Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Dhobi Ghat (Mumbai Diaries) - A Review

An Aamir Khan movie and no noise? Just can't happen. And so, there was a lot of buzz about this movie – still is there – though it might have become of a different kind, post its release. I am not sure if this is going to be a movie ‘review’ or just my thoughts on the movie, given that so many people felt disappointed, bored, cheated (waste of money, they said) and so on. But heck, this is a free country and though my review won’t be as valued as a certain Masand’s, Adarsh’s or Qureshi’s – here I am, giving you my take on the same.

My most immediate reaction, as I watched the opening shots (and which sustained till the end) – was that it’s different. And different can be good. It’s not a conventional movie where each character has a grandiose or dramatic entry, with the background music, wind blowing, leaves flying, and zoom-in and –out shots or the likes. It’s as if a hidden camera entered the lives of four characters. Unbeknown to them their fate is intertwined. And how and where they find that thread basically is how the movie chooses to unravels itself. Now let me give some insights I gathered.

First of all, the movie succeeds in showing a slice of life from a vibrant and dynamic city like Mumbai. The main leads are from different backgrounds and social strata, at that. We have Arun – the artist – a loner (probably eccentric?). He represents the elitist circle of the society. We have Shai, a disillusioned (or bored?) banker on a ‘sabbatical’ from the US, trying to re-ignite her passion for photography. There is Munna (or Zohaib?), a dhobi by day, rat-killer by night who comes from the Land of Laloo to aamchi Mumbai (pet bharne ke liye). He also aspires to be an actor some day, showcasing how Mumbai attracts immigrants for both work and aspirations (and both, as evident in his case!). And then there’s Yasmin, a middle-class newly wed, whose only link to the plot is a series of tapes, through which she explores Mumbai (and her emotions).

Many criticized the movie for being slow-paced and having nothing in particular to tell. It might have dragged at places (I never felt that at any point, but peace to those who did!). But I’d say that story-telling doesn’t have to fit anyone’s preconceived notions of having a proper beginning, middle and ‘the end’! In fact, I loved the fact that the movie chooses to capture a snapshot of the lives of four people, and then gracefully exit. We are sometimes so set in our notions of filming (or story-telling), that even a slight departure from the same seems like a violation of some unwritten code. The movie portrays the lives of normal people like you and me. Are our lives as adventurous and dramatic as those of the heroes in typical movies?

No! (Yes, I can see I answered my own rhetorical question).

A set of unclaimed tapes become an inspiration for an artist; a bored banker finds a friend in a dhobi; a dhobi dares to dream of being an actor and also winning his mem’s heart. Our lives are about small heartbreaks, realizations, unexplored possibilities of what could be, giving up on some, taking it in your stride and moving on. So there’s no big secret to unfold in the climax, there’s no grand message or take-way – there’s no ‘moral of the story’, ‘good wins over evil’ or ‘crime does not pay’ in store for you. The movie quietly ended, just as it began.

So what did you want? A typical Bollywood love triangle? Or pentagon? Or a more baffling geometric plot?

As for Mumbai per se – how well was it captured? That I can’t comment on, given I know so little about that city. But at least I felt it was refreshing; given that the typical image of Mumbai most movies create are the local trains, the slums, Shivaji Terminal, the Chowpatty, the crowd/traffic or the Gateway of India. True, some of it has been included in the movie as well. But the focus of the movie is NOT the city; it’s the characters in it. And as a backdrop, I felt that it was inculcated well.

As for the actors, Prateik Babbar and Kriti Malhotra stand out in their performances. Prateik brings a certain vulnerability, old world charm and naivety to his character. Kriti steals the show with her innocence and her character stays with you as a wistful memory, even after you exit the cinema hall. Many seem to be impressed by Monica Dongra; but for me she was adequate. Aamir Khan fails to create the necessary impact. Kiran Rao should have stuck with casting newcomers for all roles. He seems most ill-fitted in his role. And as he has rightfully admitted, he gave a more ‘skilled’ performance, instead of a raw one. So, one sees Aamir as Aamir and not as Arun.

This movie has no Sheila or Munni, there are no item songs, there are no hideously clichéd dialogues, no villain, no police, no whacky or below-the-belt comedy; has no suspense, no dialogue baazi, no twisted plots, no surprises, and heck, no interval also. If you are looking for entertainment, mindless comic caper or the likes, then clearly, this is not for you. So you can be at peace with the Tees Maar Khans, Dabanggs and the saccharine-dripping romances. For those who want to see something different, Dhobi Ghat is playing at a theatre near you.

P.S. After reading this, you might think I am a Dhobi Ghat fanatic. I am not. In fact, I'd criticized Aamir's last celluloid outing [here]. All I think is that such movies need a chance. To be written, to be heard. And to be seen.


  1. The name Aamir raises the expectations a few notches and that is the reason people are disappointed with the movie...

  2. That probably is a reason. But I felt that the trailers had adequately warned that this is not a run-of-the-mill kind of movie. Ah well, each to his own. Did you watch the movie? And did you like it?

  3. I expected the movie to be pretentious. But my daughter watched half of it (she walked out of "Little Fockers" and walked in to "Dhobi Ghaat")

    She was all praises for it.

  4. Yes, maybe you should give it a shot too. I'd love to hear your thoughts on the same.

  5. I agree with every word here. Dhobi Ghar wasn't perfect. It had some flaws and some loose ends. But it was definitely worth watching. I could very well relate to Aamir's character and Isee a promising director coming up in Kiran Rao. The climax was touching.

  6. Thanks Arju. Aamir's character - well, I felt that he didn't do justice to his role. I think his persona was larger than his character. And you related to him? Hhmm. Interesting.

    And sadly, I realised that people didn't get the climax! They say it ended 'abruptly'. If only people could get subtlety. Sadly, the usual staple of Bollywood fare has numbed the senses of the general public, I feel.

  7. So, you're not a Dhobi Ghat fanatic - I must say: I am.
    It is one of the best films I've seen this year, maybe the best, and the only thing I can criticize is... well, you said it already, Aamir. It was just hard to see him as Arun, he somehow always remained Aamir.
    ... However, it was his sexiest role until now, I think ;)

  8. Mette,
    I am indeed a fan of the movie, but not a 'fanatic'; atleast not in the same way as I feel about DDLJ! :D

    I loved the movie, and I wrote this more out of ire - at the way people criticised this movie. They see mindless movies with insane plots, and don't say a word. And they just had to pick at this movie! That really got my goats! :D



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