Sunday, January 23, 2011


Cast: Prateik Babbar, Monica Dogra, Aamir Khan, Kriti Malhotra
Director: Kiran Rao
Runtime: 90 min.
Verdict: A set of stereotypes interacting with the medium.
Genre: Drama

        NRI investment banker meets a dhobi (laundry boy) and flights of fantasies start their run within the latter. A young woman weds into an arranged marriage and finds her husband doesn’t even bother about her and has, in fact, another woman in the city. An old woman just sits in your standard-issue vegetable mode. An artist, a painter, lives alone, drinks, smokes, and is not really comfortable with relationships. The dhobi also doubles as a toy boy for an upper middle class housewife. His brother has connections with the underworld, and for that he keeps borrowing money, and is eventually killed providing for the climax. Or anti-climax. There’s another death involved too, probably reigning in the theme that death is a part and parcel of everyday life in the city of Mumbai. Dhobi Ghat, on the page, is no more than a set of hoary clichés, concepts and stereotypes.
        And that is probably not the point. What makes Dhobi Ghat an interesting film is the relationship it establishes between an artist, his (her) medium and his (her) audience, and our interaction with this medium. Some of us are probably watching movies, even when we’re not watching movies. We walk through life, disconnected, with apparently no personal stake, and within the lives of others we seek the same insight we do when we observe a film. Art, more particularly, the movies, it seems, are not really an alternate reality so much so that they are an extension of the reality, and the two windows only complement each other. Maybe I am trying to carve out a fancy way of describing the existence of some of us who need to get a life, but sometimes the world is the art is the life, all of them addressing each other. We all find ourselves in such a state at one point or the point, with books, with music, with movies, with television. It becomes, as Sarah Goldfarb once said, the reason to get up in the morning.
        In a wholly forgettable performance, where Mr. Khan only conveys the theory of his character through amateurish mood representations, Arun is your artist and the seeker of art, complete with all the moral self-righteousness such a role assumes by itself. He is a painter, and he moves into a new house in Old Mumbai, and the view from his house is as much of a canvas as is the one inside. He seeks the mood from outside, and paints the color on the inside. He finds a set of video tapes in one of the left over furniture, and watches them on television. We all have had many relationships with that little box, now wide and no longer a box, and the people within it are more than characters – they are extensions of the household. I do know folks who enter a void when a series is over, especially one like Friends. To Arun, that little video becomes his life’s latest preoccupation. If it is a commentary on his empty existence, I would say this is the only manner in which he can experience it. It is probably a question of courage. It is probably an answer to his divorce.
        The video is of a rather beautiful girl called Yasmin (Ms. Malhotra), one who has been recently wed to what is apparently an uninterested middle-aged man. Age difference? My guess is ten years, at least. It is the film’s most shameless cliché, so thin that it barely qualifies for a story and should be considered more as a concept. Young girl. Smiling and bubbly. Arranged marriage. Middle-aged man. Other woman. Girl thinking life is over. It is presented through videos, as letters, where she speaks into the video, often providing commentary, and slowly this video becomes her life. It is her only mode of communication, and probably her only confider. Now, reader, we’ll have our element, which begins as a medium to express ourselves, and slowly it becomes the medium that decides our expression. I blog, and I review, and I would be dishonest in saying this blog doesn’t influence the way I am. I write what I feel, and often I end up feeling what I write, and sometimes I feel because I have to write. It is a performance that becomes a reality. This is a girl, my dear reader, who would in her school have fantasies of becoming an actress, or would have been a chirpy little thing, who would have all the hope from life, who would dream of a million things on the thought of moving to Mumbai, and who I guess ought to be labeled a romantic, a dreamer, and in that way she’s the concept that reveals the heart of the film. You see, there’s little difference between a romantic and a martyr, and Dhobi Ghat indulges in the same corny ideology that distinguished Neil Perry in Dead Poets’ Society.
        Every single character in the film is in a state of disconnect, dreaming through a purposeless existence. There’s the dhobi, Munna (Mr. Bubber) who dreams of becoming an actor. There’s Shai (Ms. Dogra) an investment banker who has taken a sabbatical to while her time away in Mumbai, and get to know the city through the colonial lens. Considering the black and white snaps, literally. The medium is a participant and a reference. We, as an audience, when presented with a slice of what is being passed off as everyday life, tend to fill up the gaps with our own experiences, filling in the blanks. We fill, and we move on. This medium of ours is quite democratic. Democratic in a sort of capitalist way. When we don’t know what to do, we tend to kill characters. For impact. For plot resolution. For poetry. Rather, POETRY. Just as well, because Dhobi Ghat has little to do with reality. It is a movie by romantics, of romantics, and yeah, for romantics who are watching this reality. Sometimes the grind of life and the horror of death is so romantic, no?


Anonymous said...

Yasmin, not Yamini.

Shantanu Dhankar said...

I liked the different style adopted to make the movie. It relies a lot on the images (much like Udaan), call it pro-oscarish if you want to. Like the fact that there is an unhurriedness about it.I Agree with the fact that Aamir khan disappoints but I think its good that for once Mumbai is seen as a muse and not as a container of slums,gangs and a perennial terrorist target. There is more to the picture than meets the eye, somebody is trying to see Mumbai as a muse and not a cheap advertisement that it is usually portrayed as.

man in the iron mask said...

Mumbai has been a muse before Shantanu, You really think the dream of a city would escape filmmakers?

Saathiya - This is the Mumbai we all live in, a normal unassuming Mumbai.
Ek Chalis ki Last Local - There's a little bit of a goon here, but then this is a romance set in the night. It is a dreamy film.
Life In a Metro - A mediocre film, still it doesn't shout about - BOMBAY! BOMBAY! Or maybe, judging from the title, it couldn't.
Mein madhuri Dixit Banna Chahti Hoon
Jogger's park - As I say again, and again, specific darling, specific.

Dhobi Ghat is merely an outsider's view. If it were written on the page, probably every word would have an adjective, and every sentence would've ended in an exclamation mark.
The best city movies are those which don't end up being travelogues, but instead feel right at home. Khosla ka Ghosla anyone? Or the masterful Oye Lucky Lucky Oye?

Shantanu Dhankar said...

True with all the movies you stated, I can add a few Aamir and Black Friday but they have used Mumbai as a medium only. They have not shown the movie the way Dhobi Ghat does, they use mumbai merely as a container where the actions take place.I dont see any problem a movie shouting BOMBAY BOMBAY, a lot of Woody Allen movies scream of New York! Your travelogue bit is true though, Dhobi Ghat does tends to become postcardish at times. I dont necessarily think its an outsider's view, it is about different perspectives people have about Mumbai....anyways, we can go on like this for ages. Fair to say that You n I are not the victims of the same passion.

man in the iron mask said...

I deliberately ignored Black Friday or Aamir or Mumbai Meri Jaan or Ab tak Chappan, because well, they supply an event, not everyday life. Maybe not MMJ, but then.

All I wanted to say is a city needs to be the soul of a film. The way Michael Mann does in Collateral and Heat. That is when we feel the city. Best recent example? In Bruges. Everyone who has seen the film wants to be there.

In attempts like these, we watch the city.

Shantanu Dhankar said...

Very True about all the three movies. In your review you have put as 'A set of stereotypes interacting with the medium' but dont you feel that medium is the focus in the movie? if yes, dont you find this a bit novel?

man in the iron mask said...

It is probably new for Indian cinema. We were always aware of the process - famous examples being Rang De Basanti or Vanaprastham, but this awareness of the medium probably takes us towards the European cinema more than anything else.

But then, we venture outside, and we find whole careers made out of this very theme. There's Godard, and everything one has to say about cinema is right there. And if we seek narrative moments, we need not look any further than the great final scene in Public Enemies where a 3-D man (Dillinger) watches a 2-D legend (Gable) and becomes one himself (watch the superb shift in focus strategy by Mann).

man in the iron mask said...

Anonymous, thanks. I stand corrected. Changed.

Amar said...

I completely agree with you. Movie's contrived climax has nothing to do with reality. It in fact raises questions about film-maker's motive behind making this 'hard-hitting artistic' movie.

Don't mind the story. Makers like Bela Tarr have an unusual gift of creating a masterpiece without a plot.

Anonymous said...

Why don't you review one of the following:

1. Kynodontas
2. Taxidermia

Something by Kim Ki Duk...

BTW I have been a follower of your blog for quite sometime now.

man in the iron mask said...

Kynodontas should be expected by next week.

I shall start reviewing Kim Ki-Duk, and many more Korean films once this 2010 spree is complete...

Thanks for following me Anonymous!


Anonymous said...

I have been follower of your movie reviews from Infy days, so great work here too.
By the way, I stumbled upon this review from IMDB critics review section :)

man in the iron mask said...

Thanks Anonymous.

The IMDb review is added by me. Any half-decent write-up can make its way there if you submit it.

Anonymous said...

3 Iron, Memories of a murder, The Isle

The Ancient Mariner said...

Dhobighat was an amaturish effort at best. full of cliches and ordinary acting. The story line doesn't offer any insight into the city's lifestyle.