Dhobi Ghaat (Mumbai Diaries)
I am not sure if Dhobi Ghaat is an apt title for this movie, just ‘Mumbai Diaries’ would have worked better for me. Or maybe ‘Bombay Diaries’ since no one in the movie refers to the city as Mumbai anyway, not that I am complaining.
Most of our movie experiences depend on two factors – our expectations from the movie and our mood while watching it. This is one movie where these factors become crucial, really crucial. Most of the people watching the movie with me (not just my gang, the entire hall) did not like the movie and were pretty vocal about it (sadly during the movie also), I enjoyed it. This is one movie which wants you to let it be, had no pretensions of being conventionally engaging, does not offer any sort of closure for any of the lead characters, does not have any larger than life characters and does not have any item song (shudder!!!).
Yet it is engaging and interesting, makes you think enough for it to be called smart, and is funny and endearing in enough places. You are invited to view the lives of young Munna (Prateik Babbar, the best of the lot in Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na and very good and endearing here) and Yasmin (Kriti Malhotra, simply the most outstanding performer here), through the eyes of Shai (Monica Dogra, looking okay but performing just adequately) and Arun (Amir Khan being Amir Khan). As an added attraction you also get a peek into the lives of Shai and Arun.
Yasmin is the one you empathize with most even though she has the simplest story. You feel for her as she tries to find (or create) capture-worthy experiences in her apparently routine and to some extent boring life. Her interview of her maid and maid’s daughter is easily the highlight of the film, the one scene where even the naysayers in my theatre were hooked. It was interesting to notice how Arun’s attitude towards her story changes as the movie progresses. At the start he had her story at his beck and call, pausing and rewinding as he pleased/needed. But later, the story took over him and ultimately his decision (of moving house) was controlled by the story, a far cry from him having the control.
Munna is next in the list of characters that made you feel for them. He has dreams, and he is working towards them even though it is highly unlikely that he will be able to realize them, he keeps on working towards them. Even adding Shai to the list of apparently unachievable dreams that he has. Where the film succeeds is in making viewers also want the success of Munna. Prateik is endearing and honest in his performance and I feel this is only the second of many such performances.
Shai should have been the more intriguing of the two observers since she is an outsider, more than Arun anyway, but it is Arun who is sucked in more. Shai is in turn intrigued by Arun and is apparently oblivious to the feelings Munna has for her, though she genuinely cares for him and is in no way using him. Initially I felt that Shai was looking at everything with Slumdog Millionaire eyes, but her genuine feelings for Arun as well as Munna made me feel otherwise. Her story is the one that comes closest to a closure in that she has something to look forward to when the movie ends. Munna is looking at a life of responsibility and hardships and Arun is plain lonely, but she has a choice and a chance to pursue what she wants.
The best way to watch this movie would be the way Arun watches Yasmin’s videos, at our own pace pausing/rewinding at will – continue if we are interested or just leave it. So once again I would say wait for the DVD, else you might be in the majority who won’t like this experimental movie.
In one of the pre-release interviews Kiran Rao said she was not comfortable being known just as Amir Khan’s wife. While I do feel she is a talented director, I think she will have to face that predicament for some more time. This movie would not have been made, analyzed so much, and gotten an international release without Amir Khan’s name attached to it. Amir’s name has a certain credibility which ensured that scores of people went in to watch a non-conventional movie on the first weekend of its release and the ones who liked it are a small subset of those people. Even the ones who liked it might not have gone for it had it not been an Amir Khan production. This was an Amir Khan film first for most of us. But looking at it, I feel the audience of a Kiran Rao film is already building up.