itself was a little less manipulative.

Genre: Thriller

Director: Hansal Mehta

Cast: Rajkummar Rao, Patralekha, Manav Kaul

Storyline: A straightforward villager finds adapting to the big bad city and the wait till pay day a formidable task with betrayals, tragedy and danger lurking around the corner in his new job as a security guard

Bottomline: A decent, harmless but toothless remake of the brilliant Filipino film Metro Manila

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