"Dhobi Ghat" (2010)- Movie Review

Written and directed by Kiran Rao
Starring Aamir Khan, Prateik, and Monica Dogra

‘Beautifully Revealed Society’

A person’s life, for the better or worse, can be affected by the society that they live in. It may be a town with a restricted caste-system that emphasizes distinction between the rich and poor, or even a city with certain moral values. Either way, people all over the world have to deal with the impact that a society can have on their lives.

Take Mumbai, a city in India, as an example. It’s society is a demanding one that splits people apart through how wealthy or rich they are. In this case, the poor and middle-class suffer through troublesome times while the rich are more fortunate in life. No movie proves this more than “Dhobi Ghat”, an intense examination of a fascinating city.

Set in Modern day India, the film tells interweaving stories of four people, each of which are affected by the same society of Mumbai. Arun (Aamir Khan) is a lost artist looking for inspiration, Shai (Monica Dogra) is a middle-aged woman who’s dream is to pursue a career in photography, Munna (Prateik) is a washer man who wants to become an actor, and Yasmin (Kriti Malhotra) is a newly married woman who keeps a journal of her life. The lives of these characters intersect as they all learn important aspects about life.

First-time director Kiran Rao crafts a magnificent portrait of what it’s like to live in a country like India. Completely different from usual Bollywood fare which highlights unnecessary songs and over-dramatic circumstances, “Dhobi Ghat” is an art film about self-discovery, challenges, and growth that one has to face in life. Its the kind of movie that restores one’s faith in what is become the self-destructing industry of Bollywood. Unlike many Indian movies, it displays effort and rare passion for the art of filmmaking. Rao, a complete newcomer in the field of directing, shows immense talent by orchestrating a brilliant cast, impressive script, and strong topics that usually never appear in movies of this type. The results are so powerful that they have the ability to seize the attention of people who are unfamiliar with Bollywood.

What effects does a country have on it’s people? How do citizens cope with the effects on a day-to-day basis? These are just some of the intriguing questions raised by “Dhobi Ghat”, a film that breaks the boundaries of Indian filmmaking to dive deep into the hidden secrets of India. Essentially the movie is like a tourist ride through India, allowing the viewer to discover it’s character and significant impact on citizens.

And Kiran Rao is the mastermind behind the camera. She does a splendid job of handling both the technical and storytelling departments. In many ways the film doesn’t seem like a directorial debut. Its so meticulously shot and wonderfully written that the person who made it appears to be an experienced, respected filmmaker. Yet Rao is a mere newbie to the skill of directing, and that is what makes the movie an even more impressive feat.

The cinematography is dazzling, capturing the city of India beautifully in a realistic way. Each shot oozes with real passion for filmmaking, not just as entertainment but also in the form of art. Its this kind of passion that one rarely comes across in the industry of Bollywood, where nowadays almost every movie serves only as entertainment. The filmmakers clearly have drive and motivation to reach beyond standard goals set by regular professionals in this industry.

Kiran Rao’s script plunges the audience right into the world of the characters. The greatest achievement here is Rao’s ability to balance different characters. Generally, most movies of this type lose focus since directors aren’t able to manage multiple characters. Rao, however, has the ability to do that. Instead of focusing on just one person, she manages to emphasize four interesting and distinct people necessary for telling the specific story. Her screenplay is vital in displaying each character’s struggle to overcome challenges in society. In fact, its the most important asset that allows the movie to work.

The cast is more than just notable; its very worthy of recognition. Aamir Khan delivers one of his most nuanced performances to date. In the role of a person that is struck by loneliness and confusion, the actor infuses every scene of his with a sense of tension, understanding, and profoundness. Although not much is known about the background of his character, Khan has the natural ability to grasp the audience’s attention through daunting expressions. He shines the most in scenes where he isn’t speaking, and instead using facial expressions.

Another standout is Kriti Malhotra, who in her first acting role gives a riveting performance as a woman affected by her surroundings. Taking into account the heartbreaking, emotionally devastating story of the character, the role is a difficult one to do justice to. Yet surprisingly Malhotra accomplishes the near impossible task of immersing herself into the character. Usually, actors develop and improve throughout their careers, and it isn’t until they’ve done a few performances that they turn in their best one. In this case, however, it will be quite tough to top a performance like this one. Each gesture and expression is the work of a genius at their best.

Overall, “Dhobi Ghat” is a fantastic movie about the connections between differing people and how the connections affect them in life. It isn’t quite perfect since the filmmakers could have explored the topics in a more thorough way, and added more depth by extending the short running time. Given its heavy subject matter and slow pacing, its definitely not meant for everyone, especially those only looking for pure entertainment. Nevertheless this movie represents original and thoughtful filmmaking. In an industry where that is rarely ever present, “Dhobi Ghat” is like a bright light shining in pitch black darkness.

4/5 stars

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