Dhobi Ghat Review

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Youthtainment Rating ***

The verdict is out.

With Dhobi Ghat, Kiran Rao finally gives Mumbai a film that represents its true hues and tints. With its subtlety and style, one would be mislead by the title to assume that the film is about the washer folk of Mumbai, but it’s not! The Dhobi- Munna (Babbar) is only a part of the huge canvas at writer and director Kiran Rao’s discretion.

A dhobi by day and rat killer by night, wannabe actor Munna represents the proletariat lured by the glamour of the city. Through a video diary we meet young housewife Yasmin Noor (Malhotra), who narrates her day to day experiences to a handy-cam. The tapes are found by a reclusive, brooding artist Arun. Shai, an NRI investment banker, is on a sabbatical in India, during which she does what she loves most- taking photographs.

A chance meet with Shai gets Munna to convince her to shoot his portfolio. In return Munna takes Shai around town to capture the essence of Mumbai in its crudest form. Black and white pictures of dhobis, key makers, knife sharpeners- essentially Mumbai minus the glamour are what creates the director’s vision for Dhobi Ghat.

Hand-held camerawork with unsteady movements project the authenticity of the canvas. The technique of story-telling is more documentary-ish and projection of the city might attract the ‘arty’ type. Producer Khan and his director wife have been harping about Dhobi Ghat being an ‘arthouse’ film. It is an art-house films and it has a lot of open ends and eerily real characters.

The lack of a tight screenplay makes this 95-minute spectacle seem like an endless, yawn-inducing video blog. The slow pace strongly contradicts the city’s trademark rush. This is a major put-off.

Rao’s cast steals the thunder from fifth character that is the city of Mumbai. Babbar emotes through every part of his shirtless body and has a bright-future-in-the-industry look slapped across his face. With a screen presence so strong, it is obvious that Babbar takes after his talented parents- yesteryear actors Raj Babbar and Smita Patil.

Singer-turned-actress Dogra is a natural and complements Babbar well. We’d definitely like to see more of the multi-talented Dogra. Malhotra, a costume assistant in reality, plays Yasmin with a natural flair. Khan plays it safe, but comes across as a natural which is a refreshing change from the over-thinking Khan that we usually see. Khan’s creative involvement in his wife’s directorial debut seems minimal as Rao’s soul hovers in every frame.

The subtlety with which events unfold works both ways for Dhobi Ghat. It works in the favour of Dhobi Ghat because it uses subtlety where other filmmakers have always over-emphasised and exaggerated while dealing with a Mumbai centric film. Argentine music composer Gustavo Santaoalla’s background music score stays with you long after you’ve left the cinema hall. The traditional Indian audience may not find favour in Dhobi Ghat, may be only a niche few.

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