Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Review of 'Dhobi Ghat'

If you are an immigrant to the city and have lived in Mumbai for a while, it may bring back many memories of places visited in your early days in the city when you were enthusiastically trying to discover and lap up everything Mumbai. Watching this movie will make you want to go back and revisit some of the places again and go to those that you may have not been to as yet, to rekindle your love story with Mumbai (perhaps with camera in tow). The essence of this movie is aptly captured by Arun (played by Aamir) when he raises a toast to Mumbai calling it his muse, his whore and his beloved.
I thought some key aspects of the character of Mumbai were missed, but I suppose it can be overlooked as the director’s license, focusing on parts that make her complex tale more vivid. Apart from this, there were some inconsistencies in the characters; the relationship between the wealthy investment banker on sabbatical and the dhobi that seemed incredulous in parts (but that was the foundation of the script) and finally, the last fifteen minutes that could have been more sharply edited. Put these few flaws aside, and you have a fine directorial debut.
I liked very much the sensibility with which Kiran told her story; the gentle pace of taking the tale forward – not jarring, loud and in your face (you never felt rushed though it was a 90 minute film) and the rawness with which parts of old Mumbai were shown, including a fabulous scene during Ramzan at Mohammed Ali Road. The cinematography by Tushar Kanti Ray was superb, and theme music by Gustavo Santaolalla was haunting, (Kiran has always been a music lover, pity the album is not available for sale), and the characters pretty well etched and enacted.
About the characters; Munna (played by the talented Prateik) was well nuanced as the young dhobi with dreams of joining Bollywood. His character had a unique mix of awkwardness and ambition, evident in his interactions with Shai (Monica Dogra). As for Shai, she looked reasonably hot and befriended her dhobi with a nonchalance that honestly made me uncomfortable.
Shai’s love interest Arun, was the reclusive painter with a charming smile, spoke precious little and had an excruciatingly shy nature. Angst ridden Arun had to keep shifting house when his lease lapsed, and in one such apartment, he chanced upon some video diaries left behind by the earlier tenant that proceeded in a surprisingly real way to give renewed meaning to his life of solitude. The tapes contained diary-like narratives of a young Muslim bride Yasmin (Kriti Malhotra) that she meant to send to her brother back in U.P, as she discovered the city and her newly wed husband. Arun found happiness in this companionship and some nice moments followed as he started defining himself in relation to her, with an intimacy that he shuns from the other women in his life.
The story telling goes back and forth - covering the four characters and a silent old lady who is Arun’s neighbour (metaphor for Mumbai? ), and suddenly you find you are deeply involved with the multiple relationships woven within the backdrop of the city you love and despair at, simultaneously…
Regarding the cast- this movie converted me to an Aamir (as Arun) fan, met rather high expectations I had of Prateik, thought Monica Dogra was competent enough, but the greatest kudos must go to Kriti Malhotra in her portrayal of Yasmin. She used her eyes, smile and voice to express her story with a rare innocence and touching authenticity that stays with you after you have walked out of the theatre.
Kiran’s movie shows some of the clichés of life in Mumbai (disparity in wealth and living conditions, how both women are in search for enduring love, though their societal positions are so different) though not in a clichéd way. At the end, it is about the greatest cliché of all – dreams.
Dreams that people have in this city, few that get realized, many that don’t; and those seemingly futile ones, that one can’t stop pursuing because those maybe all that one has defined their life by.


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