“By any stretch of imagination, it can not be called a film” is what a friend of mine feels about ‘Dhobi Ghaat’. Aamir Khan, slowly gaining notoriety for the way he aggressively markets his films, has always maintained that this film would not appeal to the traditional Indian audience. There are people calling it boring, others praising it for its ‘freshness’. For me, it is neither. It is one of those numerous ‘hyperlinked’ films that world cinema has witnessed since ‘The Killing’ (1956) or even earlier, and what has been a fashionable trend among the movies of the last decade. By Hindi film standards, it is both fresh and slow, and even unaffecting. And this time I am not even ‘happy that a film like this got widespread release in India’. Being the wife of one of the most powerful men in the industry has done the trick. Kiran Rao has been fortunate in that sense, but that does not, in any way, mean that she is not talented.
The writer-director has made a film she can be proud of. It is not a great piece of cinema, but it is very well done. It is sure of its intent, and its content, or the apparent lack of it. It has its own way of affecting you, but as one leading film critic rightly wrote, it is an ‘acquired taste’. We can ‘acquire’ that taste only by watching films like these. And the presence of a superstar in this otherwise ‘small’ film will surely bring more people into the theatres. That is the only saving grace for the atrocious decision of casting Aamir Khan, who disappoints in his portrayal of the reclusive painter. Awkward with his English lines, he seems to be trying too hard, failing the character that, after a long time, suited him in all its dimensions. ‘Dhobi Ghaat’ proves once again that an actor ‘bigger’ than the character can never do justice to it. Correct casting is what Akira Kurosawa considered ‘the most important part of filmmaking besides writing’. I would like to add another exercise in the list, and that is ‘acting workshops and rehearsals’. I believe these are the reasons why Kriti Malhotra playing the girl in the videotapes is a delight to watch. And Prateik and Monica Dogra fit into their roles to near perfection.
I don’t expect the film to be widely loved. But I do hope that more and more people watch films like these. Because the coming generation of Hindi filmmakers is actually going to ‘stretch the imagination’ of the Indian audience, including the aforesaid friend of mine, and redefine what can be called cinema. ‘Dhobi Ghaat’ is a small step in that direction.
P.S. After watching the film, please try to answer this – why was it given an Adult certificate? As I type these words, small kids near my building are dancing to ‘Sheela’. It is some celebration down there, and they are lip-syncing to ‘Sheela ki jawani… I’m too sexy for you…’ whatever!