Cast: Prateik Babbar, Monica Dogra, Aamir Khan, Kriti Malhotra
Director: Kiran Rao
We are at an art gallery in a painting exhibition. Appropriately low key. City is Mumbai. Kitu Gidwani is manager of the whole thing and announces artist decided to make an appearance and should say a few words. Artist Arun (Aamir Khan) is visibly reluctant presence facing the crowd or art-lovers whatever says in man-of-few-words fashion that it’s a tribute to people from different states and raises a toast to Mumbai, “To my muse, my whore, my beloved….”
Kiran Rao’s debut film also a tribute to this bustling city of millions where four characters randomly run into each others’ lives and make an impact. Like us meeting people and our story meets their story, vice-versa and streams go on. At the same gallery amongst the attendant an American NRI on sabbatical Shai (easily find of the year, inspired casting) meets Arun. Art talk, smoke, alcohol mix well. Fingers touch, so does the bodies. But the night-after ends badly because of Arun being asshole finding it difficult to say simple words ‘not looking for something serious’.
There is a dhobi guy Munna (Pratiek, natural brilliant) who Shai befriends. She from another world treats him well, equal, goes to street photography with him to Nagapada, Machali market etc which is of course local to him. This boy, a wannabe actor (Salmaan being his idol) falls for the girl of course in the course, but never crosses his boundaries. They belong to different worlds (for society different classes) he and she both knows. Their odd, tender love-story or story, unsullied, forms the core of the Dhobi Ghat for me. There is definite chemistry between them. But never spoken of. Captured in gestures. Stolen yearning glances. Half chances. Even obvious finale burst out is still with no words. There is a beautiful night scene shot in rain where Shai and Munna have a drink at her place, later she falls asleep, air is electric, boy is tempted, leans for a kiss, backs out at final moment, leaves.
Meanwhile on other thread Arun looking for inspiration changing homes stumbles into few video tapes, sort of video letters of a recently married and migrated girl previous tenant of the flat Arun is living. Her name is Yasmeen (Kirti) and tapes are addressed to her brother back in her home town describing city from her eyes. He is hooked, possessed by these tapes, like porn her manager taunts. We don’t blame him. Scenes in these tapes are almost poetic. We literally see how innocence is crushed in this endless city which swallows, sees everything from great successes, glamour to horrors of the fate, people.
All the principal characters are kind of chasing other. Munna chasing Shai, Shai-Arun, Arun-Yasmeen and Yasmeen her dream in city (which is fifth character in the movie). We go after things most try to attract us, evade us. And it’s city like this which can shelter such diverse characters with desires, caution secrets, waiting to be discovered, fulfilled, hurt.
Lensed on slick, clean canvas and dream background scored by Gustavo Santaolalla movie is shot guerrilla-style on location minimalist approach, low on budget, rich in content. In this character driven piece ninety six minutes no interval (finally nice to see some arts winning over commerce) eventually everyone will get some kind of closure or otherwise. Just like in real life. Their stories are scripted like in a diary, aptly titled Mumbai diaries told soulfully by its sensitive director. Lovely.
* Bad **Average *** Good ****Very Good ***** Outstanding