on May 24, 2004
I read the book, have seen the movie and have visited Kolkata. I'm troubled by the book and the movie. I felt the book trivialized poverty and made a sentimental treatment of it. This is because it was viewed through the eyes of a Catholic priest and he was taking voluntary poverty. It is another matter when you have children, live in bone crushing poverty and have fewer choices available to you. (Yet Kolkata is a city of miracles in that the poorest can often find a place and a way to survive there.)
I don't think the movie came close to showing the culture of Kolkata's poor. It was very much a westernized gloss and it definitely pulled punches. Consider just one important cultural element: Indian has many great musicians who have produced centuries of beautiful music. But this film sticks us with an entirely western score.
I am in love with this region and had to read the book and see the film. But if you want to see a film about this part of the world, see anything by Satyajit Ray, Mrinal Sen or Shyam Benegal.
In particular, Satyajit Ray - Apu Trilogy or Two Daughters. Although more modern and middle class, Aguntuk (The Stranger) is also a much better film.
on July 17, 2001
Never before has a film touched me so profoundly. As a laid-off, job-hunting new bride thrust into becoming a housewife, when I planned to remain a type-A career woman, I was fuzzy about what life was supposed to be. On our new one-income budget, my new husband and I don't have extra funds for entertainment. So he popped in the movie, "City of Joy" for our Saturday night theatre. When I saw the horrible conditions these Indians live in, suddenly our one-bedroom apartment seemed like a palace. The job that a main character treasured so much was a task I thought only mules performed. But he took so much pride in this dirty, exhausting job, and was so grateful to serve daily to support his family. Suddenly, the standards I'd set for myself seemed completely unnecessary. Of course I want more, but during this film viewing, I realized I don't need it. As minimalist as I thought I was, what I call suffering is paradise to these people. Americans take our fortune for granted. Seeing people live without things we throw away taught me that you don't have to waste tears and heartache crying over what you don't own. There is much joy to found in things like friendship, caring for others, and family. After the basic needs of food, clothing and shelter are met, the rest is gravy. I have even less money in the bank today than Saturday night. But I feel ten times richer, having watched "City of Joy". I feel some of my neurotic worrying over money melting away, and I am cherishing everything I do have. Things will get better. But until they do, I learned from this movie that they're already good. You can't put a price on peace of mind.
on May 22, 2001
I lived in Calcutta for a touch over two years not too terribly long before this film was shot there. Yes, I too occasionally took rickshaws, once even pulled the rickshaw wallah myself, thereby averting a disastrous hang-over. I did some shopping in Barrah Bazaar right near Howrah Bridge, etc. etc.
Yeah, there IS real poverty in Calcutta. And crowding beyond your wildest nightmares.
First, I found it ironic that the film company tore down the set once the film was done. It would have provided better living quarters than those of many people I personally knew in Calcutta.
Aside from that, yes Om Puri was great. And I think Art Malik, the nasty guy who's father was the "godfather," and who I first saw in "The Jewel in the Crown," superb series, was excellent too. And some of the other actors, lepers, etc., were outstanding, given their limited market. (Not a whole lot of lepers in other Patrick Swazey flims...errrrr, films....)
OK, it was a cute story. I've seen it now three times--so far--to remind me of the bizarre place I lived and of which I still occasionally have nightmares. But Swazey's lectures to Puri's character, "stand up and fight," was far, far more "Western" than I ran across in Calcutta. I don't want to bust anyone's multi-cultural bubble but that's simply fact.
So, for a Western audience it's credible. But in reality it's a fairy tale. "And they all lived happily ever after."
Yeah, I wish life worked that way. But it doesn't very often.
Kept in the fairy tale context, it's a cute story. But, again, if you get some time in Cal, say hi to some old friends of mine, but don't expect things to happen like they did in this film.
on November 26, 2002
The nature of ''the greatest democracy in the world'' exposed(By the way, did you know that India has its fair share in the remaining 27 million men,women and children that still, 150 years after the first publication of Harriet Beecher Stowe's ''Uncle Tom's Cabin'', live in slavery?).Every two seconds a child dies from hunger, that's about 35000 kids a day(!), and the death toll during one year is several times greater than the number of Auschwitz victims during the whole of World War II!6000 people die every day from thirst or diseases connected to inadequate drinking water supplies.Even for those who aren't familiar with that, this film is a ''call to action''.To those petty little people who might mock its humaneness, I can say that only at sick times like these are must we feel embarrased for being ''over-sentimental''.
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi,who actualy considered himself an authentic(i.e. anti-authoritarian and truly revolutionary in his approach to power and material wealth,unlike so many others)socialist(as well as were also,even though this is always conceiled, M.L.King,Jean Paul Sartre,Federico Garcia Lorca,Albert Camus, and a ''foreign-born agitator'',as one congressman depicted him in a call for his expulsion from the US - Albert Einstein, along with countless others), had another vision for India.The film pays a tribute to this humanistic vision of direct,consistent democracy and human solidarity.It is precisely the continuous dealienation and ''Revolution of Hope''(as goes the title of a wonderful book written by Erich Fromm)that takes place among the lowly of Calcutta.
on February 17, 2002
There are parts in this movie that are kind of cheesy, but for the most part, it is a very nice story about the life of a poor family in a Kolkata slum and of an American doctor's attempts to "find himself" by giving something back to the world instead of always being wrapped up in himself. Swayze's character is kind of annoying, especially at the start of the film, and certain lines seem kind of trite and silly . . . saying that he came to India for "enlightenment" was kind of daft and predictable, and of course, the meolodrama with regards to Swayze's character I think was a bit much . . . I don't think you need to have a special reason or event that occurs in your life to make you question things or look for answers to some of life's problems . . . still, the movie did a good job of presenting the inhabitants of Kolkata with dignity and sympathy . . . they were fully human and not caricatures, which was good. Om Puri does an outstanding job here. I wish that Shabana Azmi, an excellent actress herself, would have been given a bigegr role instead of playing the typically quiet and meek India wife, though. The brutality anmd dehumanisation of living in a slum in an overpopulated city was not sugar-coated either, but at the same time many of the people in the slums were portrayed with respect, and their attitude does give a substantial glimemr of hope instead of implying that all humans are "out for themselves" as the main character seems to think. Not a masterpiece, but a nice film all the same.
on January 23, 2002
I think I may be the only one on the face of the planet that thinks this is a tremendous movie.
I think there's an intimacy to Swayze's performance that is very special. I see several others mentioned "humanity" and I completely agree. I think he made a tremendous effort to reveal the essential humanity and dignity of people that most Americans would never allow themselves to get close to. Add to this the fact that Swayze is white, incredibly attractive, fabulously successful, and then to see his humility here just takes my breath away. (Go ahead and shake your heads and tell me I've got my head in the clouds all you jaded critics) :) And the credit is not just Swayze's--how often do you see an American-produced movie set in the slums of Calcutta and interested in the lives of the poor? Okay, so maybe the storyline wasn't the most enlighted ever conceived but I think the plot has little to do with the theme--it's the characters, but more importantly the way the characters relate to each other, white or brown, as equals, that is monumental.
On the surface we have a racially and ethnically integrated society in the US. If we don't accept each other, we at least put up with each other most of the time. But how often do the barriers of race and ethnicity come down in a meaningful way, in the "everyday" events of life? Not too often, I think. This movie makes it real with a quiet demonstration that never preaches.
I think this is a *great* film, even if I am the only one who ever appreciates it!! :)
on September 1, 2000
No 9 Oscar nominations; no recording-breaking box figure; just a deep touching movie.
Had I not strolled around Blockbuster some late night looking for movies, I would never know that Patrick Swayze starred in a movie that portrays poverty in India.
Situated in Calcutta, Patrick Swayze lent hand in helping the locals battle scarcity of resources, health problems, and daily life challenges. Scenes are constructed convincingly authentic, since there will be considerable difficulty to portrait third-world living conditions through the perspectives of westerners.
What impresses me the most about "City of Joy" is the humane qualities of people. When you watch the movie, the quality and personality of people will permeate through your heart. These people are really joyful and content with the kind of lives they are leading. Somewhat austere, yet joyful. Sometimes I think increasing the standard and industrializing society might rob these people of thier peace. They might be more happier this way.
on June 14, 2000
Of course no Patrick Swayze film could ever compare with a wonderful book, still City of Joy has much to offer. I grew up in a city just out of Calcutta and found the movie to be very true to the culture and everyday life I experienced there. Poverty is difficult to portray from a developed country's point of view without becoming self-righteous, but nowhere in the movie do the foreigners propose to change the state of the city. The two characters(Patrick Swayze and Pauline Collins) are there because they want to be and to lend a hand when needed. The cast of Indian characters(Um Puri in particular)is especially good. All of the actors possess great human qualities that makes them easy to connect with and likable. Although these people live in squalor, they have a joie de vivre that keeps the tone from being one of despair. This film is simply a slice of life that doesn't try to prove anything. I highly recommend seeing the film AS WELL AS reading the book.
on April 12, 1999
If you are not illiterate, please, please, please read the book instead, it is great. This is one of the most ludicrous and offensive films ever made. From the moronic main character (atrociously played by Patrick Swayze) to the condescending portraits of Indians to the trivialization of Calcutta's suffering to the utter, incomprehensible cop-out of an finale, this mush will depress and sicken you.
There should be a special fine imposed on companies and individuals who turn human suffering and adversity into a vapid Hollywood joke. It was nice to catch (briefly) a few glimpses of Calcutta again, but the film makers seem to have missed the whole point of the book, and exploited its subject matter for cheap, predictable box-office slop. India's poor need respect and empowerment, not a grimace and a pat on the head. Please spend your money on the book, because a percentage of the proceeds will go to benefit the real Citizens of Joy.
on June 28, 2005
This is an awesome emotional movie! It tells the story of a family struggling in the cruel and harsh world of poverty. (In this case in the country of India). But somehow they cope. The beauty and strength of these people is incredible!
The acting and directing is superb!
I can watch this movie over and over.