Dobhi Ghat: A View From The Balcony

February 16, 2011 at 9:15 PMFeb (Cinema, Media, Music, Slice Of Life, Soliloquy)

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.


1 Comment

  1. Niharika Shenoy said,

    This review is beautifully written,more or less like the film itself.And yes, it is yasmin’s character which touches our emotional core.I don’t know if you’ve seen the making of’Dhobi Ghat’, but it is worth a watch.

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