Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Four Strings of Pearls - Dhobi Ghat at BFI Film Festival London

There are many reasons why it feels right to start my blogging on Indian films with Kiran Rao's Dhobi Ghat:

First because it seems very adequate that my writing should start with a film that has a close connection to Aamir Khan. It is with him, back in 2001 when they showed Lagaan in Swiss cinemas, that my addiction for Hindi Films began. And my admiration for him as an actor and filmmaker has it's fair share in keeping my interest alive over all those years. But don't get me wrong, Dhobi Ghat is not an Aamir Khan film. It is very much a product of the mind, brain and heart of Kiran Rao and almost all the credit for what I loved in this film goes to her. But nonetheless he produced it, acts in it and was smart enough to marry the girl! So it still feels very much like a film close to his heart.

Second it's to say thanks to a fine co-blogger and friend who watched Dhobi Ghat at the premiere in Toronto who's wonderful review made me get my globetrotter act together and move my butt to London. As usual, she was spot on in her analysis when she told me that it would be totally worth it and that I was going to love every minute of it.

Third, - and this should actually be first- , because I totally fell in love with this sensitive little film. Sorry for calling it little, but it has a delicate and intricate quality to it that makes it feel almost intimate. In the best sense of the word. It is as if the director handles you a handful of precious pearls. You just want to sit and study their various colours, textures and some are reflecting a little Mumbai moments that you just love to spin on in your imagination.
They are tied into strings of the story lines of the four main protagonists: Arun, the introvert painter, so sensitive to the vibrations of a place, but at a loss in dealing with people; Shai, the NRI on a sabbatical in Mumbai discovering the city through her camera; Munna, the Dhobi dreaming of escaping the drudgery of his two "dirty" jobs into a career as a Bollywood hero and Yasemin, the country girl freshly married into the big city. Their strings intertwine and form three carefully balanced love stories. But I don't like to tell more about their stories here. The enjoyment lies in the way Kiran makes you experience them along with the characters.

And even though I saw the film just three days ago I'm already impatient to see it again, so I can have a closer look at some fleeting moments that I could only just notice in the first viewing. I'd like to explore the way Kiran lets architecture, streets and rooms tell their own part of the story. This alone would be reason enough for me to love the film. Finally a director letting the charismatic old houses of Bombay have a voice of their own. I stayed barely two weeks in Mumbai, but this film so reflects my experience of what is the character of the city beyond the famous sights.

Let's say a word or two about the casting: Both the girls fit their characters very well and make you like them quite a bit. But there is no comparison with how Prateik can charm the audience. His character is probably also the most interesting to emphasize with, but there is no denying that he is a very gifted actor with a very unusual but powerful charisma. It was amazing to feel how the whole packed cinema was sighing, laughing and holding their breath with him. There is a rare, shy quality to his performance that I sincerely hope success and Bollywood won't spoil.

But, charming, handsome and likable as he may be, my knees went all wobbly for the other guy! Ahhh, Kiran, thank you for letting Aamir weazle his way into your cast! What a treat for the fan! Mind you, his is a very quiet, internal story, but that gives him just more scope to act in subtle ways. The shy, intense artist type with an edge is just what makes this fangirl's heart happy. It doesn't hurt either that this is one of the most sensual roles he ever had. Not in any sleazy way. But watching him lovingly spread paint on a canvas has a physical beauty in itself. And when he squeezes bubble foil I was almost cheering loudly.

But fangirl excesses aside, Dhobi Ghat is a marvelously well crafted movie. I don't know how the Indian public will react to it. There is so much that defies the stereotypes of Indian cinema and a lot is left open for the viewer to complete on his own. But on the other hand, I like to think that today there is a mature audience open for this richly layered movie experience. At least everybody who truly loves Mumbai should appreciate this. I wish both Kiran and Aamir all the best for this release and hope that this gem finds many more lovers!