Dhobi Ghat – Arty Ode to Mumbai, Disappointing !

You are warned that this film does not have an Interval. You are warned in the newspaper ad, then at the cinema, then by the ticket seller and then by the ushers and popcorn sellers. They want you to buy the cola and the chips before the movie.  The movie is 95 minutes long, you can survive without a break for that much period, cant you?

Dhobi Ghat is a docu-drama about Mumbai and 4 characters who try to fit into the rhythm of the city and failing to do so.  The city gives you hope and makes you make an attempt to achieve what you have set out for. But ultimately the city is a silent spectator to your life.  This was what was presented in the well made promos.

Kiran Rao’s debut film shot in a 16mm format ( thats why the big cinema screen doesnt fill up) and with handheld cameras shot in guerilla style as they say has 4 characters. Aamir Khan’s Arun who is a reclusive painter searching for a new house every 11 months and not finding anything that suits him. Prateik is the Dhobi Munna who also works as a rat-killer at night. Monica Dogra is Shau, USA based investment banker on a sabbatical to Mumbai to pursue her hobby of photography and understanding the city. The 4th character is Yasmin played by newcomer Kriti Malhotra who is the Muslim housewife who records her life in Mumbai which begins on a happy note and ends up with a shock. Each of these 4 characters interwine as Arun watches Yasmin’s recorded videos in his new apartment and Shai falls for the loner Arun and Munna Dhobi with film acting ambitions fall for the super rich Shai. There are issues of class divide tackled in a subtle way. Issues of love found in unusual place.

The above para tries to describe the characters and the movie, however I am unable to go beyond that as the movie tried to do all that mentioned above and didnt do it well enough. The movie is a confused look of a confused director in a confusing city. Every known cliche of Mumbai is used to show the city’s character.  From Gatway of India to marine drive and bylanes of slums and Mumbai lifeline its railway and drug dealing, prostitution, streetside food, dhobi ghat to rat-killers and narrow lanes of Mohhamadali road to menace of underworld. Every known theme about the city is explored.  But it is just that. It is an arty ode to the city and nothing more. The movie is as confused and slow and boring and at times even 95 minutes looks long. At one moment I missed that Interval !

Many of the times the editor has forgotten to edit and the movie does nothing for minutes togather. The background score by Spanish Gustavo Santanolia doesnt provide much help either and sounds almost the same note throughout the movie. The theme sounds promising but surprisingly not much used in the movie. Camera work is real nice and captures Mumbai beautifully and in a different way at times from regular movies about the city.

However overall this is a ‘pseudo’ version of an art film. Just by taking away entertainment from a film you do not make an art film ! Art films also do have important stories and anecdotes and its moments but here there are hardly memorable moments and a complete lack of story and structure. The four characters all begin on a happy note and by the end it is revealed that all the 4 characters are not happy but have to compromise. Mumbai as the fifth character is a mute spectator to all this.  This huge ‘metaphoric’ stuff is difficult to grasp and understand for most of us ‘ignorant’ viewers. Audience was left speechless at the end of the movie , not by its brilliance but because nobody had anything to say about the movie. It was almost like watching a Films Division documentary on the city with no real meaning in the movie. If this is World Cinema then I am happy with my regular Bollywood masala entertainment !!

Aamir Khan is confused and his character is shallow plus the English he speaks sounds fake. Prateik is okay, I mean most reviews compare him with his mother Smita Patil but I think at this stage of career he is more like his father Raj Babbar then mother. Although he is indeed a charmer but thats it. Monica Dogra, the singer turned actress actually fits to the tee in her NRI banker character. Her accent is just like NRI Parsi would have and she is impressive. Kriti Malhotra tries her best but her character is not at all defined.

Overall its an experiment by Kiran Rao, well supported by husband Aamir Khan thanks to which the movie is seeing light of the day and getting a proper release.  More of a showreel of what all Kiran can do. I have seen world cinema, I have seen arty films and they all have good stories to tell, but here all the director has managed is to put in some fake anecdotes without any emotional coneect with its audience.

My Ratings – 5/10 Dhobi Ghat is disappointing, watch it if you want to see a well made ode to the Mumbai city and yes dont forget the popcorns, remember no intervals !