In the age of swashbuckling BMW'S and SUV's Dhobi Ghat is a cinematic moped. A light-weight, breezy vehicle that lets you feel the rain fall on the naked skin, with arms wide open; and when it gets dark, it exposes you to the dingy, rat-infested bylanes of Bombay suburbs. All this at a comfortably slow pace (14 minute long takes?). This interval-less ride elicits the heterogeneous character of the city, through the narratives of four different character interwoven at the site of the Dhobi Ghat. You are compelled to ruminate their relationship with the city. A recluse painter-decidedly refraining the chic cosmopolitan urban crowd. A slumdog washerman aspiring to become a Bollywood actor. A small-town girl jostling to find her feet in the abundance of the metropolis and finally, a New York banker- flaneuring the city to ripen her photography ambition, while enjoying her sabbatical. The film enables the contours of the city to map their individual struggles and dreams.
The emphatic absence of a typical Bollywood plot, condenses the film to some exceptionally elegant moments. Sights and moods that facilitates you to trudge on the emotional landscape of the four protagonists.For instance-Munna practicing how to pose ahead infront of the mirror-ahead of his portfolio shoot is both honest and entertaining. If realism is the leading manifesto of an art film, Dhobi ghat manages it effortlessly. After all how many contemporary films attempt to capture the utter abysmal mundaneness of life. Shy's character for me is the most identifiable out of all. Her uneasy, dazed state of mind after an incidental one-night stand with an attractive artist, her hesitance to get romantically involved with a good-looking Dhobi indicate the strength of the screenplay.
diegetic soundtrack, hand-held camera, lucid visuals, lack of closure and long sequences of inactivity reflect director's understanding of art cinema. A deliberate departure from dramatic narrative allows you to engage with the visual language of the medium. Like a modern painting, the form becomes the content. Here i am tempted to recall the chase sequence in the climax, where Munna hurriedly runs to Shy's car. The most fascinating aspect for me is while the film clearly is an ode to the Maxim city, it does not come across celebratory or self-loathing, (as in the case of Slumdog Millionaire). it speaks through its subtlety, reminding me of the effervescence of Lost in Translation and My Blueberry nights.
Having said this very generously, i have to mention of some of the very cliched moments in the film that come across rhetorical/redundant. death of munna's brother due to a gangster skirmish sounds foolish and rather unreal. An unsuited development that doesn't add much to the story but weakens Munna's character-who's grief is very amateurishly dealt with. Mysterious death of this nature unsettles the realistic atmosphere created by the film otherwise. Arun's obsession with Yasmeen purely based on some dusty tapes is hard to gulp. It's totally acceptable for an artist to find his muse in unexplored pockets of life. But for an emotionally stoic person, who is shown to be a failure in matters of love and relationships-breaking down this intensely over a virtual figure (and here i am referring to the way he performs this particular scene) left me with it a straight-face.
However, in these precise incidents, there was a greater potential of falling to conventional drama and predictable twists a`la any run of the mill Bollywood film. Afterall how hard is to imagine Shy falling in love with Munna, who post-interval would have turned into a dashing, sucessful filmstar, thanks to our photographer prodigy. No! instead the film seems in complete control in keeping the disquiet and melancholy alive consistently through th film. The film is as real, as it could get without the ground-breaking exposures and sting operations (No pot shots on Bhandarkar or Jessica ji here). And, conjectures stand correct-Prateik Babbbar effortlessly steals your heart.Lastly, the cherry on the cake award goes to film's incredibly intense soundtrack, that circumscribes film's overall intelligence and subtlety.