In streaming platform Hotstar’s third original series City of Dreams, siblings battle for the throne after an assassination attempt on their politician father. The bid to kill Ameya Gaikwad (Atul Kulkarni) leads to a bitter succession war between his son Ashish (Siddharth Chandekar) and daughter Poornima (Priya Bapat).

Also involved are Maharashtra chief minister Jagdish Gurav (Sachin Pilgaonkar), who is close to the Gaikwads, and a police officer, Wasim (Eijaz Khan).

The Gaikwads may well be the Thackerays of Maharashtra or the Yadavs of Uttar Pradesh, but any resemblance is pure coincidence, series director and co-writer Nagesh Kukunoor said. “I do understand that in India, everyone will find a reference or connection anyway,” he told Scroll.in.

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City of Dreams.

The series marks the Hindi debut of Bapat and Chandekar, both established names in the Marathi film industry. Kukunoor, who has previously made Hyderabad Blues (1998), Iqbal (2005), Dor (2006) and Dhanak (2016), has directed all 10 episodes, and has written the series with Rohit G Banawlikar. The Applause Entertainment production will be out on May 3 in Hindi, Marathi, Bengali, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam.

Priya Bapat and Atul Kukarni; Siddharth Chandekar in City of Dreams. Courtesy Applause Entertainment.
Priya Bapat and Atul Kukarni; Siddharth Chandekar in City of Dreams. Courtesy Applause Entertainment.

City of Dreams was initially proposed by Banawlikar as an anthology film some years ago. “The film never happened, and when the OTT platform exploded in India, we thought why not converted it to a web series?” Kukunoor said. “In fact, City of Dreams was the first project Applause Entertainment commissioned.”

Kukunoor and Banawalikar whittled down the initial idea to put the Gaikwads at the centre of the narrative. Other stories that intersect with the Gaikwad saga involve such characters as Wasim.

“Atul plays a dominant, strong-willed, old-world politician, and the kind of guy who leaves a lasting impression on their children and whatever they touch,” Kukunoor said. “Eijaz plays an old-world encounter specialist. Encounter specialists were rock stars once, but now the Mumbai underworld is gone. Eijaz’s character has been cast by the wayside, and he’s a has-been cop looking for redemption.”

Eijaz Khan in City of Dreams. Courtesy Applause Entertainment.
Eijaz Khan in City of Dreams. Courtesy Applause Entertainment.

The series could have worked just as well in Marathi, given its subject. “I am most familiar with Hindi,” Kukunoor explained. “I thought it best to cast Marathi actors who would bring a terrific sense of authenticity. Since the OTT space isn’t governed the by the box office, I had the luxury of choosing the best actors for the roles.”

Kukunoor has been a fan of dramatic series for over 15-20 years. “I was pitching ideas to Hollywood studios, but nothing worked out,” he said. “When the OTT platforms came up, I plunged in heart and soul, though my first brush with it did not go well.”

Nagesh Kukunoor.
Nagesh Kukunoor.

Kukunoor’s last movie was Dhanak in 2016. In 2018, he directed the AltBalaji web series The Test Case, about a female recruit (Nimrat Kaur) in the Indian Army’s Special Forces. In between, Kukunoor also directed Daak Ghar, based on the Rabindranath Tagore play of the same name, and released a 49-minute filmed version on Hotstar.

Has Kukunoor found his comfort zone in web series? “All I can say is that I am directing my first Telugu feature film now.” The film stars Keerthy Suresh, Aadhi Pinisetty and Jagapathi Babu, and will be released in Telugu, Tamil and Hindi.

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‘It’s going to be a total failure’: How Nagesh Kukunoor proved everyone wrong with ‘Hyderabad Blues’