‘Dhobi Ghat’ is a film where the audience can’t groan about Bollywood churning out the same films over and over again. This film is different from anything you have seen before (quite similar to the films that we come across in festivals). It is a story of one city and four people who live in it. These characters belong to different strata of society. However, their lives are connected by what they do and the city they’ve made their home. ‘Arun,’ played by Aamir Khan is a reclusive painter, whose life is all about painting. Once married, now a divorcee, he meets ‘Shai’ played by Monica Dongra, at his art exhibition, ‘Shai’ is an investment banker by profession in US but is currently staying in Mumbai for past couple of months. Soon Shai and Arun gel along pretty well and within a short span of time they had an one night stand. But soon the story takes a kick and after the one night and one misunderstanding, they go back to being strangers. The story moves from Arun’s place to Shai’s place where she meets her dhobi Munna played by Prateik Babbar, a wannabe actor who in order to earn his livelihood works as a Dhobi by day and a Rat-Killer by night. The way Shai’s character has been portrayed by director Kiran Rao, it seems that Shai has a very friendly nature because even here Shai and Munna became very close friends within a little span of time. Shai asks him to show her the place where he lives and also the unexplored areas of the city. Munna agrees to become her willing guide to the city with the condition that she will click his portfolio pictures. Meanwhile, Arun moves into a new house at Mohammad Ali Road and ‘meets’ Yasmin, played by Kriti Malhotra, who’s the previous tenant of the house through some old camcorder cassettes. obsession with Yasmin is another tricky area. His curiosity about her life may be understandable given that he appears to have no life of his own, but the reaction to his ultimate discovery about her appears contrived.
To me, Dhobi Ghat is an unflinching look at the tangled lives of the inhabitants of the city, who belong to different financial and cultural ladders. It pulls you in and makes you examine people from all walks of life. A film on the city could easily have become a cliche as would have the characters but first-time director Kiran Rao does her best to blindside your expectations, spin your emotions around and overturn your preconceptions in this penetrating, at times uncomfortably candid, portrait of present-day relations. This compelling urban drama tracks the delicate intersections of characters’ intertwined lives in surprising and illuminating ways. This isn’t a feel-good film that leaves you feeling uplifted or wiser. It doesn’t offer any answers. Who is the silent old lady? Did Yasmin ultimately take the drastic step? Does Shai meet Arun in the end? You simply absorb the visuals, the characters and their inner struggles in this free-floating narrative. There are no heroes or villains in this film — just human beings with their dreams, hopes and frailties. That’s the best part about the film. It doesn’t attempt to judge or raise any questions. It simply projects the many faces of the city and its residents. When all is said and done, you may relate to and see yourself not in each individual character, but with the problems they face and deal with on a daily basis. The ensemble cast is simply amazing. As far as the characters are concerned, Monica Dogra as Shai takes some getting used to, but finds her feet along the way. But for me, It’s Kriti Malhotra as Yasmin who strikes the perfect note, and whose haunting influence can be felt long after the film is over. Prateik Babbar as Munna oozes charisma and confidence, and your heart goes out to his character in the end when reality puts a break on his dreams.
A beautifully shot by the ace cinematographer Tushar Kanti Ray and aided by an evocative background score by Gustavo Santaolla, ‘Dhobi Ghat’ is occasionally indulgent and moves at a glacial pace. Yet Rao creates some endearing characters, and embraces Mumbai despite its dichotomies. The result is a film that slowly grows on you. So if you have an open mind and an appetite for the experimental, take a bite out of this one.