Bollywood and culture in an emerging India
Dhobi Ghat: A whole new hue
There’s a charming scene in Kiran Rao’s “Dhobi Ghat”, where Yasmin (Kriti Malhotra) is filming her maid-servant and her daughter for a video tape she’s making for her family back home. While the maid is suitably coy about being on film, she’s also equally anxious to finish off with the niceties, and do what she’s there to do — work, earn her living and move on to the next house.
That scene for me epitomises Mumbai in so many ways. It’s a city always in a rush as Yasmin says — there’s no time to waste on getting to know your neighbours or sharing gossip with them — not when there’s money to be earned and a living to be made.
Rao captures this and so many other myriad hues of the city marvellously in her directorial debut, a deeply insightful portrait of four individuals who find and lose love and deal with loneliness in Mumbai.
Aamir Khan plays Arun, a reclusive, commitment-phobic artist who is fascinated with a set of tapes he comes across, chronicling the life of a new bride in Mumbai city. Kriti Malhotra plays that bride, coy and full of hope, reporting daily events like what she’s made for dinner and her neighbour’s problems on tapes that she hopes to send to her brother back home.
Monica Dogra plays Shai, an investment banker on sabbatical who after a one-night stand with Arun is slighted by him, and uses their common laundry man or dhobi Munna (played by Prateik) to keep tabs on Arun. Slowly, she forms a bond with Munna, a migrant from Bihar, who harbours dreams of making it big as an actor.
Rao takes her time establishing her characters, but they are so well fleshed-out, you don’t mind discovering their quirks slowly. The film moves at a slow pace but is beautifully shot in real locations, mostly in South Mumbai. Performances are top-notch, but Malhotra and Prateik stand out – both conveying so much through just one glance that you empathise with their characters straight away.
Films like “Dhobi Ghat” are like exploring a new cuisine — your palate may take time to get used to, given the “masala” and action it has been used to — but stick with it, and you will discover flavours you have never tasted before.