Take Mumbai’s ruthless monsoons for example – for some it’s a time for romance and reflection, for the others a struggle to survive. And both these sections represent Mumbai’s reality.
The title Dhobi Ghat itself is a delicious metaphor for the city where all colours, shapes and kinds confluence.
We see the city from four perspectives: two insiders (at least they’ve lived in Mumbai long enough to be called so) and two outsiders.
American investment banker Shai (Monica Dogra) is in Mumbai for some “breathing space”. This ironical statement amuses Arun (Aamir Khan), a reticent painter whom she meets on the opening night of his exhibition.
They spend the night together, and are unaware that they share another connection – that of their dhobi (washer man) Munna (Prateik).
Complete with the naiveté of an outsider, Shai initiates a friendship with Munna. She offers him tea, they talk, she makes up when they fight. It’s not a patronising alliance – but a friendship between equals.
However Munna is understandably inhibited all through.
Meanwhile Arun moves to a Mohamed Ali Road room for inspiration. He finds some leftovers from the earlier tenant: a box, a pendant, some handycam tapes.
The tapes are Yasmin’s (Kriti Malhotra), who had newly moved to Mumbai from Uttar Pradesh after her marriage. Her tapes are messages of her well-being to her brother back home.
So far, so fab. Background score by Gustavo Santaolalla (Babel, Brokeback Mountain) is delicately evocative.
The four characters and their lives are intertwined seamlessly. Those familiar with world cinema, especially Hollywood, will be familiar with such narratives where parallel stories are told for them to finally connect.
Again such viewers aren’t going to be that impressed with this storytelling style.
What is remarkable though is the way the film is shot (cinematographer: Tushar Kanti Ray) – completely free of artificial sets and filmed on real locations from quaint Irani cafes, the bustle at Mohamed Ali Road, the expanse of Chowpatty and the chaos of Ganesh Utsav.
You have delicious moments like street children dancing an impromptu jig on seeing her camera, or a housemaid captured reluctantly on tape with her educated daughter reciting Tennyson.
There are some implausible developments, too, though. Would a sister, for example, inform her marital woes to her brother over a recorded tape?
Prateik plays Munna to perfection adding in nuances of honesty, dignity, humour, and vulnerability.
Amir Khan as Arun is a treat, whether he’s enjoying the rains with a glass of whiskey or getting temperamental over deadlines.
Debut actors Monica Dogra (Shai) and Kriti Malhotra (Yasmin) are in complete control and render impressive performances.
Kiran Rao’s directorial debut is immersing, throbbing and full of life. Don’t expect a commercial entertainer, this isn’t one.
And don’t expect pure art house cinema: this is nowhere as crafted or complex. Watch it for Rao’s tribute to the city.