Dhobi Ghat

This is a movie that would’ve been called an ‘art’ film a few years ago. Actually, it would perhaps have still been called that if Aamir Khan had not been involved.

And Aamir turns out to be the one off-note for the movie, which, surprisingly, I loved.

The movie is slightly slow. But it is funny, romantic, poignant without ever really sinking into melodrama. It takes a page from Slumdog Millionaire and portrays the gritty Bombay without making it indigestible. Infact, it makes it… romantic.

A friend said that many people didn’t like the movie because it portrays Bombay the same old way. After watching the movie, I’m not quite sure that I agree.

Bombay to me was and continues to be faded buildings pushed one too many together, people creating their own self spaces amidst the hurdles. The rains, the people, the dirt, the open air and peace at Marine Drive and most of all – the struggle, the eternal struggle, for survival.

There are so many ships that sink in this struggle and nobody particularly notices – the good and bad thing about Bombay.
***

There are two story lines… intersecting subtly, though not particularly relating to each other, but crucial to each other nevertheless.

By that, you can piece the story into four parts – the discovery, celebration, disillusion and death.

Discovery – the shaky shots of Mumbai, shot from a cab as a woman speaks about her trip into the city. She tells the cab driver that she has been here for 5 months, and is from UP, and marvels at the open space of the Marine Drive, even as children come begging but happily begin shooting for the camera when they see one.

Discovery – Munna… the laundry boy, the cleaner and you wonder what else… going about his chores in a slum in Bombay. He looks too healthy and cute to be from the slums but perhaps that is the point.

Discovery – Arun and Shai discover each other at Arun’s art exhibition and end up having a one-night stand. She gets pissed the morning-after and walks out, and Amir moves into his new apartment. Shai meets Munna, the laundry boy.

Celebration: Arun discovers the videotape of the woman ‘Yasmin Noor’… he explores Bombay through her eyes, a lonely housewife who seems to be filled with zest for life and loves to explore everything around her, even as her morose husband ignores everything. Her eyes sparkle and her smile is wide and she begins a video chronicle, we find out, for her brother.

Celebration: Shai and Munna become friends and she does his portfolio, he becomes her guide to the ‘inner Mumbai’.

Disillusion: Yasmin’s eyes fade… there is a weariness she tries to hide from the camera.

Disillusion: Shai discovers another face of Munna… Munna is confused about Shai and if she is just a friend or more. And Shai is confused about her feelings for Arun and her friendship with Munna, trying to choose which is more precious.

Death: Literally. Of several people. Of several interpretations of several relationships.
***

The thing about Aamir’s movies that I particularly admire is the casting. All the characters, starting from the maid, to Yasmin, to Munna to Shai are so natural that you believe you are watching real life.

Shai (Monica Dogra) has just returned from the US and is on a sabbatical and meets Arun (Aamir) at a pretentious art show. Munna (Prateik Babbar!) is half-confident, half-shy… maturing to a man almost that shows in hints of looks when he asks Shai questions about her personal life and blushes like a high school girl when complimented.

Shai seems incredibly natural as a vibrant woman, very at ease with herself, her insecurities and the pampered girl of a rich family who is pursuing her dreams. I won’t give away more of the story… because, even if it is slow, it is probably worth a watch.

Strangely, Aamir seemed to be the only off note in the movie… maybe he has become too big to play such roles. He is good… but given the naturalness of the rest of the cast, it just seems a little… odd.

I love the voice of the woman in the narration. I love the pulse of Mumbai that they captured so beautifully.

Of course they romanticized it… but love it or hate it, Mumbai will always appear romantic on film.

(This is written when the whole movie is fresh in my mind over the first viewing. Opinions could change and be a little more critical on the second watch. I think I would like to watch it again.)

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