Dhobi Ghat succeeds in yet another canvas of the Mumbai myth, and sensitively so. What shines in the film is the screen presence of Prateik, who plays Munna, the dhobi wala, and the interlinking thread weaving the various ‘shattered’ spaces of the realm of the film. Although the film seems to be about four lives that are tangled in the cobweb of the concrete jungle, it is more, in the distances, the imbalances and the pulsating equations between them that the film germinates. There is a very conscious effort towards an image building of the entire narrative, which begins , not against expectations, with the opening shots of construction workers and a city under process, almost in mental continuity to where we left Peepli Live. As the blue sky presents a stark ‘dhobi ghat’ in modest Arial font, the Bollywood mould is straightaway broken , with shaky continuous handheld camera shots introducing itself to a soaking Marine drive , where people come for fresh air and little street urchins readily dance to Mera piya ghar aaya for the camera . This is through the eyes of Yasmin (Kriti Malhotra), an absent presence throughout the film.
Arun , the painter, (Aamir Khan) is the stereotypical recluse artist who talks less, seems a misfit in the elite chic art world and has just moved into a new house, which gives him a view of the old city. But that is where , the stereotype ends and it ceases to matter even, because here are mere pawns of a larger checker board of an urbanscapewhich is constantly shuffling. Shai , a high society investment banker from New York, who is on a ‘sabbatical’ and not a holiday, as she points out , to click photographs in Mumbai, encounters two different beings on this graph of Mumbaihood . Munna ( Prateik) , is the common link between Shai and Arun, and yet, the link being only in terms of acquaintance and not any more. He is the dhobi boy who delivers each their laundry everyday. And through this daily narrative, equations emerge. All three equations work independently and uniquely. While there is a constant mystery about the recluse artist that keeps eluding Shai, a bond evolves between Munna and her, as he takes her to the dhobi ghat to photograph the dhobiwalas in action , in return for a favour that she click pictures of him for his acting portfolio. Yes, Munna dreams to act in the movies, and somehow this fact appears agreeable to us despite the trope of the ‘dreamy eyed Bombay immigrant with hopes to become a filmstar’ being an overused one. Kiran Rao uses the handheld camera shots from the Yasmin plot line, to make the film more ‘real’ in texture , more near in narration and encashes on the emotional memories that personal archival images produce. Yasmin , is present only through her videos that she had taken in order to send them to her brother. A newlywed girl who sees Mumbai as an outsider trying hard to make it her own city, Yasmin becomes intrinsically entwined into Arun’s mental and physical space.
The documentary style footage of Mumbai life that we see through Yasmin’s naive lens, and the crisp freeze frames of the ‘faces’ of Mumbai that we see through Shai’s probing lens , turn the film into, a larger statement of the film as a chronicle of the collage of Mumbai. Hence , one supposes ,the subtext of the film ‘Mumbai diaries’. The cinematography captures colours poetically , rich in texture and being partial many times to blue hues, which sets the rather laconic temperament of the film. These have the quality of a Walter Salles’ ( the director films like Central Station and Motorcycle Diaries) narrative mode of depicting faces of a landscape which themselves exude the character of the spaces they inhabit. And leading from that, it is imperative to highlight the music score composed by Gustavo Santaolalla , who has given life to films such as Motorcycle Diaries and Babel. Gustavo intelligently molds his guitar to the Indian lilt, and yet manages to hallmark poignant scenes with his universal notes. Strings don’t sound like strings anymore. They resound the voice of the characters. At points , the Yasmin narrative tends to lag a little , and could have been edited more tightly ; however, overall, the film clocks good time at 95 minutes ( with no intermission!). Not to forget, that, being an ‘uninterrupted’ movie itself is flashed across the posters as a USP of the film, and to ones distaste, the announcements in the multiplexes become a cue to rush to the popcorn stalls at the beginning of the film.
Dhobi ghat is about shifting realms, lives simultaneous in one moment of the city shuffling through different paradigms. Each is moving constantly in a desperate attempt to get somewhere, something or get away from something. And yet the city has its own way of creeping upon you and letting you know that, you need to chase your dream and give it your postal address . Otherwise even dreams get lost in this city of human labyrinths.