After watching Dhobi Ghat today, I ventured onto the film's IMDB page. One of the questions on the discussion forums was "What change are you expecting in Bollywood after watching Dhobi Ghat?" After a sprinkle of answers saying that people are now switching from mindless comedies to serious films came an answer, by a user ‘colour-me-kubrick’, so short and so positively cynical.
And that is exactly what I feel about the film too. Not that I'm saying it is bad. It is, indeed, a well-made film, and a montage of stories well-portrayed. But if you expect any major changes to take place among Bollywood producers or directors or in the viewing patterns of the general public, then we can only keep on hoping.
But to talk about the after-effects of such a film would be to take away from this film. Some films can bring about a change; a revolution too (case in point Aamir Khan's earlier Rang De Basanti) but Dhobi Ghat is not that film. It is a film that will affect you, more so if you are a Bombayite (Mumbaikar, if you prefer!) The characters in this film are believable, not like those just handpicked out of one's cloud of imagination and put onto the drawing board.
You believe that a character like Munna (played by Prateik) exists. You've probably heard the class-difference love story many times before, but you don't mind it again. Munna captivates you. You wonder how many boats this boy has got his legs into? Dhobi. Rat-killer. Guide. Wannabe actor. 'Extra services' free of cost. And yet he is likable because we too have so many different roles in our day-to-day lives. Roles taken up by the left hand that the right hand is not aware of.
Shai (played by Monica Dogra), the returning Indian from abroad. Why? To take some time off. To connect with her roots. We've seen such a character before and yet we don't mind it. She is looking for love, for friendship: a relationship. But she's confused. Aren't we?
The painter Arun (played by Aamir Khan) comes across as a rather stereotypical caricature of an artist. He doesn't want to be in serious relationships, has mood swings, says stuff like "Mumbai, my muse, my whore, my beloved city”, obsesses about a girl whom he doesn’t even know. We’ve seen such an artist before. And yet we know what it is to have a muse. To be obsessed with someone we know we will never meet.
Yasmeen (played by Kriti Malhotra) is the wife who has been married off against her wishes and brought to the city. She finds out that her husband’s business trips are actually dates with a mistress. She commits suicide. We’ve seen such a character before. And yet what she does differently is that she makes a video documentary of sorts capturing the different sights of Bombay which eventually becomes the crux of this film.
Bombay is the fifth character in the film. The torrential rain, the unending traffic noise, the relentless chugging-by of trains, the piercing silence in the subways or at night: all of this form our four earlier characters into what they eventually become. But Bombay remains unchanged.
The cinematography by Tushar Ray Kanti is terrific. The background score by Gustavo Santaolalla is not your typical Bollywood score. It provides support to the scenes, though I wish we had a little more of it. The acting is top-notch, except for Aamir Khan who doesn’t seem at ease at all in his role as the artist. Surprising.
Sometime ago, Aamir Khan said that Dhobi Ghat was an intelligent film; his exact words were, “I fear that masses may not like Dhobi Ghat because it is a very fine and delicate film. People who understand film, people who are sensitive - this film is for them. This is not a mainstream film.”
I agree that Dhobi Ghat is a fine film. I agree that it is delicate. But I think Aamir should have let the judgment of whether a film is good or not be left upon the public. Agreed that this is not a mainstream film, and that as ‘colour-me-kubrick’ mentioned, “Nothing” will change. But we can hope. Isn’t that what the films tells us as well?