Let's hear it for Mahesh Manjrekar. He's made a film with no star to speak of, but supremely able actors. He's looked back into history and unearthed the story of how private mill owners abused a generation of mill workers and sold the latter's souls to humiliating poverty. And he's made sure you never look at the malls that rose from the mills in Mumbai, the same way again.
This is not a popcorn weekend watch. It has elements of extreme disquiet - of how violence lurks deep and vicious in the mind of a 12-year-old. Of how it is so easy to kill a friend or hang a 6-year-old daughter because you are just so hungry and there is no hope. And of how every time you think you are in control, you are so not.
City Of Gold is about poverty as lived by the Dhuri family: how a miller worker forced to take voluntary retirement, and his family - wife (Seema Biswas) and three children - struggle, and how each wages a war at great personal loss trying, in their own naïve yet brave way, to bring home some happiness and money. It is about how since 1982 some stalwart mill workers who may have lost their all, have still retained their faith in the legal system of the country, and continue to wait for a positive verdict.
Set in the environs of Laxmi Chawl, the film twists and turns for 140 minutes weaving a saga of loss, lament and exploitation as seen in the homes of increasingly despondent mill workers, who have been forced out of their jobs because the owners - the Khetan family, fronted by a brash, power hungry son-in-law (Sameer Dharmadhikari) - want to sell the mill land to make malls and other lifestyle accessories for the rich and the famous.
The real camera technique makes the chawl life that much more gritty and dirty, and Manjrekar, just like the Marathi nautanki, which is what the film starts with, does not shy away from loud, obvious, and melodramatic moments in the film, even though you wish for a bit more restraint in some scenes.
It is impossible to love the film as it is impossible to say it was time-pass. It is definitely worth watching for good to great performances all around - Satish Kaushik as Mamu being cuckold and yet being a man about it since his wife of 12 years can finally become a mother; Veena Jamkar as Manju losing her virginity and her faith in men as providers; Seema Biswas as Ai that keeps the fragile family together; Vineet Singh as Mohan, the son that doesn't amount to much; Karan Patel as Naru, the hot-headed, quick-fisted son that turns Bhai; his motley crew of four chillingly young carrom-playing, beer-drinking assassins; and Sachin Khedekar as Rane, the union leader who still believes that all his trials will bear fruit with the workers getting their due.
Lots of new fresh faces, great character sketches, some decent writing and no songs apart from the opening one (which should have been edited out) - overall, see this film. There is a lot of heart in it, even if needed to beat a little less heavily than it did.