Thursday, February 17, 2011

Dhobi Ghat - An Ode to Ordinary Lives

'Dhobi Ghat' aka 'Mumbai Diaries', a movie set in India from the Aamir Khan (a hugely popular Indian actor/ filmmaker) stable, is one he refers to as the best that has come out of his production house and I heartily agree. Years down, this is one movie he will be tremendously proud of putting his name to. As for the writer and director, Kiran Rao, take a bow.

I can best describe this movie as poetry in the audio visual medium. A true 'Slice of Life' cinema, which picks up on the lives of four very ordinary people from diverse strata of society, takes us on a journey into their world for a small period of time, and then leaves us to wonder what might have happened to them. So much like the many people we meet for a certain interval of time and then maybe years later wonder, as to what happened of them.

Shai, an investment banker from USA with a passion for photography, is on a sabbatical in the city that is a melting pot of every class and profession, Mumbai. She has a brief interlude with a reclusive painter, Arun and then feels let down when he loses all interest the morning after. Munna, a Dhobi(washerman) by day and rat killer by night with the desire of becoming an actor, plays the common link. Shai befriends Munna and promises to takes photos for his portfolio in exchange of being shown the real Mumbai and the many professions that are carried on in its heart. An unlikely bond forms between the two, which amounts to love in Munnas eye. Arun, with a haunted past of his own, opens himself to an achingly lovely and lonely housewife, Yasmin, from a small town in Uttar Pradesh, whose life he follows in the form of  videotapes she had made for her brother and which Arun discovers when he moves into the flat previously occupied by her. What happened to her and why the tapes never reached her brother are revealed in small heartbreaking moments towards the finale. Munna, Shai, Arun and Yasmin inhabit the world of 'Dhobi Ghat' and are such vivdly fleshed out characters that I smiled at their small joys, ached for their obvious desires which might never be, had tears when the characters accept their fates as inevitable.

Prateik Babbar shows his immensely talented acting genes inherited from one of Indian cinema's greats, Smita Patil. He is a complete natural and the camera loves him. Look for the subtle shift in his body language while interacting with a woman from a higher class of society whom he is infatuated with and then his interactions with his friend. Don't miss his facial expressions when his Munna is running after Shai's car, even though it is captured in long shots. Monica Dogra and Kriti Malhotra, both fresh in the world of acting, leave a strong impact. Their lack of experience, imparts a rawness, essential to their characters. Finally, what can one say of Aamir Khan, the maverick, who manages to surprise us even after 20 years in the business. Lets just put it this way, the actor who inhabits the recluse Arun, makes us forget the charismatic star, and all we see are those eyes....painful, cloistered, lit at times with little sparks of joy which die down to an inevitable end. The eyes say it all accompanied by a subtle, nuanced performance.

To sum it up, this is a movie that speaks from the heart and reaches straight for the heart without any obvious manipulation. A director who know her craft all too well, Kiran comes across as a fine observer of the intricacies of human nature. The class difference, its co-existance, albeit reluctantly, is beautifully captured. It is not cerebral cinema, it is not abstract art-house, all it needs from its selected audience is the ability to open up their hearts and soak up the experience that is 'Dhobi Ghat'!! 

Playing at Theatres

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