Sunday, July 17, 2011

Dhobi Ghat Review

I assume you're reading this because you have seen this movie or at least heard about it. It's not your mainstream Bollywood movie, but considered "art house". I had friends who praised this simple movie and others who claimed it was a waste of time. After watching it, I see it doesnt' provide the fantasy and escapism elements Hindi movies are supposed to bring their audience. It brings so much more reality forward, but gently.

I enjoyed this movie for it's simplistic, but complex artistic direction. There are layers of voyeurism into lives of people with the audience being the ultimate voyeur. Sometimes it's controlled by the characters, and other times by the director.

Having been to Mumbai in the recent years, there are so many different types of people who live there. Unfortunately, most of the movies lean towards one side of the scale -- the uber-wealthy fantasy folk in designer garb or the slumdogs and the poverty that chokes you.

I appreciate this filmmaker (Kiran Rao) for showing the variety: the hip art scene parties and dealings, the lonely middle class housewife who finds a friend inside a videocamera, the artist who shields himself from intimacy and can only feel from distance, the Indian-American outsider who considers all men created equal and the young man who needs to keep his belly full and eyes on the stars. I'm not even going to talk about Aamir Khan since that's all I heard, but every one of the main actors performed so well that these characters were real and recognizable.

The best thing about this movie was how normal it was. You didn't see the rich girl defy her parents to marry the guy from the wrong side of the tracks.  The artist doesn't find his muse. People die every day in Mumbai. People wake up to live another day in Mumbai. I liked the clothes people wore - just casual clothes and western wear is so popular. The dhobiwalla wearing current t-shirt and sweats makes him more familiar to the girl from the west.

After the 80's "Sex Lies and Videotape" and 90's "Real World", videocamera confessionals inside a film portray a different angle of each story. I'm a fan of the shakey video camera shots - those are real to me because who actually edits their videos in real life? I loved the blurriness of the intimacy scene because it was blurry. I liked hearing noises of India in the background. Lord knows that Mumbai is not quiet. Films usually clear the set and kick out the unwanted. I was moved in an opening scene when a little beggar girl bursts into a dance in front of the camera. My own daughter does the same thing. Children are the same.

Naturally, I was drawn to the Shai character - definitely a New York Indian American girl like many I have known (or I have been). I felt the one gap in her character development was why she left NY finance job to take a "sabbatical" in India. There should've been a reference to it later and where she gets her stalker instinct.

It's been a long time since I had seen such a quietly beautiful film. It doesn't even have a beginning and an end. It's a snapshot, like many we see in it.

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