Dhobi Ghat (2010) (Mumbai Diaries)
Kiran Rao’s Dhobi Ghat (2010) is a film about Mumbai (duh!). More precisely, it’s a film about the impossibility of making a film about Mumbai, an impressionistic look at the city which argues that it is the only possible way to look at the city at all. Everyone in Rao’s film is an artist. No, not just the four lead characters but everyone – even the myriad Jia-esque immigrant workers who literally build the city’s canvas – is an artist here, albeit removed from reality to varying degrees. If Rao’s Mumbai is the film crew, the sea at its end is the cinema screen, before whose stoic permanence social divisions vanish. (One character notes that the sea air smells of people’s desires). Everyone, and specifically the quartet at the centre, seems to attempt to find in art a subliminal hope of transcending class, of being on a level ground. Arun (Aamir Khan) – the film critic figure – can relate to the city space only through the arts. Shai (Monica Dogra) desires to level all spaces through her photography. Munna (Prateik Babbar) – ever at right angles to life – dreams of hitching to the mainstream through cinema. Yasmin (Kriti Malhotra) seeks to rationalize her condition through her art and hopes it will outlive her. Alas, right from the first scene, reality seeps in to foil such utopian plans. Rao, likewise, has a keen eye for urban and screen spaces, dividing and subletting the frame to emphasize the fragmentation that exists on multiple levels. This fragmentation is integral to Dhobi Ghat, for it is terrified of a complete view of the city, suggesting that a total understanding of the city – with its frightening disparities, unspoken calamities and tragicomic ironies – can only result in deep silence – of acknowledgement, of paralysis and of powerlessness. Like Arun’s last painting, like the old woman next door, like the sea.