Sunday, January 30, 2011


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

I learned a new word the other day – “hindie”. Basically, this is an amalgamation of “Hindi” and “indie”, the former being an Indian language and the latter being the term we have come to associate with films made outside the studio system. You will have to pardon my ignorance on the subject; I don’t see a lot of Indian film. In an effort to change that, albeit a very small one, I caught film festival favourite, DHOBI GHAT, by first time director, Kiran Rao, starring up and coming actors, Prateik and Monica Dogra, as well as veteran Indian actor, Aamir Khan (Rao's husband to boot). It may have taken me a few minutes to adjust to some of the iffier acting and questionable shot choices but once I did, I was taken in by its great sensitivity and compassion.

The “Dhobi Ghat” is a well-known place in Mumbai where “dhobis” wash clothing in the street for hotels, hospitals and rich folk. The film both takes its name and stems from this place. Munna (Prateik), is a young “dhobi” with aspirations of becoming an actor. He certainly has the face for it but, instead of getting him the notice of a famous film producer, his face grabs the attention of a young, unemployed amateur photographer, named Shai (Monica Dogra). Shai comes from a great deal of money and therefore cannot really entertain the idea of falling for a “dhobi”. She also has unresolved issues for a former flame, Arun (Aamir Khan), who also happens to have his laundry done by Munna. Arun himself, a reclusive painter, is finding new inspiration and life in a series of videos a former resident of his new apartment left behind. The window to this girl’s life, and all of its complex trappings, is curious and fascinating but also unexpectedly heartbreaking.

In some ways, DHOBI GHAT relies too heavily on overly simplified conventions to sturdy its foundation. While I’m sure class separation is still very real in Mumbai, the spoiled little rich girl falling for the poor handsome boy from the streets has been done. Rao infuses her delicately woven web between her three characters with great care though, enough so that they are all able to show sides of themselves that are contrasting and compelling. They are all bound by obligation, status and history but they are also all moving towards something altogether new in their lives and they know it. Perhaps some fresh clothing and perspective will allow them to stop fighting the change and just give in.