There is always a light

There is always a light
Don't be afraid if you are alone or surrounded by darkness. In some part of the world, the day has just begun. There is a always a light waiting for you to find your way to touch its radiance.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Dhobi Ghat: Under the Spotlight

By Abhishek Chatterjee

Kiran Rao's sensitive debut film engages not so much with plot and pacing, as it does with cityscapes and moments. The film achingly reflects on urban angst, alienation, loss, inspiration and hope. It is also, obviously, as the title suggests, a paean to Mumbai. The film doesn't spoon-feed solutions or nudge the viewer towards a preferred point of view, rather, it leaves the viewer to ponder over the proceedings, a watermark of intelligent film-making.
Investment banker, Shai, comes to Mumbai on a sabbatical and explores the city through her camera, and it is through her lens that the film truly comes alive. Black and white photographs still have that certain 'je ne se qua' and can capture subtleties that colour tends to blur out. She meets a laundryman, Munna, a migrant, who, apart from his day job washing clothes at Mumbai's famous 'Dhobi Ghat', moonlights as wannabe actor and night time rat-killer (I didn't know such a profession existed. The rat-killers have nothing else to get their prey with, except for large and unwieldily sticks). It is through their interactions that we see most of this fascinating city, shown here with all its treasures and pockmarks, its many landmarks and its dingy bylanes. Munna is hopelessly in love with Shai, but gives up the chase in the final frames of the film, when he realizes that the religious and class divides between them are just too wide to bridge. Shai also has a one night stand with Arun, a celebrated and introverted painter, who is perhaps lonely and searching for inspiration after his divorce. He finds his muse in the video diaries of his previous tenant, a bubbly newly wed Yasmin, only to later discover, to his horror, that she might have ended her lonesome and troubled life in that very apartment.
Performance wise the film clearly belongs to debutant Monica Dingra and the brilliant Prateik Babbar, whose performances ring so true you that you needn't have them speak at all. They come across as complete naturals against Aamir Khan's studied and understated Arun. Kriti Malhotra completes the fine acting effort from this largely inexperienced cast with her doe-eyed, heartbreaking portrayal of Yasmin. Also kudos to Tushar Kanti Ray's for his camera work and Gustavo Santaolalla for his haunting guitar work.
The film is sensitive, layered, nuanced and easy on your time. Those looking for a solid plotline will be disappointed with this ninety minute feature (though it could have been shorter by 5 -10 minutes...the whole 'Munna's brother/underworld' track being an unnecessary distraction). The city has millions of stories to tell and Rao chooses to tell but four of them... all representative of the modern urban malaise, so to speak, as well as serving as an exploration of fleeting but deep relationships. Not to say that Mumbai is portrayed on the whole, as a miserable and harsh place. The city's omnipresent character is best embodied in Arun's (and Yasmin's) aged, semi-paralytic neighbor, who in her continual presence, can witness all that happens around her, but can offer neither encouragement nor admonishment, comfort nor solace, advice nor reproach, as she watches those around her live, love, yearn, suffer and die. 


  1. So agree with the writer...enjoyed the beautiful portrayal of the four characters...this actually sums up the experience of the movie goer very rightly

  2. Rather beautifully and subtly written review....