Monday, January 24, 2011

Dhobi Ghat is very brave, impressive, yet too experimentalistic

Aamir Khan Productions. International Acclaim. The first promo. Kiran Rao. These are the words and names that flash into your head as you walk into the theatre to watch Dhobi Ghat and you expect to witness another artifact of cinematic excellence and yet, I must say you wont be disappointed. Dhobi Ghat, the latest offering of Aamir Khan Productions and keeping up the tradition of being helmed by a first time director, Kiran Rao, is a movie that is difficult to enjoy from the word 'go' and yet, very hard to resist. It grows on you and takes its own sweet time to make you like it, but it stays with you for a longer time than 3 Idiots would.

Dhobi Ghat is truly Kiran Rao's baby, a complete departure from anything AKP has produced or even Aamir has been associated with. This ones very brave, very arduous and very art-house and you gotta have an appetite for experimental cinema to relish this one. I strongly feel that is one of the strengths of this film too, that Rao does not care about catering to a commercial cinema and follows her heart. There are no blurred lines or a safe treaded path between arthouse and commercial cinema in this one, its experimental arthouse cinema at its best. Rao is on top of this one and its not about the characters in this one, its about the city. Mumbai comes out as the fifth and the best scripted character as opposed to the four leads in this 95 minute film. All the other characters are only wrapped around the dichotomies of the city. The stories show up different sides of Mumbai as a conglomerate of many cultures, people from different walks of life, the ups and the downs, the good, the bad and the ugly sides of the city and its people and makes some very interesting points backed by a flowing script and the thriving emotions of yearning, solitude, affection, friendship, achievement, loss amongst the characters. 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. The films beautifully shot and carries an intensity that will keep you engrossed even with the lack of dialogues in many sequences. Thats the sheer genius of Kiran Rao. She captures the most unseen parts of Mumbai, like never before, and pragmatically captures the conflicting lows and highs of relationships in the most unconventional way, a first time for Indian cinema. The subtility and the restraining treatment gets you uncomfortable and most people would take their own sweet time to grow a liking for this one, unless you dont understand it and are just too amazed and end up liking it due to shock lol.

What doesnt work? Traditionally, its been hard to find many things you can find to say in argument against an Aamir Khan production but without being biased, I would like to point out some here. Arun's character (Aamir Khan) is under-written to a larger extent. He comes out as this loner and awkward guy who never has any behavioral justification for his actions, emotions or words. Aruns obsession with Yasmin is understandable, but the idea is not allowed to grow enough to look its finale convincing. Aamirs portral of Arun doesnt help the writing either and the unpredictability of the character makes it ill-defined. Even though the film is only 95 minute long, it is still ill-paced at times during the middle and literally, the focus is on the portraits of Mumbai, rather than the plot. Cinematic liberties of coincidence and some predictability are allowed but not well-fitted in such a cinema. The experimental nature, although its forte, but would work against its liking amongst the masses for sure but I am not even worried about that because that should not stop one from making movies they like.

Dhobi Ghat relies heavily on its scripting and direction but the performances are an integral part of it too. Prateik Babbar is the star of the show all the way. Best performance, most natural, most in character, most impressive - he delivers Munna with an ease rarely seen before by a relative new comer. Kriti Malhotra as Yasmin is another striking performance. For a character which does not appear in person ever in the movie, her rendition leaves a haunting influence on your minds and stays with you even after the movie is over. The untold truths about her life are perfectly emoted by her in all her video recordings. Aamir Khan is very uncomfortable playing Arun and it comes out in most scenes as he underplays his part. Monica Dogra is impressive, yet does not match up the confidence of Prateik and Kriti. Other side characters are actually in skin of their character dont let down the movie in anyway. Its the personality of the city Mumbai that shines more than anything else. Cinematography is exceptional and each shot is imposing and vibrant. Kudos to the cinematographer, this one will go a long way in taking Indian cinema to the next level. The music is captivating and gets to you after a while. Academy Award winning Argentine composer Gustavo Santaolalla's [BROKEBACK MOUTAIN, BABEL] background score captures every emotion of the frame and delivers a score which India hasnt heard before. Dialogues are okay. Editing could have been 5-10 minutes tighter.

All in all, Dhobi Ghat belongs to the new age of Indian cinema that dares to be different, that is pathbreaking, that is devoid of cliches, that does not target an audience, that is beautifully crafted and well enacted in general. The multiple fragments of an experience might not transform into the most used-to experience but make you part of a enlightening journey for sure. Strictly not for the masses, but dont miss it if you like anything arthouse.

Rating - 3/5

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