Jaya Biswas



Film: Dhobi Ghat – Mumbai Diaries
Cast: Aamir Khan, Monica Dogra, Prateik, Kriti Malhotra
Director: Kiran Rao
Rating: Good

That there is no interval in Dhobi Ghat… is good, for all the right reasons. You don’t really want to take a break expecting something more spectacular to happen. ‘Mumbai Diaries’, as debutante director Kiran Rao puts it, is just apt as the tagline. Watching it is like flipping through the pages of a diary. Rao’s film is indeed a loving tribute to Mumbai in all its teeming vitality.
Dhobi Ghat is not a film where you walk in expecting regular entertainment. It is a take on Mumbai; the city with its hustle and bustle and enough place for all its immigrants. It is about the sea that listens to your story, absorbs and keeps all your secrets — which becomes the ‘Mumbai Diaries’. With its key settings in crowded, largely old, congested yet beguiling portions of this city, it is like a rich embroidery, which interweaves the intersecting lives of four people.
The film actually marks a subtle and assured debut for writer-director Rao and its radiant leading lady, a rock star and stage performer Monica Dogra.
Arun (Aamir Khan) plays a painter, a man who is fond of his own space. A loner by choice, Arun is a divorcee who is constantly moving from one home to another in quest of something. He bumps into Shai (Monica Dogra) an investment banker at his painting exhibition and they have a one-night stand. Later, he tries to absolve himself from guilt and blames it on his drink, saying that he never meant commitment. Meanwhile, in the process of shifting houses, he finds a video of the former tenant. As he plays the videos, Arun is unconsciously drawn towards Yasmin Noor’s (Kriti Malhotra) story as he tries to paint something of what he understands from it. Though he tries to be indifferent, the video leaves him devastated.
The film has three heroes — Tushar Kanti Ray, the cinematographer, Gustavo Santaolalla, who provides the background sound and Prateik who shines through in every possible scene. As Munna, a young, good-looking washerman who dreams of becoming a Bollywood actor, Prateik offers an incredibly funny yet sensitive performance. This not being a marquee Aamir Khan film, the other three characters share fair screen time and it’s Prateik who ultimately emerges a hero in the true sense of the term. As a brooding painter, Aamir underplays his character as required. Newcomer Monica Dogra as Shai, fits the bill with her broken Hindi dialogues. Though we see Kriti Malhotra’s character far less than Dogra’s, her performance as a docile, naïve young wife is compelling.
The only drawback is the script or the lack of it. Albeit the film boasts of a few touching moments beautifully captured, absence of a powerful storyline makes it a tad boring. Perhaps it would be perceived differently by a non-Mumbaikar, but if you’ve lived in the city, even for a while, there ought to be mixed reactions. Either you get a bit nostalgic, raving about the city or get some shut eye. But you certainly wouldn’t want to be reminded how people travel in local trains, why people go to Marine Drive or why The Gateway of India is thronged by click-happy tourists. Haven’t we seen it all before?
Overall, this 95 minutes film is a one-time watch.