Kiran Rao’s Dhobi Ghat is the story of four Mumbai based characters who, while dealing with personal demons end up crisscrossing each other’s paths and in the process change forever. Laced with some magical moments Dhobi Ghat might stir the viewer to some extent but on the whole the film comes across as a much manufactured exercise with a slight hint of pretense.
Dhobi Ghat Plot
Shai (Monica Dogra), a New York based investment banker on a sabbatical of sorts, meets a reclusive artist, Arun (Aamir Khan) and they hit off like a house on fire. Shai thinks that the chemistry is good enough to explore further but Arun’s a different man by the daylight. Shia decides to concentrate on vacation assignment of photographing people with strange vocations and befriends Munna (Prateik), a local washer man who dreams of becoming an actor. As Munna shows her the sights of the city she clicks his portfolio. They end up spending most of their time together but she can’t seem to get Arun out of her head. Arun shifts into a new house and gets lost in the life of the earlier tenant Yasmin (Kirti Malhotra) through the three video tapes he finds in the house. Shia locates Arun through Munna who happens to be the common link between the two and surreptitiously starts photographing him. While Arun gets immersed in Yasmin’s life that is going from bad to worse, Munna starts falling for Shia who still pines for Arun but will the four get what they want?
The four characters that the film follows are sad people who are trying to look for their spot in sun through companionship, love or even a decent job but if one look closer they don’t seem that sad. The scenes where Arun explains to Shia that he’s a loner, not the relationship types the morning after and later when he bumps into her again and tries to come clean hardly show him as what he claims to be. Rather Arun seems to be happy to have hit it off with someone and wants to be with her more than anything but for some strange reason decides not to tell her! Is this the small crack in him from where he can wade his way out of the loneliness that has pretty much become his calling card? Is this the small window of hope amidst hopelessness? If that’s not the case then let’s just say that Dhobi Ghat is fabricated in such a manner that it will do everything to make you feel sad for later it wants to sign off on a positive note.
Kiran Rao’s Dhobi Ghat walks the same path as most Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu films like Babel, 21 Grams or Amores Perroes. The whole deal of three or four characters whose lives collide and alter the course of their very existence has been done to death and Rao’s film does have a big Inarritu hangover. So much so that she even gets the Mexican auteur’s regular Argentine composer Gustavo Santaolalla to do the background score. Having said that her characters are unique, their stories interesting enough to follow but Dhobi Ghat tries to be something different from what it ends up being.
Dull Moments in Dhobi Ghat
Frank Capra once said that drama is when the audience and not the actors cried but Dhobi Ghat puts too much onus on the sadness of its actors and after a while you just want to ask what the fuss is all about. Out of the lot it’s Prateik who manages to impress you the most. His Munna is nuanced enough to make you believe the crummy life he lives and you can almost breathe the same dreams he harbors. Prateik’s presence is striking but never overbearing. Any actor who can convincingly manage to be quite on screen and yet not look misplaced is a treat to watch and Prateik manages to do just that in most of his scenes. The two that stand out are the ones where he says that he was always hungry back in his village and that’s why he came to Mumbai and the one where he notices Arun’s shirt in Shia’s house. Dogra on the other hand is well cast but oscillates between being passable and tiresome for most of the film. Malhotra is mostly by herself in a major portion of her screen time and keeps it real but the outcome of her story is largely predictable which at time makes her look structured.
Final Words about Dhobi Ghat
Most of the characters walk the rehearsed line but Arun sticks out like a sore thumb. Unlike most of his films Khan gets an opportunity to be by himself in Dhobi Ghat and tries to underplay Arun as far as possible but somewhere he doesn’t seem convinced of the character. The desolation that he struggles to imbibe is like Marlon Brando’s in Last Tango in Paris but unlike Brando Khan constantly looks for directions, something that you just don’t associate with an actor like him. In the scene where Shia walks out in a huff and Munna comes in Khan, for a little while, is so bad that you are convinced that they inserted the wrong take!
Dhobi Ghat’s ode to Mumbai and its people is very palpable but looks misplaced and even pretentious at times. How else do you explain Arun asking Shai something like, ‘You come often to Mohammed Ali road?’ It’s like showing two characters next to India Gate and saying something like ‘fancy bumping into you at the India Gate’ just to convince the viewer of the ‘reality’. I see what I see for you show me…this is exactly the grouse against Dhobi Ghat- it looks like a film devised to show you the sadness that may not be as bad as the characters believe it to.
Dhobi Ghat Cast: Prateik, Monica Dogra, Kriti Malhotra and Aamir Khan
Dhobi Ghat Written and Directed by: Kiran Rao
Dhobi Ghat BUZZ RATING: 2 / 5
Dhobi Ghat Genre: Drama
Dhobi Ghat Producer(s): Aamir Khan and Kiran Rao