Dhobi Ghat (aka. Mumbai Diaries, 2010) – Deconstructing through the socio-cultural, geographic landscape of the “City of Dreams”

Dhobi Ghat is a nonchalant depiction about four different lives intersecting in Mumbai.

I study in Mumbai. In fact, a couple of months from now, I’ll soon be shifted to the city of dreams. I have been studying in the city since 2017 and almost ventured every length and breadth of the city. There’s always a vibe flowing endlessly in this city, thus ready to sweep us away, take us to our destination, and ultimately changing our lives forever. Mumbai can be puzzling and challenging for any newcomer, but it does welcome people with warmth and affection unlike any other city. Mumbai has an aura of complexity, exuberance, diligence, and also rewards such individuals be it in terms of social esteem or monetary esteem. An intriguing feature about Mumbai is the differences shared by people who are geographically concentrated in distinct landmarks of the city. In short, it is the ever-ranging diversity and metropolitan culture which distinguishes Mumbai and is probably the most “Un-Indian” city in my perspective. Perhaps, differentiating the lives of people in Mumbai isn’t as complex as it seems to be. With a population of 2.1 crore jampacked in little boxes, some are living the luxury, whereas the others are struggling hard to make their ends meet. It’s easy to create an impression for any non-mumbaikar just as you enter the Domestic terminal airport at Santa Cruz, how flabbergasting situations are here. With airport on one side and the vast slumhood on the other, Mumbai can be a cruel mistress and a biased land for many people. A plethora of cab drivers, labourers, corporate office-goers, business tycoons, celebrities, artists and painters, unemployed and struggling oblivious youth, and many more, all share a similar platform of distinct memories, disgruntled struggle, happiness, moroseness, success and failure in this breadwinner city of dreams. Rich in glitter and glamor, Mumbai didn’t leave any opportunity behind in deconstructing itself as the sole Indian medium of experiencing westernization. Likewise, Kiran Rao’s “Dhobi Ghat” tries to picture vernacular lives of four entire different people living in Mumbai, and has further showcased the working class anxiety, little moments of loneliness as every protagonist here is dealing with their own personal lives, some experiencing success, contentment and the other solutide and sorrow. I’ll be further delving into the storyline and technicalities of the film, thus excavating each detail with an immaculate sense and vision. Dhobi Ghat may have just uplifted all my expectations towards Indian cinema, but more than that, it has industriously changed my outlook towards people, society and our social system. An important disclaimer: SPOILERS ahead!

Excellently mastercrafted by Kiran Rao, some shots just flow within our body and soul and embraces with mere affection. A raw and realistic portrayal of complex lives in big cities.

Just to make it more comforting and easy in beginning, the film revolves around lives of Arun (Aamir Khan), Yaasmin (Kriti Malhotra), Shai (Monica Dogra) and Munna (Prateik Babbar), each of them with different lifestyles and settled in respective parts of Mumbai. The early shots of the film take us through the spectacular jewel side of South Mumbai- Marine Drive, where we observe Yasmin taking a cab ride and glimpsing Mumbai for the first time. Yasmin’s life seems to be happy from outside as she meticulously crafts her memories through a video film and which remains captured in her camera for long. We observe the first protagonist of the film celebrating her newly wedded life with her husband and the camera shots later take us to Western Colaba, and we see glimpses of Gateway of India and Taj Hotel. The film later arrives at Arun’s life, a successful yet lonely, divorced painter who shifts into a new apartment in Chembur. Arun is a high profile stature in the haute couture society, but it seems he is leading an empty and mysterious life on the inside. In one of the high profile minimalistic art events, he meets our third protagonist, Shai. Shai leads a simple lifestyle yet she lives in the suburbs of South Mumbai and has previously worked as an investment banker in New York. In search of love and meaning, Shai moves back to Mumbai to live with her parents and pursues her hidden dream of photography. Now, it is evident from the first shot that Shai is a glittering beam on the exterior part but is scouring hard for finding a relationship. After being accidently humiliated in her first encounter with Arun, she leaves his apartment the next morning hurriedly and calls it off as history. The most charming part about the film is the inevitable presence of our fourth protagonist, Munna. Now, Munna is struggling to make his ends meet but still seems joyful and celebrating on the outside, as we observe him gallivanting around at movies with his buddies. The film takes a turn after each disappointed experience in the first encounter and we observe things turning very quick for each protagonist. A moving screenplay with rich, meaningful conversations keep the heart of the film at the right place and we start appreciating it more as with passing time. As Munna works as a “dhobi”, he goes around several people’s homes and ultimately becomes a mutual connecting link between Arun and Shai. The extraordinary turn arrives when Arun finds a video tape of Yaasmin in his new apartment, which apparently must have been Yaasmin’s earlier before. Secondly, Munna meets Shai and both their lives take an interesting transformation. With Arun engrossed and indirectly intertwined into Yaasmin’s life, the other side of Mumbai showcases social, cultural and economic differences uniting together and sharing happiness. Shai poses as a photographer for Munna and there we see the beginning of a beautiful friendship. With Shai always being passionate for achieving her own dreams, Munna inadvertently falls in love with Shai which we as the audience perceive as it’s never possible. The film keeps on changing track rapidly, while sometimes turns into a slow burning drama enriched with conversations and each’s emotions playing the important role.

With Shai slowly and steadily making a mark in the photography world, her feelings for Arun still remains the same. Kiran Rao’s beautiful and honest depiction of excavating a youth, feminine character study pays off with excellence, as every girl like Shai achieving her dreams but lonely in their adolescence, has a strong will and urge of moving forward and accepting life. Although, her obsession over Arun continues as in many parts of the film we observe her voyering over Arun’s apartment and patiently staying still, thus she finally steps forward to meet him and the two with their second encounter of their lives- only this time at Arun’s new apartment. The film also has clear highlights of selfishness and “taking for granted” human nature, as we literally observe Shai doing the same over Munna. Now, Munna is a small town, easily flattered and bluffed, naive person who is oblivious of what’s happening with him. But each time its’ Shai’s warmth and sweetness, while sometimes she is patronizing him too, and we realize things might take another turn. With little emphasis being shared on Yaasmin, we finally conclude with each of her poetic illustrations towards life and relationships, that only she has been cheated from her husband in an extramarital affair, for which she ultimately commits suicide. With Arun realizing it was the same apartment where she had died, a trembling, petrified and empathetic Arun hurries off the apartment and we observe him weeping off tears with empathy and guilt. Meanwhile, Munna has been involved in a tragic encounter as his brother is beaten to death from the works of mob men. He changes his apartment, trying to avoid being in touch with Shai, finally has agreed to live a somber and tranquil lifestyle. It is Shai who finally spots him and Munna recites an explanation of what he had earlier been through. With a little moment shattering his life apart, he promises Shai never to meet him again. Here, we experience the light emerging back from Munna. He ultimately redeems himself from his failed, “never happened” relationship, broken heart and torned emotions just by healing Shai’s lonely life by giving Arun’s new contact address- as later we come to know Arun has shifted again to a new place and his life finally has a new meaning and balance. The final shots of the film exemplifies moments of redemption, a new meaning, with a glittering hope still existing in each’s hearts. Each’s life has a new direction and they have built foundations from the very beginning, yet still they are content to have chosen the road. End of the day, it is the journey which matters and not the destination.

The following shot highlights profound meanings of direction and meaning, for which this contemplative gaze from Arun proves all our points and provide us multiple solutions.

Arriving at the technicalities of the film, it is the conversations amongst our protagonists which makes all the difference for this film. With running intensity, nonchalance of emotions, and deep delving into each’s solitude life, I as a spectator learnt about complexities, burdens and tensions in human nature. The screenplay is masterfully written and I’ve always been fascinated in learning about different means of lifestyle, people with the best depiction when they are interlaced with other another. Thank you Kiran Rao for reminding me of PT Anderson’s “Magnolia”, and all credits to you for adapting the loosely-inspired screenplay into Mumbai’s culture. There is nothing like Mumbai, there’s nothing like Indian minimalism, and which could be best described with the help of you people. Keeping the impeccable screenplay and acting aside, the pace of the film sometimes cause a wreckage as at times there are miscalculations and little flaws at synchronizing with the undertone and theme of the film. I was also expecting a better ending, but nothing can be perfect. Lower your expectations, watch with a numb and free mind, “Dhobi Ghat” may just answer all your questions towards direction, meaning and heterogeneity in human nature in big cities.

ACTING- 4.5/5

SCREENPLAY- 4.5/5

EDITING/PACING- 4/5

CINEMATOGRAPHY- 4/5

DIRECTION- 4.5/5

MUSIC EDITING- 3.5/5

VERDICT- 4/5

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