Dhobi Ghat Movie Review - Kiran Rao's next film: Dhobi Ghat is a film that will get diverse reactions from the viewers. Some will no doubt snore through it, some will keep shifting in their seats impatiently, and there are still others who’ll be glued to the screen, unable to blink, totally sunk into the layered drama, the melancholy unravelling against the gentle, unnerving thrum of the most unique city in the world.
Shai (Monica Dogra) is a banker from the US, holidaying in Mumbai with her Canon digital still camera with which she hopes to record the daily lives of the aam aadmi - the dhobis, the hawkers, the perfume sellers, the night-watchmen. Munna (Prateik Babbar) is a dhobi with a dream to become an actor and a heart that throbs for Shai.
Among these four distinct characters, writer-director Kiran Rao weaves - warp and weft - a tale of intersecting lives, a tale of unrequited love, of one-night stand and the regret on the morning after, of hopes dashed and inspiration found, of loss and, ultimately, death. Dhobi Ghat is a film that calls for a different sensitivity from the viewer. It’s not just content being another clichéd collage of vignettes of the city’s streets and squalor, though there are many, thanks to the black-and-white snaps by Jyotika Jain. Nah! It leaps beyond that and takes a plunge into the lives of the characters, depicting their anxieties, desires and loss with nearly brutal realism but an empathetic heart.
It’s surely not a film for the suckers of speed - the folks who trip on imaginative shot compositions, slick editing, brisk pace punctuated with quip-heavy dialogues and more such screenplay-savvy gimmickry. Kiran Rao puts the story above all. Simply and quite craftily she unravels it with no sense of urgency or desire to overwhelm the viewer. She takes her sweet time to let the story take roots on the screen, the tempo of the screenplay being just right for a film of this genre. It ambles on for a good hour and then slowly, creepily, explodes in its dying minutes into a denouement that’s sure to give you a lump in the throat.
Performances are simply top-notch, though I felt a bit shortchanged by the Hindi-dubbed dialogues. Kriti Malhotra and Prateik Babbar are the pick of the lot. Kriti’s transformation from a curious newcomer in Mumbai into a dejected, depressed housewife ruing her marriage is unsettling, to say the least. Prateik Babbar’s gauche manners, rawness and his irresolute demeanour bring to life the character of the starry-eyed dhobi but the bashful lover that he plays. Aamir Khan’s performance hinges mainly on his character’s looks and expressions, for Arun is a guy who speaks in monosyllables. Monica Dogra’s affected Hindi accent does grate on you for a bit, but her natural performance, more than her swoon-inducing natural beauty, makes up for it. And then there’s the haunting score by the Argentinean composer Gustavo Santaolalla, giving the film a definitive identity.
Some viewers will doubtlessly whine about the film’s pace. Others will grunt at the repeated regressions into the video diaries of Yasmeen. Agreed, but keep in mind that Dhobi Ghat isn’t a film made with an eye on the box office. It’s not designed to please everyone. It’s a very personal ode, a melancholic one at that, to the city and the souls it houses. It's a film made from the heart, a film that restores a movie buff’s faith in the cinema devoid of any vain opulence or pretension of art.
My advice: watch it if you happen to love cinema and think that there’s more to it than entertainment, thrills, vanity, and ha-ha-he-he.