Dhobi Ghat (Mumbai Diaries)- Movie Review

I am pretty sure there will be many Aamir Khan fans who will wrestle for tickets of this movie when it got released a couple of days ago in Malaysia, but many of them will return home not feeling any kind of satisfaction of watching it. But the unique thing about Dhobi Ghat is that Kiran Rao (yes, the director) knows this fact too.

“I know this film won’t appeal to the general audience,” this was what she bluntly put forth when interviewed recently. She already knew the target audience would be connoisseurs of art-house cinema, and that’s why the film has been doing rounds in film festivals ever since its debut in the Toronto Film Festival (TIFF) back in September.

Running at less than 2 hours, Dhobi Ghat is like a chapter from a thick, epic observatory novel called Mumbai Diaries (the film’s alternate English title). Dhobi Ghat isn’t about the entirety of those diaries, but instead just showcases a chapter of the lives of individuals involved in it.

The film is the story of four people: Arun, Shai, Munna, and Yasmin.

Arun (Aamir Khan) is a divorced, lonely introvert painter who had just shifted apartments. At his art exhibition he meets Shai (Monica Dogra), an American investment banker who is on a sabbatical in Mumbai, and has a one-night stand with her. He subsequently explains to her that he has no intention to take the relationship further, and though she concurs, she is smitten by his charm and begins stalking him.

At the same time Shai meets Munna (Prateik Babbar), a dhobi cleaner who does odd jobs to make his ends meet while at the same time aspiring to be an actor. Munna requests Shai to do a portfolio photo shoot for him and she does. He begins to get attracted to her.

At the same time, Arun, in his new apartment, finds some random tapes of a young woman named Yasmin (Kriti Malhotra), a Muslim woman who has just arrived in Mumbai after her marriage to her city-dwelling husband, who was also the previous tenant in the apartment Arun currently rents. Arun watches every tape that she records in her videocam and later starts to attempt finding her whereabouts.

So, as you can see, this is not a love triangle, instead it’s a square. But here there no rejected proposals, every character has there own fears, their own hesitancy and so on. This is probably the subtlest film you will ever see in the history of Bollywood.

There is also the character of the neighboring aunt of Arun’s , who simply observes and says absolutely nothing- just like Mumbai. To add to that, the story starts when Arun shifts into his new apartment and ends when he shifts out of the apartment to a new place. That’s the thread of the story. It simply tells you what happens in between his shifting from one place to another.

Prateik Babbar, almost a Siddharth look-alike, is brilliant as Munna. He debuted as Genelia’s brother in Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na, and with this performance, he proves beyond doubt that he is an actor for the future. It’s almost a certainty that producers will line up at his door having been exposed to both his good looks and considerable emoting skills as a slum dweller.

Monica Dogra and Kriti Malhotra are both great finds by Kiran Rao, as they fit their characters seamlessly. Aamir Khan, the ever-reliable actor, once again shows his selection prowess. He hardly speaks in the film (due to his introvert nature), but he leaves behind a telling impact and the only point that triggers you to shed tears in the film is also due to his brilliant emoting when he finds out about Yasmin.

Do not expect to be immersed too much in the film, as the film is as detached as it could get. It simply observes without interfering into the characters, more like documentary. And the only engaging moment arrives when Arun finds out about Yasmin, and the film ends soon after. Kiran Rao has written a script specifically for that purpose and she does exactly that.

For a debutant, she shows abstract maturity that is not seen in many present day directors, and although the financial cinema world would expect her to be more engaging and aggressive with her next attempt, being passive and detached in the way she arranges her sequences requires a craft, a talent of its own, and that is something she definitely has.

Sometimes it’s easier to make a film aggressively and have the characters laugh, smile, shout and cry to tell their emotions rather than making a film using a character’s long stare into an empty space, their hopes, their dismay, their loneliness, their insecurity, their selfishness, the tragedy of being wretched from the inside.

Kiran Rao captures loneliness in a way no-one has ever done prior to her.

If you accept Dhobi Ghat for what it offers, then it is indeed a masterpiece.

For those who could not comprehend these genres of films, there is no disappointment to be taken home with this film.

As confessed by the filmmakers themselves, the film was made on a puny budget by the filmmakers themselves. They did not run the financial risk either. The film was shot entirely in Mumbai- there are no stunt scenes, no song sequences, no expensive studio sets- just Mumbai- and all about it.

The film did not even use huge tripods set up to shoot on location, as it was shot using the guerilla technique (real time, support-off, hands-on shooting on the go).

The question is- what have you got to lose? Open your minds towards a different cinema experience, watch it at least once, and if you don’t like it, just accept that this particular genre is not yours.

There’s nothing to like or dislike about the film, just whether you accept or don’t accept.

As for me, all I would say is I would go to Kiran Rao’s next movie.

Rating: 7.5/10

Peepli [LIVE]

Peepli Live is Anusha Rizvi’s way of showing us what we have become.

Aamir Khan has, over the years, developed an imitable reputation of being a name associated with quality films. Thus, expectations were high for the August release of Peepli Live, which was written and directed by debutant Anusha Rizvi, and starred a spew of small-time and theater actors- led by Omkar Das Manikpuri.

Make no mistake; Peepli Live definitely is not your typical commercial fare, or even a typical Bollywood fare. The film doesn’t have songs, nor does it follow a hero-heroine formula. The film explores the glaring issue of farmer suicides in India, where the government’s initiative of providing lucrative compensation packages to the families of farmers who throw themselves onto a dagger were exploited by the poverty-stricken farmers.

First of all, the story:

Natha Das Manikpuri and Budhia Das Manikpuri are good-for-nothing sibling farmers in a small dry village in the Peepli region of Mukhya Pradesh. The film begins with the bank announcing that their unproductive land will be up to auction as they have failed to repay loan debts. Driven out of the house my Natha’s fiery, disgruntled wife Dhaniya and having to constantly listen to the rants of their bedridden, foul-mouthed mother who keeps calling Dhaniya a ‘witch’ and a ‘slut’, the brothers start to entertain the hearsay that the government will provide Rs. 1 lakh of compensation if a farmer commits suicide.

Budhia, being the manipulative one, tacitly plays to the gallery by offering his life, only for the younger, often blurred Natha, to offer his own in retaliation. The brothers agree that Natha should give up his life, the reason being Natha is married and has three children, which means that the family would directly benefit from his suicide.

Rakesh, a local reporter from a small-time newspaper called Jan Morcha, happens to be in Peepli when he hears the brothers talking about the suicide scheme and runs a story of Natha’s suicide declaration. He unwittingly sets off the media circus, with major news channels making a beeline with their media trucks to the previously forgotten land of Peepli, and Natha becoming the topic of the day.

What follows is a comedic and often disturbing sequence of events that tells you the story of the real India beneath the cloaks of development, and the true failure of a democratic system that only feeds the rich.

To begin with, you won’t find better performances anywhere else than you would in Peepli. Aided by the fact that most of the characters were played by less popular actors, most of theater backgrounds, the actors pretty much live and breathe their characters throughout and do not look like actors at all.

Omkar Das Manikpuri delivers a somewhat staggering performance in the lead role, more so because he hardly speaks a word and looks his dumfounded, useless self for much of the movie and yet he creates great impact and conveys the kind of ridicule you would feel to get so much media attention over a matter so trivial.

Raghubir Yadav as Budhia and Malaika Shenoy as the TV reporter Nandita Malik back the film with great performances respectively. Not that others did any less of a job.

Peepli leaves you with a somewhat unfulfilling feel, and delivers a damning verdict of today’s India and the severe lack of intelligence that gets hold of the people when they chase for personal glories.

The film is best described through the final scenes when hoards of journalists abandon a Chief Minister’s press conference and run to a nearby barn, that too in a pitch dark situation- one man asks another man ‘where are you running?’ and they couldn’t answer.

Everyone were running around the barn without a proper direction, chaotic and without purpose, with the only aim being to get a story and boost their professional credentials. That’s what the film is all about. It is a social commentary about individuals who run around aimlessly in pursuit of what they think secures their survival in an unforgiving world.

The best part of the film is the tiny character of Hori Mahato, who amidst all the fanfare of Natha’s death, is seen digging his land fervently day till night so that he can sell the sand in order to save his land from being auctioned. The character doesn’t speak, and when it is found dead in the own pit he has been digging all the while, it paints a picture of how the important ones get ignored.

Take the scene of the chief minister announcing that he would provide Natha with a Rs.1 lakh compensation so that Natha would not commit suicide (after great political contemplation), only to retract after he gets bashed for anarchy. How often have we come across politicians who make ‘smart’ and ‘savory’ statements that obviously had very low intelligence in them?

There is also a scene where a reporter manipulates a couple of women and asks them to dance fervently as if they have been possessed by the lord, and reports about the Goddess delivering prediction through them that Natha will die. Worse still, that bit of news is flashed as breaking news. You find that dumb, but that is what happens. Even news gets dragged out like prolonged serial drama in Indian news.

Why, the police event escorts Natha whenever he attempts to answer nature’s call, fearing that he may commit suicide at any such time.

Anusha Rizvi handles the film like a veteran and proves herself to be a master storyteller when it comes to sattires, and its all the more amazing that in the ages of Farah Khan, we see the rise of a female film-maker who doesn’t get carried away with commercial elements, but rather proves to be a quality story-teller. It’s all the more amazing that Anusha did it in Bollywood- which is an industry where good, well-bred satire seems to be a bygone genre.

Peepli is an important social film, and has more impact on the issue than a documentary could have. But if you are looking for messages, then you are looking at the wrong place. You will end of with your mouth open in wonder and uncertainty if you had hoped the film would end in a way that Taare Zameen Par or 3 Idiots ended, no matter how much of quality films those two were.

Peepli doesn’t even generate empathy or sympathy with the lead character. You don’t cry for Natha, and the scene is cut short and doesn’t allow you to cry for Hori and Rakesh either. The film is not about crying or feeling pity for characters. It is a mere observation of a system’s failure to deliver, and also an observation of the individuals in relation to the system’s failure.

Peepli is categorized as a satire, and whilst you may laugh at certain scenes, it will never make you roll on your floor and laugh. There is a difference by slapstick acts of comedians getting them kicked for their stupidity, and the mass stupidity of many people that we witness in our everyday lives.

Just read the news and watch the TV. Or read our country’s Harian Metro. What makes news? It’s the kind of stupidity and feet-of-clay attitude that affects us all, that stirs laughter, but beneath that, stirs a pint of anger and dissatisfaction.

What have we become? – We ask that question with a sigh so many times.

Peepli Live is Anusha Rizvi’s way of showing us what we have become.

Anusha Rizvi is only 32 and she was a former journalist. And she had done through a film something many news channels have failed to do with their ‘news’ pieces. She told the truth, she told things as they are- Kudos to her.

Rating: 8/10