To enter lives of people, to feel their feelings, to experience the dramas of their changing seasons. And to wonder at the amazing diversity of choices which people have - and end up living their lives with.
Dhobi Ghat is about the lives four people choose to live in one metropolis, where the crowds ensure you can pass each other at a whisker's distance, and not know about the other's presence.
Arun (Aamir Khan) is a reclusive artist. Shia (Monica Dogra) is an investment banker from the States on sabbatical. Munna (Prateik Babbar) is a dhobi and a wannabe actor. And Yasmin (Kriti Malhotra) is a Muslim newly-wed.
And they are all part of a city which gives them either recognition or anonymity, sometimes by choice, sometimes by happenstance.
Connect. Change. Be changed. Part.
But its easy to connect to human-ness, whatever the background of the characters in a film. It's both a strength and a weakness of thi film, that none of the protagonists have darkness in their souls. It makes them likeable, but also renders the drama a trifle effete. Thus things happen to people in spite of them being good. And they react the way good people do - tremoulously, tentatively, by flight, by withdrawal , or simply by permanently exiting.
But is there change in any of the characters as the film reaches the end? Have the incidents they have gone through changed them in ways good or bad? Alas, no.
The slice of their lives shown in the film remains a surface examination of the incidents and feelings of the characters: some tears, yes, but no red blood corpuscles on show.
But what the film loses in drama, is made up in empathy. There is a huge affection which the director has for her characters, and it shows in every shy smile and gesture of theirs.
Munna is an absolute sweetheart. He carries his status of a dhobi lightly, and doesn't let it overwhelm his relationship with the upper-class Shia. Similarly, Shia is sensitive to Prateik's feelings, in spite of her love for Arun. Both are characters well-delineated and enacted. But surely, the most poignant is Yasmin, the newly-wed who is seen entirely in video, and who enters our lives with stars in her eyes and leaves (and leaves us behind) with tears.
The most unsatisfactory - and the most surprising - part is that of Aamir. Underwritten, and lacking depth, one doesn't know what he feels or stands for. No amount of star-power - or brooding aloneness by the sea-side - can overcome a character which is poorly defined.
To make up for this one weakness is the incredible charecterisation of Bombay. It is a hideaway, a place for voyeurs, for a man to hide behind multiple pursuits or an upperclass woman to be friends with a washerman; but it is also a place so small that there is no one to reach out to, when one needs it most.
Finally, a film is as good as what it makes you feel. And this one brings a lump in the throat. There is delicacy and understatement - and the story is so obviously from the heart.
But it also makes you leave the dining table with the feeling there was a course served less. The rounding off is too little, the drama slight. It has its moments, but is not memorable.
~ Sunil Bhandari
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January 23rd, 2011
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