I am writing to you, dear unborn daughter, after almost two and a half years. In my previous letter I spoke to you about the attacks on Christian worship places. I remembered you and the letter I wrote to you recently when the Justice Somashekhara Commission in its report said that the BJP Government and the Sangh Parivar had no role to play in the attacks.
Yes, that is what the commission report said, while it accepted that there were attacks but said, there were no enough evidence to say that the Sangh Parivar and the Government were behind the attacks. This happens in spite of the then Bajang Dal leader Mahendra Kumar giving an open media statement about their role in the attacks.
When the news channels started broadcasting about the Somashekhara Commission submitting its report, I was shocked. Many said, “We expected this.” May be even I did know the fate of it but still I had hoped that it wouldn’t be so. Hope… (may peace be on her). That day I texted my teacher saying, “Sir, today I feel like going back to all my teachers and to my parents and ask why I was taught that truth triumphs, why was I taught and made to believe that there is something called justice in this world. Ayodhya verdict, Binayak Sen case, and this… Cynicism is not what you taught me but it has come to this finally.”
The Ayodhya verdict was a disappointment. I heard people say that the verdict was a good one because it upheld peace. What about justice? Even then I had hoped (may peace be on her) that there would be justice. To hope is to be suicidal, I will never understand. Months after this we get to know that Binayak Sen gets life imprisonment, without any proper evidence as such. Protests all over the world and still nobody listens to any sane voice. We all did hope (may peace be on her) that the High Court would lift the life imprisonment. That too did not happen. Then the Justice Somashekhara Commission came with its report…
A week ago we held a protest in Udupi against the report of Commission. Yesterday there was a massive protest in Mangalore. I was overwhelmed by such large participation. But as a born cynic, I just recollected what Ashish Ketan wrote in Tehelka, “there is a certain fatigue in chasing the idea of justice. Tired of the fighting, the human spirit strains to move on. As the years pass, those who champion others’ causes begin to seem motivated rather than dogged. Why wont they let bygones be bygones, people wonder. Why will they not let everyone retreat into the heaven of “normalcy”? Why have they made this their agenda?” Ashish Ketan wrote this when he wrote about the 600 page Godhra SIT report, which again found Narendra Modi- the architect of 2002 gujrat riots- guilty yet drew a different conclusion.
Tomorrow on the 22 of Feb 2011, the court will pronounce its verdict on the Godhra train carnage which triggered the 2002 Gujrat violence.
It is into this world of injustice that you will be arriving, someday when the situation, in all possibilities, would be even bad. Forgive me, if I ever bring you to this world.
Arun, in the beginning of the film, is shown inspecting a new house which he wants to occupy. He is said that the house has a good balcony view of Old Mumbai. The film itself, slightly, is a balcony view of Mumbai where the complete essence of Mumbai has not been grasped, even when there is a sincere and honest attempt to look through the lense, like the character Shai, at the streets.
The film Dhobi Ghat, by the debudant director Kiran Rao, takes the viewers through what she calls Mumbai Diaries, through four characters. Arun, Shai, Munna and Yasmin.
Arun is a painter, with a broken family life. Shai a US returned girl interested in photography. Munna is a washerman and also a rat killer and Yasmin a housewife.
The characters Arun and Shai beloong to the same class and almost speak the same elements of Mumbai. For Arun, the life of Mumbai is a raw material for his paintings. So he needs a balcony view of old Mumbai and his exhibition is dedicated to Mumbai. It is the same for Shai too. She wants to photograph the ‘other side’ of Mumbai, i.e. the dhobi ghat, the rat killers etc. The life of Yasmin becomes a subject to Arun and the life of Munna becomes a subject to Shai. Munna becomes the vehicle for Shai to ground her world on the earth, while Yasmin’s ornament becomes a ‘cool’ looking chain for Arun. But both Arun and Shai treat their subjects with love and care.
Munna, an aspiring actor who is a washerman and a rat killer, is the character which pushed me to say that the film is slightly a balcony view of Mumbai. Because Munna embodies what Mumbai is popularly known to be. Let me try and explain this with just one example i.e. the scene where Munna is clicked by Shai while killing a rat. Munna when realizes that Shai has found him in his ‘shameful’ job, he runs. But this act of running doesnt reflect the aspect of ‘shame’ which is so much a part of many in big cities, in between all the glamour of the city. Poverty is not just about faded and torn shirts, bathing at the railway track and going to sleep without supper. It is also about humiliation, insecurity, fear and also a dream. These elements of the character Munna doesn’t come out as strongly as it exists. Speaking of dreams, even the dream of Munna to become an actor passes of like a humor elemnt in the film. Though it doesn’t ridicule the dream, it doesnt even bring it out in flesh and blood and also makes it appear quite funny.
It is the character of Yasmin which comes out in complete flesh and blood and steals the show. The innocence of Yasmin is reflected not only in her curiosuty about the camera in which she is recording herself but also in her talk to her brother through the camera and in her way of looking at Mumbai. The film moves on to speak how Mumbai also has the potential to kill innocense. If your heart skips a beat, then it is for Yasmin and if your heart cries at the end of the film that is for Yasmin. There is a difference in the way she looks at the speechless neigbhor granny and the way Arun and Shai look at her. You can listen to heartbeats when she speaks, when she looks at the camera. Beautifully played by Kriti Malhotra, the character Yasmin, is the reason which makes the film touch your heart and pull the deepest chord.
Through Yasmin we also get to know another chapter of Mumbai i.e. of the maid. But that chapter of Mumbai diaries doesn’t get much representation. And the character of the neighbhouring granny doesn’t get voiced. That character must also have been a chapter in Mumbai diaries, it appears to me. Who was she? What brought her to Mumbai? What silenced her? I seriously wanted to know…
The debudant director Kiran Rao doesnt fail to observe these parts of Mumbai life, but they get very less represenation when the characters of Arun and Shai, which doesn’t contribute much to the Mumbai diaries, get more representation. There is some politics of representation here. And even the character of Munna, from the bottom half of Mumbai, comes across half-baked.
In spite of all these, the film slowly grows on you, as Rajeev Masand said, because of its beautiful cinematography and music. Looks like, the cinematographer and the music director knew more about what the director wanted to communicate than the director herself.
The censor board certificate displayed before the film reads that the film is in ‘Hindi partial English’. The film, packed in partial English also manages to give only a partial view of Mumbai. The struggle of Mumbai is only a subject like Munna and Yasmin are to Arun and Shai. Though they treat them as human and with love and care, the fact reamins that the strugglers of Mumbai, those who build Mumbai, come across only half baked in the film.
Yet, to me, the film is watchable a thousand times only and only for the most lovable Yasmin.