FILM – Dhobhi Ghat (Mumbai Diaries)- Review
Posted by FATEMA H.KAGALWALA on January 22, 2011 | 1 Comment
FILM – Dhobhi Ghat (Mumbai Diaries)
PRODUCER – Aamir Khan and Kiran Rao
DIRECTOR – Kiran Rao
WRITER – Kiran Rao
CAST – Aamir Khan, Prateik Babbar, Monica Dogra, Kriti Malhotra
MUSIC – Gustavo Santalulla
Odes are personal poems. They are stories deeply intimate in nature. Evocative and telling of the poet’s personal relationship with the object of admiration, such stories can be absorbing journeys for the unrelated too. Relishing the passionate connect between the poet and the poem can be satisfying enough.
Many films that aim to tell deeply personal stories of their well-loved cosmopolitan cities go deeper under their skin to reveal layers cursory glances do not manage to grasp. Dhobi Ghaat does something similar in its bid to celebrate its object of passion, the much-loved and much-cinematically abused city of Mumbai. In doing so, it falls in the delicate trap of stereotyping the city while trying to see it from a personal point of view, undoing some of the very sincere passion it proclaims.
Dhobhi Ghaat weaves itself around the lives of Arun, a loner painter, Shai, an NRI investment banker with a passion for photography on a sabbatical, Munna, a dhobhi with dreams of being an actor and Yasmin, a young, lively girl to whom fate deals hard blows.
Told from the perspective of gentle, evocativeness, the film treads tested paths. Criss-crossing fates, over-lapping lives and a tone of light seriousness. It consistently uses montages, voice-overs (albeit smartly) and perspective cinematography to evoke realism. To evoke an earthy connect and identification. Moreover, it uses Gustavo Santaolulla’s music as an embellishment to the proceedings. It is characteristic of the narrative, an extension of the evocative tone with which the film is packaged, somewhere adding a layer of the documentary experience rather than a poem. Or a painting.
But despite the avowed passion the perspective remains an outsider. Firstly, it views the city, its people and culture from a monocled lens. It is the upper middle class lives of Shai and Arun it identifies with. While it keenly emphatises with the lives of Munna and Yasmin it treats their world with a certain distance while it adds a number of layers to the worlds and characters of Shai and Arun. Their dilemmas, turmoils and choices are rooted while those of Munna and Yasmin although real are textbook. Like an outsider is looking at them. Like Shai looks at Munna and Arun at Yasmin.
It is pretty much with the same lens debutante director Kiran Rao looks at her city. While she is kind to it she is biassed and that bias becomes romantic even while dealing with hard truths. That is when a larger emphasis on learnt craft and adapted sensibility expresses itself than an personal and individual voice. This tilted balance weighs Dhobhi Ghaat in the favour of all those who love the city with its warts but do not understand them completely. This lack of understanding shows itself distinctly in the lack of deep engagement with the object of love, Mumbai. For much as the Westerners might want to believe, Mumbai (or for that matter India) is not in its slums alone. Maybe that is why Prateik’s earnestness never goes beyond the surface and the upper middle class boy he is, shows in his diction and inability to carry his body language, disconnecting more than it connects.
For the rest of the cast, Aamir as Arun displays a certain absorbedness in his characater that carries through the intensity his character offers. Monica Dogra as Shai is commendable casting and so is Kriti Malhotra as Yasmin. The latter’s unaffected simplicity is winning even though her voice-over’s are tad bit more poetic than her dreamy person.
Having feelings for and loving are two very different things. A line that is very difficult to recognize yet easy to, if one just listens to one’s heart in silence for a minute. Dhobhi Ghaat, the film and its characters, both face this same confusion. Both put the wrong name to the wrong emotion. Shai doesn’t love Arun nor does she love Munna. Munna loves Shai as much as Arun loves Yasmin. And the film doesn’t compel us to love the city as the experience of an impassioned ode would. However, it is with a certain earnestness that the film is woven and that sincerity, even if external that mistakes itself to be from within, is touching.