In its opening credits, the maker mentions that it’s an adaptation of the 2013 British-Filipino crime drama Metro Manila by Sean Ellis. But Hansal Mehta’s adaptation of the story would resonate with anyone who knows someone or themselves have had to leave their small towns and cities and come to the metros in search of a better life. CityLights is, in a way, everyone’s story.

Actors Rajkummar Rao and Patralekha – who play the Rajasthani couple that move to the city, so beautifully merge as the everyday migrants we meet. Their love and desire to work towards a livelihood and need to go on, were deftly portrayed by both these powerhouse performers. I loved Manav Kaul’s character as well. Despite his shades of grey, he comes across as much a victim of situations as Rajkummar. What a beautiful transition from his role as a Hindu fundamentalist in Kai Po Che.

Cinematographer Dev Agarwal uses minimal lighting to create the mood of the film. Though there’s scarce use of lights, the cinematic experience is rich. The camera moves in a way that determines the varying pace of the film and the music literally pierces through your heart. This song (below) and its lyrics were particularly moving:

‘Sone do…Khwab bone do…

Jaagenge, Phir Thaamenge,

Koi Wajah Jeene Ki
Sone Do, Khwaab Bone Do
Hmm Sone Do, Khwaab Bone Do

Parchhaayi Ke Peechhe Peechhe, Bhaag Raha Hai Mann
Chaand Ko Mutthi Mein Bharne Ko, Karta Roz Jatan
Pyaase Se, Iss Panchhi Ko, Koi Nadi, Milne Do Na
Sone Do, Khwaab Bone Do
Sone Do, Khwaab Bone Do’

CityLights with its pathos, will make your eyes go moist but don’t be fooled to think of it as a negative, depressing tale of our times. In fact it is a very hopeful story. It is a love story. A love so potent that it will make you do the unthinkable to protect your loved ones and give them a better life. The film will urge you to be aware of the battle people face every day. It urges you to be compassionate towards fellow human beings.

It made me think of Rajjo, my maid who is a North East immigrant. She along with her husband and kids came to the city a few months ago in search of a livelihood. They have no papers, no money, no house to fall back upon. They were brought here by a construction contractor along with many others from their village.  There is a skyscraper being built near Fun Republic in Andheri West. These people live and work there. Their women work in the neighbourhood buildings. Rajjo once mentioned how they paid Rs 20 to the building watchmen and promised them Rs 50 every month, if they got them work in the societies. Some of them, including Rajjo, have small kids who can’t be left alone while their mothers go to work. So they found a group of old men and women who run a day care centre where many of these maids leave their kids for Rs 100 a month. It’s not the best place to leave kids but they have little choice.

When Rajjo came here, she didn’t even know how to use a pressure cooker or switch on the gas. She had never used a knife in her life. They cut vegetables on a moon shaped cutter in their village. But she was a fast learner and wanted work. She would stand like a child in glee learning how these things work, things we thought were basic everyday items. It took her some time to pick up the essentials and it helped that she’s a decent cook. One day she came visibly disturbed but went about her work in a normal way. We asked her if she was okay and she nodded. It took some cajoling to get her to talk. Apparently, her brother had fallen off from one of those under construction buildings while working there. He had been taken to the hospital but was serious. These guys had no money to afford an operation and since everyone was working they had to leave him there to return to their respective jobs. By the grace of God the builder paid the hospital bills but the man lost his job. She wasn’t crying when she narrated this incident. She didn’t say this to extract money from us. She was sad in a very matter-of-fact manner. She even reprimanded us for having wasted 20 minutes of her time because she had six more houses to go to work for. She just got up and left, just like that, never to mention it again. This is just one of the stories she told us.

But there are, in our everyday life, several nameless, faceless people who help make the everyday metro existence liveable. These, more often than not, are migrants from smaller towns who come to the city in search of a better life. They are your drivers, maids, cooks, security guards, mall loo cleaners, attendants, security guards, construction workers, rickshaw drivers. They are an essential part that keeps the grid running. They don’t need your monetarily help. Just be nice to them. Don’t insult or humiliate them. Don’t throw your anger or life’s frustrations on them just because you have the power to pay them.

You may not be the poorest of the poor, you may not have experienced hunger – not the I am hungry at two a.m. – hunger, but – there’s no food and no promise of food for the day or many days to come – hunger. You may not have known what it means to live with no money but if you have ever faced adversity in life, where hope seems little and yet you work towards a better tomorrow, this film will tug at your heart strings.

-Priyanka Jain

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