Movie - Dhobi Ghat (Mumbai Diaries) [Hindi, partly English]
Director - Kiran Rao
Producers - Aamir Khan, Kiran Rao
Cast - Prateik, Monica Dogra, Kriti Malhotra & Aamir Khan
Cinematography - Tushar Kanti Ray
Music - Gustavo Santaolalla
Editor - Nishant Radhakrishnan
Story, Screenplay, Dialogues - Kiran Rao
Release Date - 21st January 2011
Aamir Khan Productions was always associated with different and quality cinema and they had maintained that even in a commercial venture like Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na, and during the promotions of Dhobi Ghat, Aamir was quite insistent that Dhobi Ghat is not your regular mainstream cinema, it belongs to the arthouse genre and is meant to watched seriously. He was quite right as Dhobi Ghat is not your regular movie. It is more about the city of Mumbai rather than a plot or its main characters. But the problem with the movie is that it never really grows beyond that, and remains an ode to the city which leaves one unsatisfied with the experience.
Dhobi Ghat tells the story of four people - Munna (Prateik), a dhobi by day and a rat killer by night (he also has another embarrassing job, which if revealed would be a spoiler); Shaai (Monica Dogra), an NRI investment banker on a sabbatical to do her own thing of photographing of 'poor India, hungry India' in black & white; Arun (Aamir Khan) a reclusive artist who runs away from relationships and people as such, but intrigued by a discovery of a Yasmin (Kriti Malhotra)'s newly-wed life in Mumbai recorded on DV tapes as letters to her brother, which she never sent. And then there's the fifth character- the city of Mumbai itself which is the most important of all of them, as the movie is all about the effect the city has on these people.
The movie begins as a romanticized account of the city of Mumbai and tries to shock us by showing the grim reality of the city by the end of its narrative. I'm not quite sure if that is the theme that Kiran Rao wanted to portray through this movie. There are way too many coincidences and the four different characters distinctly different by class and societal statuses, keep bumping into each other quite often in the movie. So many coincidences are hard to believe in a movie which is supposed to be realistic. Even the slight shocks that the director tries to give by the end of the movie does not really come across as shocking to the audience as it was already predictable. Even the underworld angle which is included towards the end of the movie does not fit into the movie. The major problem with the film is that its story does not have enough meat to be a feature film, even though its running time is just 95 minutes.
But there are many other things that work in the film. First of all, the beautiful portrayal of India's busiest city in all its glory, shot at locations and angles which filmmakers havent explored prior to this one. Tushar Kanti Ray's exceptional camerawork gives a new perspective to the city of Mumbai - its busy streets, its beaches, its people, its monsoons and its dark nights. The video diary format used as part of Yasmin's excitement in moving to Mumbai was another great touch. There are some wonderful moments in the movie - like the one where Shaai's maid brings chai for the dhobi in an ordinary glass while its a porcelain cup for Shaai; Shaai's photoshoot for Munna who aspires to be Salman Khan someday; the one where Munna chases her car towards the end of the movie and the shock on Arun's face when he's done with Yasmin's tapes. All these are great cinematic moments, but they are far in between in this slowly-paced movie.
The performances are fantastic. There should be no more discussions or questions if Ranbir or Imran is the future, it is Prateik. This guy has enormous screen presence and that is something everybody realized with his delightful cameo in Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na itself. As the dhobi Munna who lives multiple lives, Prateik is so natural and much at ease with his character. He definitely has inherited his acting genes from his exceptionally talented mother Smita Patil and there is ample evidence for that in his performance. Monica Dogra is wonderful and her subtle portrayal of Shaai who wants to explore the city on one hand and extend her relationship with Arun beyond a one-night stand was extremely effective. Kriti Malhotra was endearing, and during most of her screen time, she is talking directly to the camera thereby engaging the viewers in a direct way. Aamir Khan is not Aamir Khan, the superstar in this movie. He is just one among the characters in the movie, the one with the least dialogues and his restraint throughout the movie makes his character seem very real. The audience get to see a different Aamir Khan in the movie, stripped of all his superstar glory by his wife in her debut film. And of course, the brilliant actor gets to show off his acting capability in a great moment towards the climax, something which we already discussed.
We've already talked about how effective the cinematography of the film is. In fact, even when the film turns out to be really tedious, the cinematography is what keeps our interest. The musical score by Academy Award winner Gustavo Santaolalla (Brokeback Mountain, Babel) elevates the movie and haunts you much after you leave the hall. Nishant Radhakrishnan could have made much difference in this multiple narrative story with his editing, but his editing hardly has any effect except for some very interesting cut-to-cut edits. The black & white still photographs of Mumbai are brilliant, but we've seen such stuff so many movies the latest being Wake Up Sid. The final painting done by Arun inspired by Yasmin's life is some form of modern art which is very difficult for the ordinary public (including me) to comprehend.
On the whole, Dhobi Ghat is the love-child of Kiran Rao's love to the city of Mumbai. It fails to rise above that many a times and remains a weak screenplay which could have done with a little more drama and a concrete plot. It has some wonderful moments, has terrific work by the technical crew and flawless performances by its four leads. It is unusual, and not meant for the regular cinema going crowd. And by the end of it all, it leaves you unsatisfied despite having great potential.
Rating - 3/5