The new season of City of Dreams has more cooks and greater servings of broth. What the 10-episode Disney+ Hotstar series lacks is the ability to reheat familiar themes and serve them up in a manner that masks the staleness.
City of Dreams has been created and directed by Nagesh Kukunoor and co-written by him and Rohit Banawlikar. Randeep Jha and Supriya Sharma serve as co-directors for the second season.
The first edition from 2019 revolved around frontal attacks and back stabs, challenges and ripostes. An attempt on the life of Maharashtra’s chief minister Ameya Rao Gaikwad (Atul Kulkarni) leads to an internecine war between his ambitious and intelligent daughter Poornima (Priya Bapat) and his drug-addled and impetuous son Ashish (Siddharth Chandekar).
After a tortuous turn of events, Poornima gains the upper hand. She has her brother killed, sidelines her incapacitated father, and takes charge of the party and the state. Her co-conspirators include minister Jagdish Gurav (Sachin Pilgaonkar), former police officer Wasim Khan (Eijaz Khan) and money manager Purushottam (Sandeep Kulkarni).
That Poornima won’t have it easy is suggested by the last scene of the first season, in which influential businessman Ramnik (Shishir Sharma) snickers at a video of the bisexual Poornima with her occasional lover. Other incriminating videos and photographs conveniently surface in the second season whenever the makers want to stir the pot – which is in every other scene.
There isn’t a moment of respite. Ameya frets and festers even as Poornima rules as interim chief minister. Poornima has Macbethian nightmares of her brother’s murder. There are new headaches in the form of a rebellious son and the fiery youth leader Mahesh (Adinath Kothare).
Wasim has traded khaki for the politician’s white threads, but finds that statecraft is more complicated than police work. The accountant Purushottam similarly learns that skeletons in the closet – also the title of one of the episodes – never stop rattling. Purushottam’s old inamorata Asha (Flora Saini) returns with an impressive collection of padded lace bras and a mission to retrieve the slush money that is used to run Poornima’s party.
Asha has been sent on the orders of the gangster Jagan (Sushant Singh), who is among the characters in the show with an enviable sex life. A separate track is devoted to Ramnik’s daughter Tanya (Shriyam Bhagnani), the fiancee of playboy construction magnate Arvind (Ankur Rathee).
Flashbacks reveal more of Ameya’s origins as well as the roots of Poornima’s disillusionment with her father. In the present, Ameya comes up with a dastardly plan to ruin Poornima’s attempts to be a fair and just chief minister.
It’s nasty, brutish and very long, with the dreary promise of more seasons. Despite sharp performances and some memorable characters, the series provides a barely plausible chronicle of a cynical and venal power struggle. Set in Mumbai and unfolding mainly indoors, City of Dreams resorts to time-tested formulaic elements to maintain its episode count. Like pawns on a chessboard, engaging characters are sacrificed just to ensure that other, less interesting ones, survive.
Commenting on the latest scandal to engulf Poornima’s government, her rival Mahesh observes that a revolution isn’t possible because voters have exceedingly short memories. Despite having a pendant shaped like the hammer and sickle, the apparently Leftist Mahesh is among the denizens of City of Dreams who has an important role to play but not enough material to work with.
The most engrossing characters are the ones at the mercy of familial obligations. Priya Bapat continues to excel as the pragmatic and yet idealistic Poornima. Atul Kulkarni is a hoot as the monster dad who stoops to conquer. Sachin Pilgaonkar, Eijaz Khan and Adinath Kothare stand out in the melee.
The hokey sub-plot of Ramnik’s daughter Tanya and future son-in-law is salvaged by Shriyam Bhagnani’s endearing performance. The feisty and independent-minded Tanya is a worthy foil to both her dissolute fiance and her blackmailing father. Poornima strives to prove herself in a mostly male world, but it’s Tanya who emerges as the second season’s most noteworthy female character.