That ecosystem impacted me more than I’d imagined, and for it, my thought process today is all the more enriched. It's almost as if it triggers a constant reminder to put things in perspective, even if it’s for what might not be too consequential in the bigger picture (e.g. the traditional versus art-house argument). These two films might be positioned as unconventional, indeed art-house to many. But in the bigger picture, does that even matter when all we are looking for is good cinema?
Putting things in perspective is a fitting way to begin any discussion on the just-released Dhobi Ghat (Mumbai Diaries). The film marks the directorial debut of its writer Kiran Rao, who produced it with her husband Aamir Khan.
It’s not rare for contemporary Hindi cinema to venture into multiple, often connected storylines running in parallel. There are at least four principal storylines in Dhobi Ghat, although there are more to be found should one want to dive deeper. What is rare is to walk away from a film with each of these storylines and their characters almost as vividly, vertically aligned as they are horizontally aligned. In other words, there’s equilibrium in how these stories are approached, and achieving the balancing act that underlies this is no mean feat given how different each character is in everything from religious affiliation to profession, income level, social standing, language, and standing within his or her household and social network.
That equilibrium is essentially what binds the film, Bombay being the other neutralizing force. It’s almost a relief to see an urban metropolis other than Delhi being the showcase of a film, although I probably digress in that comment since the city that is the home of the industry has well had its share of the spotlight since the inception of Hindi cinema. But you get where I’m headed there. We’re treated to some superb cinematography and art direction here, and whether it be the roadway mentioned most often on this blog (Marine Drive and Chowpatty represent!), the Gateway of India, Worli, Dongri and her neighboring regions, the dhobi ghat (aka ‘the world’s largest outdoor laundry’), and several other locales, it’s all one heck of a spectacle to behold, all because it’s a shining example of the camera making love to the city.
It is hardly alone in its contributions to a film that is well held together. The background score packs the punch when needed – not loud when it could’ve been, not dominant when there could’ve been a good case to be made for its need to be. Its timing is just right, its subtleties accentuated by the use of the sounds of the city, its focus not once shifting away from its singular purpose – Bombay unabashed, unapologetic, bindaas (fearless), and not overwhelmingly restricted to portrayals of one particular social class.
The performances are, for the most part, excellent. Aamir as Arun is quite remarkable. The bits where he goes through a previous tenant’s video diaries he makes genuinely interesting. Toward the climax, he is the Aamir we have come to expect by now, passionate as ever in delivery. I like to think of his role as artist here as an extension of his role in Taare Zameen Par (2007). There is even a semblance to a deleted scene or two from that film.
Prateik Babbar as Munna, in his first film after his debut in Jaane Tu (2008), is great. Kriti Malhotra as Yasmin is the hidden gem, her story is not one that is easily forgotten. Monica Dogra as Shai takes advantage of a fairly well-written character.
On to the issues then, and the two I found bothersome are glaring. Shai is a consultant at an investment bank in New York (and a classic, subtle but stereotypical example of the embodiment of the 'me-first' attitude those of us in the industry are schooled to adopt, its ethical viability notwithstanding), on a sabbatical in Bombay. She speaks Hindi (with a cringe-worthy accent which impacts her overall performance quite negatively, but say we overlook that) and is well into adulthood, but hasn’t ever seen a Hindi film! What have the parents been doing? :) Okay, so we can ignore that, you say. But it’s a bit more difficult to ignore that Munna, essentially a launderer who lives in one of the least affluent neighborhoods of the city (to put it mildly), can go to the same cinemas as Shai, or even know how to dress appropriately in such settings. They try to make up for this in places – there’s a scene where Shai asks him if he’s a fan of the music group whose shirt he’s wearing (L.A.’s very own, The Doors, were they?), only for him to respond with a puzzled nod of the head – but those are few and far in between. Possible? I guess. Plausible? No.
Yuvvraaj (2008) as the film the characters view in this film gets a hearty nod, which is a nice touch for the Salman Khan fan in all of us. :) And here’s a special shout-out to Kitu Gidwani! We need to see more of her.
Needless to say, I look forward to the DVD release of this fine film. Good thing Aamir Khan Productions is investing what it is in taking this brand of cinema to the mainstream. It’s not that these films aren’t made in India. It’s just that there aren’t enough incentives for more mainstream growth there, and the hope is a well-established and resourceful production house can do its part to bring us more sensible cinema, of which this is a good example.
To Bombay, then! Enjoy some sounds from the city in this little clip from the Haji Ali dargaah I filmed last year, and do excuse the poor quality – this is what happens when you unexpectedly end up somewhere and don’t have a real camera in hand. :)
Four stars and then some to Dhobi Ghat, celebrating the lust for life in Bombay. Go see it! If you’ve written about it, please share a link to your post in the comments section below. If you’ve seen the film, let’s discuss!
Movie rating: 4.25/5 (Excellent!)
My classification: R (For language)
Official website (and picture source):
Also see: Review at Dunkdaft's blog
We go from Bombay to Goa, then. (Sound familiar?) While Dhobi Ghat celebrates the lust for life in Bombay, Guzaarish (Request) tries to do the opposite in Goa. Ethan Mascarenhas (Hrithik Roshan) is the world’s most accomplished magician, before an accident on stage leads to a spinal cord injury and quadriplegia. His dedicated nurse for fourteen years is Sofia D’Souza (Aishwarya Rai), who has issues in her own life but doesn't miss a day of service to Ethan over that period. Ethan inspires many, even has his own successful radio show. But one day he decides he’s had enough, and 'requests' legal consent to terminate his life via euthanasia (or mercy killing).
Discussion on euthanasia is beyond the scope of this discussion, but what isn’t is the justification used for its validity in the case of Ethan. Oh how the mighty have fallen!
Ethan’s trip to the courthouse is his first in over a decade, but none dares question why he hasn’t been made to go in all those years past. For someone who has as much going for him, it seems almost unnecessary to want to die, and one can’t help but feel it gets to the point where his desire to die is at least as much a product of stubbornness as it is of frustration.
Yet, there’s some serious soul here that cannot be ignored. The Sanjay Leela Bhansali-directed film certainly has its moments. Hrithik is in fine, fine form, and Aishwarya Rai quite surprisingly delivers one of her best performances in a long time. Who can refuse this offer?
Let there be no question they continue to sizzle with remarkable chemistry.
The soundtrack, my favorite from 2010, is integrated beautifully and with stunning visuals and some delightful choreography. Sau Gram is used multiple times, none more effectively than the bit at the beginning of this trailer. Sofia deciding it’s time to let go in Udi (trailer here) is priceless. The rest all work quite well, really.
When all else fails, we turn to the lord. Shades of Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam (1999) and Khamoshi: The Musical (1996), perhaps?
There’s little doubt Guzaarish would have been special with a better script and less stingy editing. It’s Sanjay Leela Bhansali with his usual dramatic overarching style but in an offering that is arguably more restrained. That, and the poignancy accompanying it – none better illustrated than while Ethan says, “I already have too many attachments” – works to an extent this once, as does the supporting cast. Three stars for a good film which is a visual spectacle and musical delight!
Movie rating: 3/5 (Good!)
Music rating: 4/5 (Excellent!)
More by Sanjay Leela Bhansali the music director, please! Lyrics are great, and the flow in the album as a standalone product is fantastic, no skipping tracks required.
My classification: PG-13 (For theme)
Official website: http://www.guzaarishthefilm.com/