“ Genre: Comedy / Theatrical Release: 1992 / Suitable for 12 years and over / Director: Roland Joffé / Actors: Patrick Swayze, Pauline Collins, Om Puri, Shabana Azmi, Ayesha Dharker ... / DVD released 2004-04-06 at Columbia TriStar / Features of the DVD: Closed-captioned, Colour, Dolby, Dubbed, DVD-Video, Widescreen, NTSC „
:: Introduction ::
This movie was also in a friend's collection in Mauritius as the one titled 'Partition' I've reviewed recently and he heartily recommended us watching it. I'm always in if a movie isn't the usual Hollywood genre so me and boyfriend sat down for a watch.
:: Background ::
City of Joy is based on a novel of the same name written by Dominique Lapierre, a French author who visited and researched the poorest and most crowded slum of Calcutta, India in the 1980's the bizarrely called 'Anand Nagar', the City of Joy. How can this be? Apparently, despite extreme poverty and lack of sanitation, diseases and a clear cast system, this slum was the only place where lepers were cared for, eunuchs were welcome and neighbours were friendlier than everywhere else.
:: Plot ::
We first meet an American doctor, Max Lowe, played by Patrick Swayze, who quit his job in the developed world after becoming disillusioned with his career and travelled to India as a tourist to 'find himself'. He soon discovers 'Anand Nagar', the City of Joy, where he meets Joan Bethel, played by Pauline Collins, who's an Irish-American nurse running a local clinic, as well as the locals, Hasari, a farmer from Bihar and his family, who've just ended up in the slums as they were unable to pay the rent due to draughts in their region. As you'd expect, Max ends up staying longer that he wanted to but how and why? Will he find what he's looking for? And even more importantly, will the habitants oppressed by the local godfather of the City of Joy find their dignity and joy they all deserve?
:: Performance ::
If I had to summarise it in one word, I would say: brilliant. And that included all the major cast and the minor ones, even the children! My favourite child actor was Santu Chowdhury who played little Shambu, one of Hasari's sons. Patrick Swayze did a more than convincing job as the Max Lowe, the initially dismissive doctor. Pauline Collins as Joan Bethel was the perfect fit for the role and she delivered a fantastic performance as the no-nonsense nurse. I'm not familiar with Indian actors, but even I know Om Puri's name and some of the Western films he played in, like the British East is East (1999) and more recently Charlie Wilson's War (2007).
:: Viewing experience ::
The speedy plot makes the movie runs along at a pace and you really have to pay attention to detail. This is because they are so many brilliant lines in the film! They are funny and wise, touching and sad! I find the attitude of the slum-dwellers uplifting and dignified, however there was constantly a question in me: Is it what they are really like? Or is poverty glamourised as it happens so many times in Hollywood film-making? Emotionally, I found the scenes uplifting but depressing at the same time and soon I couldn't help but root for the protagonists. The movie may feel dated a bit but then after all, the subject it discusses is so universal and human that it does draw you in and keeps you involved.
:: Conclusion ::
An assertive and powerful film that was surely not easy to make because the subject of poverty is so controversial. Can an American movie really show what it is like? Is it going to be glossed over or on the contrary, accentuated and taken out of context? India's been in the forefront of economical development in the past 10 years and the state of the slums have greatly increased since the 1980s but they are still there. We, of course, are not going to change that overnight, but if watching this film gives you just a moment's food for thought, then I think something has already been done. Finally, I was surprised at the 12 rating, I do think the film contains scenes of disturbing and violent nature that might not be suitable for young people under 14.
:: Price / where to buy ::
Being an American production the Region 1 DVD is cheaper and more widely available on Amazon. The Region 2 DVD currently costs £14.99.
Thanks for reading.
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