An NRI with a camera in hand, a street urchin with searing ambition in his heart, a brooding painter whose life lacks colors of the brighter tones, and a yearning woman, trying to escape the realities of her existence. Four lives the maximum city, trying to make sense of whatever the city throws at them. Dhobi Ghat is perhaps the most definitive film on Mumbai, and modern urban Indian life.
The film is clinical and stark. Kiran Raos debut effort draws you into the lives of her four characters with the stealth and expertise of a voyeur, never too far to miss the spicy dirty details, yet not so close as to get noticed and entangled in the ensuing mess.
As the four lives cross paths, the city of Mumbai and its ruthless chaos takes centre stage.
Each story is a metaphor for what the city represents. None is black or white; every character revels in the grey shade they are painted with. Be it Aruns self obsession with his art and sadness, or Munnas urge to make it big on the silver screen, Yasmins silent cries for escape, and the unintended arrogance and selfishness of Shia, all have flaws, yet endear themselves to the audience.
A reflection of our won lives and selves perhaps, watching them negotiate Mumbai and its ways, is at times, so eerily close to home, that one actually feels a chill run down the spine.
Prateik, Monica and Kriti, form the backbone of the film, with their effortless and nuanced performances. Prateik, as Munna, who admires his sculpted physique in the mirror or Shia, who roams the streets with a camera oblivious of the pain and harshness that her lenses capture, are brilliant and offer rare cinematic moments of our times.
Amir Khan reinforces his primacy as the most cerebral actor around, with his understated and strong portrayal. It is to his great credit that never through the film does he overshadow any of the co-actors, the story, or the directors vision, blending effortlessly into the films colors.
Above everything else, Dhobi Ghats real strength is the tone of the film. It is unhurried,confident and very personal, the characters are comfortable with their nature, flawed or otherwise. It doesnt question the city of Mumbai and its methods,instead goes forward with the story in a very casual matter-of-fact manner.
Kiran Raos debut is a commendable effort. The film heralds the arrival of a new voice, a voice that is rough, authoritative and in-your-face, yet never once loud and garish. At a running length of 95 mins, it is also a very crisp voice. A definitive film this one is, miss it at your own risk.