Hania Amir, Kubra Khan, Iqra Aziz at Parde Mein Rehne Do premiere

Dhobi Ghat
Directed by: Kiran Rao
Producer by: Aamir Khan, Kiran Rao
Starring: Aamir Khan, Prateik Babbar, Monica Dogra
Music Dir: Gutavo Santaolalla.

Irrespective of its genre, an Aamir Khan production is looked forward to with super-enthusiasm. Films like Lagaan, Taare Zameen Par, Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na and Peepli [Live] have redefined cinema and in their own small way prompted film-makers to think beyond the stereotype. That automatically raises the bar for Akp's new endeavor Dhobi Ghat.

Mumbai - this vivacious, lively and spirited city has inspired many a film-maker, novelist, writer, playwright, poet in the past. Kiran Rao's Dhobi Ghat takes a look at four different characters in this dynamic city. Interestingly, instead of opting for the usual candy floss entertainer in her directorial debut, Kiran chooses to make a film that's very real and also that comes across as personal memoirs that have found a place on celluloid. It's more of a video diary on the inhabitants of this bustling metropolis. More importantly, this is a story about four different people - all from diverse walks of life - and how their lives crisscross in this voyage and how they cope with yearning, solitude, affection, friendship and loss.

To me, Mumbai comes across as the fifth character in this film. The constant clamor of traffic, the sea of people, the energetic street life and the heavy and torrential rains dominate the goings-on from start to end. In fact, Mumbai comes across as a silent spectator here, watching each of those four characters mutely. Much like a septuagenarian [Aamir Khan's neighbor] in the film.

What catches one's attention is the fact that Dhobi Ghat tells four different stories in those 95 minutes in the most pragmatic manner. The characters are real and so are their stories, their emotions, their relationships, their smiles, their tears, their dreams, their desires, their fears and their tragedies. It comes across as factual and authentic as your eyes would observe and witness in real life. Sure, we got a flash of the assorted people of this city in Slumdog Millionaire, but Dhobi Ghat doesn't follow the conventional route. It is far more subtle and restrained.

Dhobi Ghat (Mumbai Diaries) is the story of four people from very different backgrounds, whose worlds intersect and leave them forever altered. As they find themselves drawn into compelling relationships, the city finds its way into the crevices of their lives, separating them even as it brings them closer.

Fragments of their experience -- seen through a naive video diary, black and white photographic images and painting -- form a portrait of Mumbai and its people bound together as they journey through longing, loneliness, loss and love.

Like I pointed out earlier, Kiran Rao encompasses emotions, dreams and aspirations most convincingly. In fact, every sequence of Dhobi Ghat tells a story, every image matters and that, in my opinion, makes this first attempt by Kiran nothing short of an achievement. Filmed in guerrilla style, with hand-held cameras and moving shots, Dhobi Ghat captures the real flavor of this populous city. Generally, film-makers try to stick to the right frames and procure permissions for the most eye-catching location, but not here. From opulent and classy apartments to the slums, Dhobi Ghat is an authentic piece of work.

Dhobi Ghat catapults Kiran Rao alongside the likes of accomplished storytellers like Mira Nair and Deepa Mehta with her intensely intelligent script. Besides throwing light on the daily routine of these characters, Dhobi Ghat juggles a recent past and the present time skillfully. Also, this one's a love story inherently; not a triangle, but a square. In fact, each of the characters is vividly sketched and each of them long or aspire for that someone special. Thanks to a watertight screenplay and eye for detail, Kiran's characters feel, look and sound genuine.

Cinematographer Tushar Kanti Ray shoots the film as if one were watching the story unspool live in front of one's own eyes. Academy Award winning Argentine composer Gustavo Santaolalla's (Brokeback Moutain, Babel) background score is captivating, also non-Indian, yet fits the varied moods, from melancholy to elation, admirably. The sole area where the film fumbles is its pacing at places. The results would've been even more impactful if the film was tightened a bit on the editing table.

The film marks the debut of Monica Dogra and Kriti Malhotra, who are exceptional and deliver natural performances. As for Prateik, the ease with which he speaks the slum lingo or converses with his pal or the gentle tone while speaking to the woman he loves [the urbane and classy Shai] proves what a dependable actor he is. The most memorable sequence for me is the concluding one when Prateik chases Shai's car. There's no doubt that he's a complete scene-stealer and a star in the making. His unconventional looks and captivating personality only adds to this performance.

Very much like his performance in Taare Zameen Par, Aamir Khan very willingly lets his co-actors eclipse him. Sure, he's super as a cloistered artist, but this film is not about Aamir Khan, the superstar. It's primarily about four stories, with Aamir merely enacting one of the four pivotal characters. In fact, he underplays his part magnificently and munificently allows his fellow cast to be conspicuous in their respective parts. In actuality, not many actors in moviedom would dare to even think that way!

Kittu Gidwani is alright. The actor enacting the role of Prateik's friend does a fine job.

On the whole, Dhobi Ghat is an imposing and vibrant cinematic portrait, appending itself to the new wave of independent Indian cinema which I am extremely pleased to applaud. It is art house cinema with European sensibilities, embellished with a well thought out story that's devoid of cliches. This ingenious motion picture caters more to the intelligentsia and connoisseurs of world cinema and will therefore garner more patronage and benefaction from the metropolitan audience in India chiefly and global spectators predominantly.

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