I haven’t written a movie review in quite some time. Although I have seen quite a lot of films in between, I haven’t felt inspired or moved enough to break my realm of laziness and hit those keys. This all came to an end with Dhobi Ghat – the directorial debut of Kiran Rao. It took me a second viewing and hours of pondering upon as I rightfully wanted to justify this piece of art with the correct amount of praising adjectives it deserves. It doesn’t really take the eyes of the oracle to recognise a labour of love, and this my friend, is one helluva masterpiece. Told with a pace that embraces the chaos and hyper-speed of the city of Mumbai, and still managing to calm down our senses , that in itself is no mean feat. And whilst you enjoy the visuals of mad Mumbai, drenched in rain Mumbai and the hustle and bustle of Mumbai, Dhobi Ghat doesn’t get reduced to a mere travelogue. Instead, it is a heartfelt epilogue told through the lives of four people intertwined with each other in a way as strange and surprising as life itself.
You might have guessed from the promos by now that there’s Aamir Khan. Yes, there is Aamir Khan – no, not the superstar. Instead, here Aamir Khan is just a fraction of the whole pie. He is a character – Arun, a loner painter who makes a handsome living out of his art, and has a name to boast off in the social circle, but is intrinsically troubled by his own past and his own eccentricities. And he finds release in his paintings through which he expresses best. He stares at Mumbai with an eye of an outsider, even when he has been living here for quite sometime. He is insecure and almost seems like lacking an organ of communication. The character of Arun has been underplayed (thank God for that), and it could have been absolutely easy to give in to the stardom of Aamir Khan – the superstar. And I applaud Kiran Rao to have shown that she’s got the balls to have not done that.
And then, there is the Outsider – Shai (Monica Dogra), an NRI, investment banker on a sabbatical, roaming around the city with her DSLR documenting everything in her captured frames and finding solitude in the chaos of the city. Her fascination with the city is what fascinates most of us about visiting any new big cities – the two faces of any city – the glamour and the filth. She wants to know both. What will we be as humans if there wasn’t that insatiable feeling of curiosity? And then Shai meets Arun at an art exhibition. Another pleasant surprise is how Arun is not being portrayed as the heroic male protagonist who cannot do any wrong. Arun here is as flawed as human can be. He easily gives into a one night stand and acts like a jerk the morning after. Shai on the other hand, is the ‘aaj ki naari’. She’s brave, and strong and doesn’t shy away from calling Arun an asshole for his behaviour.
And then, there’s Munna (Prateik Babbar).He is probably the Swiss knife of the movie – almost overused to an extent at some instances. The boy can wash, deliver, kill rats and pose in front of the camera. He dreams of becoming big in show-business one day, and through Munna’s story, we get to know of the other side of Mumbai. That rain which washes the window panes and makes us all romanticise about it, the same rain drips through the holes on Munna’s roof and wets his bed. A deeper character study of how, we Indians seem to divide our classes. This is brilliantly shown in a scene when Shai asks her Bai to get a cup of tea for Munna, and the Bai serves Munna tea in an ordinary glass (supposedly fit to his class). Bravo Miss Rao!
The last character completing the circuit only appears through a series of video-taped messages. Yasmin (Kriti Malhotra, she was in season 1 of MTV Roadies) is a newly wed woman who has left her ‘maika’ in UP to live with her husband in Mumbai. Her excitement of moving to a big city, and her zeal to capture the world that surrounds her and narrate it to her bhai-jaan. Without giving much away, may I mention that Yasmin’s character and Kriti’s portrayal of it is the strongest point of the entire movie. Her innocence and wide-eyed gaze filled with awe for the city is pure genius and both the actress and the director deserve a pat on their back for this. It is through Yasmin’s plot, that we almost enter into a different dimension and are exposed to some other aspects of modern day lives – where Bai’s have daughters who recite Tennyson and where the rush of the morning routine is reflected in the flavour of the lunch tiffin.
Last but not the least, special kudos to the technical team of Dhobi Ghat to have painted an epic canvas of the city of Mumbai. Thank you Mr.Tushar Kanti Ray for letting the sun shine through the skyscrapers under construction. Thank you for letting the rain wash the gullies and reminding me of the glitter of Eid in Mohammed Ali market. Thank you for letting the waves of Chowpatty rise and wash the writings on the sand and thanks for the array of white shirts at Dhobi Ghat. Thanks for everything. And thank you Kiran Rao. You are so besotted by this city, aren’t you? Like you, so am I now.