It's different, it's sincere, it's inconclusive, it's abstract in its own way. It's intriguing and it leaves you dissatisfied. It has brilliant performances along with some bits of Aamir Khan being Aamir Khan. It is a mellow affair that's soothing yet unnerving.
Love is elusive. Whatever the heart is after is seldom within reach. In fact, more often than we'd like, even what we 'really' want escapes us. This is the broad stroke Kiran Rao paints with Dhobi Ghat. She does so very quietly, hand-in-hand with her mild, four subdued characters. It actually feels like she's reading their diaries out to us. She passes judgment on the society we form - the young and the old, the rich and the poor, the "educated" and the illiterate, the secularists and the socialists. But she is almost mute as she goes about it. And none of this gets boring BUT the spark is conspicuous by its absence. Like leftover champagne from yesterday - not yet flat but not as relish-worthy as when the cork first popped.
The setting could have been New York, Sydney, or even Pune. Any reasonable-size town is likely to have a slum dweller with larger-than-life aspirations, an NRI poking around the slums, an artist with an attitude, and an unsuspecting immigrant who is trying to figure the city out. Kiran Rao chose Mumbai and I'm not complaining. Mumbai does have her way of providing warmth with ruggedness, and that is the exact texture Dhobi Ghat gives the maya-nagri.
Besides, I love the city and I romanticize my visits there just like Yasmin (Kriti Malhotra) does with her home videos. Her awe is as evident as her discomfort. Her resolve to find amusement in her boring life is ironic considering the hustle around her. It ain't new but the contrast hasn't come through in a movie earlier. Isn't it amazing that in a city where even stray dogs seem to be in a rush, housewives (other than Yasmin too) entertain themselves with TV in the middle of the day?
You observe Yasmin along with Arun (Aamir Khan). Her simple story is absorbing. And it's very intriguing that Yasmin aroused more emotion and attachment than the more complex Arun. Maybe that's how it was meant to be, because Arun is supposed to evoke indifference. But such characters who don't make me feel anything for them leave me dissatisfied with the movie experience. Arun might just be the weakest character of the four. After all he's the only one who gets relatively melodramatic in this subtle environment, albeit only towards the end.
And yet not everyone is me. Arun does manage to capture Shai's (Monika Dogra)imagination. A large part of Shai represents the stereotype of the returned-non-resident Indian who is on a poverty tour. But her emotions for Arun make you feel for her and reach out to her.
And in turn you also want good things to happen to Munna (Prateik). You know his desires are beyond his reach, but you smile at his immaturity and want him to learn from his mistakes. I loved the person he grows to become.
Like them or not, each character has been written in detail and has an arc of their own. And that is what keeps the viewer going in this otherwise dull ambience. There are some brilliant, mostly-earthy performances; except for Aamir Khan who pretty much stays the star he is. There's also the slight touch of humor. But, it slides into documentary mode every once in a while. There are certainly no conclusions, no strong messages, nothing that can be called 'entertaining'. The intention is to leave the audience high and dry.
Yet the seasoned festival delegate will find Dhobi Ghat like every other 'decent' film he sees. And the masala-seeker might just curse the money he spent on the Aamir Khan brand. It is for the in-betweens that the film will work for best.
And this takes nothing away from debutant director Kiran Rao. I like her casting. The charming faces are the aces in her sleeve. I like the milieu she has created, especially the home video parts. I like her taste in background music and her decisions on when to use it and not. And yet I can't point a finger at why this was a fine but not a wholesome experience. Maybe because I'm made to see how lonely each one of us is, no matter what our background is...
- meetu, a part of the audience
If you cannot see a video above, click here to see it on YouTube