I'll get to the movie in a bit, but first the stars' entrances. People were waiting for at least an hour across the street from the venue, ready to mob the stars when they came in. Funnily enough I didn't even see Kiran when she jumped out of the SUV and squirreled into the theatre, and it's not because she's so tiny, but because I was too fascinated by the wave of people descending upon Aamir Khan like a tsunami. To give you an idea of what it looked like:
Haha! Fun times! By the way, Aamir is the wee little thing in the maroon suit (which I was impressed that he wore for us, AND with dress shoes FTW!). He was very gracious and walked the line of screaming fans twice.
Then we were shoveled inside and Cameron Bailey (can I just do a big w00t for this guy who manages to rock my world every year by bringing the most exquisite Indian films to the festival? w00t! w00t!) introduced the director (Kiran Rao) and the cast (Aamir Khan, Prateik - he dropped the last name by the way, Monica Dogra & Kriti Malhotra). They all came on stage, Aamir last, of course, and Kiran and Aamir said a few words.
Among the things that amused me (and also made me a bit sad) was Aamir mentioning (twice!, the second time just as he was getting off the stage) that "Guys, this is not a Ghajini". Ahem... Aamir, darling, I love you, but don't you think you're underestimating us? Maybe I am projecting a little much here, but does any festival goer expect to see a Ghajini? Or do they all, like me, expect to see beautifully crafted movies that were selected because they carry the film industry forward? A tough one, and I will admit I could be way off since this is the same festival that held the premieres of Dil Bole Hadippa and What's Your Rashee last year. But still, we could have done without the warning...
Anyways, on to the film. I don't usually tell the story of a film in my reviews, because it's available everywhere online and plus I like to think that my reviews give people reasons to watch a movie that are independent from the story. But since this one was such a secret until now, I will make an exception.
Dhobi Ghat is the story of 4 characters: Arun, the famous lonely painter (Aamir), Munna, the dhobi who wants to be a star (Prateik), Shai, the banker on a sabbatical in India (Monica) and Yasmin, the recently married Muslim girl who records her life in Mumbai for her brother back home (Kriti). They say that Mumbai is the fifth character in the movie, and if so, I found it to be a silent character, an immovable witness to the harmony and turmoil in which the characters function simultaneously. Much like the aunty in Arun's neighbouring apartment: always there, always seeing everything, but always silent. Not sure if that was a parallel that Kiran had in mind, but it seemed relevant to me.
The movie is a piece of their lives, and the narrative juggles a recent past and the present time beautifully. Among the daily routine of the characters, which is really what the story is about, we see a love story unfolding and it's not a love triangle but a love square. With a missing fourth connecting line. I swear I'm not trying to sound cryptic, but it's so charming to watch this play out that I don't want to spoil it for anyone.
So maybe I won't tell the story after all...
But I will highlight the three superstars of this movie, and neither of their names start with two Aa's.
First of all KIRAN RAO.
Tiny little thing, with such a big heart! And this picture captures everything that is adorable about her! But I won't ramble about that now. I had no doubt that she would make a good movie, I knew it would be a well thought out story. What I didn't know was that she would wow me with the little touches like a bunch of fake grapes hanging from the rear view mirror in a car during the monsoon, which is the opening shot of the film. Or the chance encounter between Shai and Arun in the street when Shai is on her way to literally stalk Arun in his apartment which is so subtle and funny in so many ways. Or the painting that Arun makes towards the end of the film (who made that? I want it!). Or the old neighbour sitting in her chair with a vacant look - the most powerful image in the whole movie in my opinion. Or Munna leaning over Shai when she's asleep. Or the women on the train that Yasmin is filming. I could go on... but then I'd just be telling the whole movie. Suffice to say that every single shot in this movie tells a story, every image counts, and that is no small feat for a first time director.
When I heard that Dhobi Ghat was being filmed guerrilla style, with handheld cameras and moving shots, I was a bit terrified, because there's a right way to do this, but mostly I've seen it done the wrong way. Kiran, thankfully, got it right and I cannot praise her enough for this!
Secondly PRATEIK (BABBAR).
At the end of the screening when Aamir gave the mic to each of the actors to say a few words, before Prateik even touched the mic he got a long, loud, standing ovation from the audience. He was so shocked and overwhelmed that he literally was speechless. He tried to mumble a thank you to Kiran and I bet he would have had some very heartfelt words to say, but he was so choked up that he didn't manage to put two words together. It was beyond charming!!
Well, he stole the show, it's no secret. He had the audience's emotions in the palm of his hand: when he wanted us to laugh at his shyness, we did; when he wanted us to bite our fingers for his next move, we did; when he wanted us to be in love with him, we were; when he wanted us to pine with him, we did. An outstanding performance if I've ever seen one! Between Kiran's deeply intelligent script and Prateik's immensely intuitive acting, there was not much room for it to get better.
And still it did, because then there's...
And I know I tend to talk more about Munna than about everyone else because he was the star of the show for me, followed closely by Yasmin's story, but make no mistake, this movie is about all four of them in equal measure. More importantly, this is a story about people. It's not about lessons learned or growing up, it's not about relationships created or maintained, it's not about finding yourself, it's not about careers or hobbies. It's just a series of snapshots of 4 people... living. And while that can sound boring, it's really not, because the film is so well crafted that much like in real life when someone is telling a good story, you keep asking: "and then what?"
And lastly AAMIR KHAN.
Without presuming to know what's really in this man's head, I will say that I think I know why Aamir so badly wanted to be in this movie instead of letting Kiran pick another fresh face. In a world where Om Shanti Om, Ghajini and 3 Idiots are blockbusters, a soulful movie like Kiran's would have probably gone unnoticed had it not been for the presence of her superstar husband. Sad, but true... At the same time, I appreciated that Aamir played the part in such a subtle way that, much like in Taare Zameen Par, Aamir The Actor was rightfully overshadowed by his costar and by the director. I know he could have made this his movie, but there's a reason why he didn't, there's a reason why he played the part that many other actors could have played without making it an Aamir exclusive role, and I like to think that generosity and love are that reason.
I won't give a rating to this movie because as I said, Dolce was left at home (actually I suspect she was one of the people who mobbed Aamir on the street there and then she probably snuck into the theatre and saw the movie anyway), but I will say: don't miss this when it comes out in theatres!