Dhobi Ghat: a lyrical love for Mumbai and its denizens
Starring Aamir Khan, Prateik, Monica Dogra, and Kriti Malhotra. In Hindi and English, with English subtitles. Rated PG
Kiran Rao’s directorial debut, Dhobi Ghat (which premiered at the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival), is a subtle, lyrical film about a teeming city and its fragile, interwoven denizens. Her film takes us to a Mumbai that we have not seen in the spectacle films of Bollywood or in the exposé movies of Hollywood. Here the city is densely crowded and deeply stratified, but unwaveringly human. Through Rao’s lens, poverty is neither pitiful nor heroic—it is merely the material reality within which the narrative unfolds.
Watch the trailer for Dhobi Ghat.
The film moves between the lives of four people, through whom we are shown multiple, and deceptively contained, worlds within the city. Arun (Aamir Khan) is an artist who prefers his isolation despite his success in the cosmopolitan art scene. At the opening of his new show, he meets Shai (Monica Dogra), an Indian American spending her sabbatical in Mumbai. They make the expected connection but it is disrupted the morning after.
Shai, in turn, befriends Zohaib, aka Munna (Prateik), a dhobi (launderer) who works for both her and Arun. Meanwhile, Arun moves into a new flat where he finds the forgotten video diaries of a former resident, Yasmin (Kriti Malhotra). She had just moved to Mumbai and traveled through the city recording its chaos with awe and hope for her new life there.
The pace of this film is unrushed and fluid. The relationships between these characters are built with care and precision. Each connection grows in the improbable interstices between the class, communal, and social divides of Mumbai. The actors, including megastar Khan, disappear into their characters with a softness and vulnerability that defines the film.
This is still a love story, both for the city of Mumbai and for the kind of love that is as unaccounted for as it is freely given.