Dhobi Ghat (2010) (Mumbai Diaries)
Kiran Rao


Dhobi GhatKiran 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.

Jaane Tu Ya Jaane NaNo, this is not a review of Nagesh Kukunoor’s box office bomb Bombay To Bangkok (2007) but of debutant director Abbas Tyrewala’s Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na. Even before the film had got completed, the director had called it a typical Bollywood love story complete with its own quota of songs, fights and even the quintessential over-the-top airport climax. With that kind of a statement from a man who has some very successful scripts behind him, you can’t help but expect the film’s USP to be something completely fresh.

(Spoilers Ahead, yeah right!)

Jai (Imran Khan as a peace loving, meek yet mature guy) and Aditi (Genelia D’Souza in a zealous role) are two very close friends and are part of a small gang of youngsters who have their own share of pubbing, partying, cussing and fooling around. After their college gets over, they try to hook each other up with an apt partner. After they manage to find partners that they think are ideal, they slowly understand that this is not what they desired for. It is not soon when they realize that they have been with their best match all this time. As they struggle to reveal their love to each other, Aditi gets ready to leave for the USA. It is up to Jai to stop her at the airport and reveal his true love to her. Sounds familiar?

(End of already known spoilers)

The film’s almost effortless progress reminds us of the deluge of Korean rom-coms and the screwball comedies of the Clark Gable era. But that just shows how the international cultures have seeped into our own. Right from the generous dose of swearwords to the now-hackneyed dance floors, the movie would look totally outlandish for the village and town dwellers. The best part about the screenplay is that you know you have seen it all a thousand times, but are still attracted towards the film for some reason. That is where the director scores.

What separates Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na from its predecessors is its grey treatment of characters, actions and emotions. There are no extraordinary monologues, fights, melodrama or reactions in the film. Unlike the bickering leads of yesteryear, Jai and Aditi realize each others’ persona and are mature enough to not quarrel with them for that. There is not one false note in the characterization of the cast and their relationships, with the possible exception of Sushant, Aditi’s fiancé, who is handled with a pinch of coldness. Parents who have closed in on the so-called generation gap, a brother who is more sensible than he looks, a protagonist who thinks everything has a non-violent solution, the characters ring true and are omnipresent in the cities. Be it the sibling relationship between Aditi and Amit or the miserable one between Meghna’s parents, there is honesty written all over.

Abbas Tyrewala seems to know that his target audience is miniscule and is unperturbed by that. He has deliberately let some things go over the head of the audience outside his reach and does not care about that. He is quite sure that the young metropolitan crowd, at whom the film is aimed at, will find a page out of their own lives in the film. This confidence is, perhaps, the director’s biggest success in the film. Imran Khan manages well with his small set of expressions and is overpowered by the more experienced Genelia who seems tailored for the role. Arbaaz and Sohail Khan steal the show in the few scenes they are in and the same can be said about veterans Paresh Rawal and Nasseeruddin Shah.

So when do you know it’s love? You do not realize the importance of a commonplace object until it becomes not-so-common. The film handles the same issue handled in Mani Ratnam’s successful flick Alaipayuthey (2000), but gives a totally urban look to the concept. What is more interesting than the film itself is the question that what a confident and clear writer and director, such as Abbas Tyrewala, is going to do in the future where not only would he have the funds to experiment, but also the opportunity to reach a universal crowd. Guess only time will tell. As for now, enjoy this fresh lease of energy amidst stale and pretentious multi-starrers while it lasts in theatres.