'City of Dreams 2' Review: Atul Kulkarni, Priya Bapat, and Eijaz Khan bring their A-game to the series

A Potpourri of Vestiges Review

By Murtaza Ali Khan

After surprising everyone with a highly unpredictable opening season, full of twists and turns, City of Dreams is back on Disney+ Hotstar with a considerably bigger canvas for its second season. Now, the first season introduced us to the powerful Gaikwad family. After Ameya Rao Gaikwad (Atul Kulkarni) was shot thrice by unknown assailants in the middle of the day, a brutal fight ensued between his son and daughter, both desperate to replace Ameya Rao. It ended with the murder of his son, Ashish. Subsequently, his daughter, Poornima (Priya Bapat), got appointed as interim Chief Minister of the state. But the wounded patriarch disapproved Poornima’s ascension to power and threatened to kill her. That’s where the first season had ended.

City of Dreams 2 picks up a few months after the events of the first season. Even as Poornima continues to dream about her dead brother out of pure guilt she is in no mood to give away the power that she has wrested following a long struggle. With each passing day she is becoming more and more seasoned (read manipulative). She may have been a young upstart once but now she is a fast emerging grandmaster who seems pretty sure about her every movie. Wasim Khan (Eijaz Khan), the encounter specialist, who had helped her get rid of her brother, has been awarded with a party ticket. The other players two have been maneuvered well on the chess board. Even her brand of politics is far more inclusive than her father’s and so she naturally appeals to the minorities unlike her father who practiced majoritarian politics all his life.       

Now, about 6-7 years ago, I had gone to Bengaluru for a job interview and there in a local paper I came across an article about Atul Kulkarni who had been working in Sandalwood (Kannada Film Industry) at the time. Now, having seen him in films like Hey Ram and Rang De Basanti, I somewhere felt that the Mumbai industry had let him down. At one level I was happy that finally he was getting his due while working in Sandalwood. And yet a part of me was greatly disappointed wondering why Bollywood often failed to nurture powerhouse performers like Kulkarni. Over the years whenever he has been presented with an opportunity to showcase his talent he has never disappointed. Had he been working in Hollywood he would have already won at least two Academy Awards. That’s how talented Kulkarni really is. Today, at last the web is doing some justice to his prodigious acting talents. Now, Amey Rao Gaikwad isn’t an easy character to play but Kulkarni makes it look so easy. What most people fail to realize is that in the hands of a lesser actor, Amey Rao would have most probably looked like some caricature. But Kulkarni makes the character look very real. Yes, Nagesh Kukunoor has given the character a sort of a dated quality but Kulkarni makes Amey Rao look far more realistic than say a Subhash Nagare (Sarkar) or a Baapji (Narsimha).

In many ways, City of Dreams is as much about the rise of Poornima Gaikwad in politics as it is about the rise of Priya Bapat in the OTT space. Prior to City of Dreams, Bapat’s work was mostly limited to Marathi film and television. But it all changed after City of Dreams. Since the first season of the Nagesh Kukunoor show debuted back in 2019, Bapat’s popularity has grown considerably. Her reach is no longer limited to a regional industry and today she enjoys a pan India following. Now, it’s usually very difficult for an actor working in one of the regional industries to get a powerful role like Poornima Gaikward. But the web makes it possible for creators to try out new things and Bapat’s casting as Poornima has certainly proven to be an inspired one. Another similar example that comes to mind is that of Pratik Gandhi who was quite content with his work in the Gujarati film and theatre before Scam 1992 established him as an actor with a pan India fanbase.

As for Bapat, there is no denying that she has tremendously grown in confidence as a performer with the success of City of Dreams and the confidence only seems to have rubbed off on Poornima of City of Dreams 2 and it greatly works to the advantage of Poornima’s character arc. Bapat gets great support from the rest of the cast. Eijaz Khan deserves a special mention for bringing a new side to his Wasim Khan. Big Boss seems to have done wonders to him, both personally as well as professionally. Also, Sushant Singh is wonderful to watch as Anna. The veteran actor succeeds in making the character look fiendishly menacing. Flora Saini’s femme fatale is again fun to watch. Unfortunately, Nagesh Kukunoor doesn’t excite us anymore the way he once used to. City of Dreams 2 is far from being his best work but the brilliant performances on offer make it binge-worthy.

A version of this review was first published in The Daily Guardian.

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