Monday, September 20, 2010

That (Emo) Girl in Yellow Boots

Anurag Kashyap's That Girl in Yellow Boots featuring his "Dev D." heroine Kalki Koechlin has been doing the Festival circuit since last week. Not entirely sure why I went to see it, probably a reflex: Indian film from a director I know? -> click "purchase ticket". That and, of course, the opportunity to hang out with a friend, which I can never say no to. So I went.

The movie seems to have been quite a different experience for the makers. Kalki concisely summarized it when she was on stage at the end of the movie with Anurag: "He (Anurag) thought about this movie for about a year, I wrote the script in 2 months, we shot it in 13 days." The shooting part of it is by the way amazingly done, but... it's definitely not my kind of movie.

But... BUT. Even if this is not a movie I would normally review in this space, I do feel that it's somehow our duty to talk about films that we have the privilege of seeing before the rest of the world at this Festival (we love you, Cameron Bailey, just had to say it again!). So with this duty in mind, I'd like to introduce my partner in Bollywood crime, Simran (@elegnt_hedgehg on Twitter), who was kind enough to review the film for this space. Simran is an even bigger movie buff than me, and also a great Kashyap fan, so she is far more qualified than me for this task. 

"Anurag Kashyap’s That Girl in Yellow Boots is the story of Ruth (played by Kalki Koechlin) a half-English half-Indian girl who has come to India from England looking for her father. He left when she was 5 years old following the suicide of her half-sister, and she hadn’t heard from her father since, until recently receiving a very loving letter from him. Unfortunately he forgot to include his address. Ruth has an unhappy relationship with her mother who, she tells us, “went quiet” after the death of her elder daughter. She also seems to have taken comfort in religion, which further infuriates her remaining daughter. So Ruth runs away to India, where she has to pay a lot of bribes and rely on a lot of unreliable people, including a coked-out Indian boyfriend. She makes ends meet by working in a massage parlour where she gives the (exclusively male) clients hand jobs for an extra 1,000 rupees. And she searches for her father.

The movie was filmed using a digital camera, which makes That Girl in Yellow Boots feel both very contemporary (in terms of visual style) and very immediate (in terms of the plot). There is also an interesting use of sound in the movie, with a lot of obvious background noise in addition to a musical score, and a technique in which the volume of the noise and/or score seems to increase as the tension in a scene increases.

I have to admit that one aspect of the movie’s conclusion I had already guessed earlier in the film. So I was perhaps not as shocked by the climax as the movie wanted me to be (but I was still disgusted). Although it is a theme that has been covered by non-Indian television and movies, I believe it is a theme that is rarely, if ever, dealt with in their Indian counterparts. So while some might argue that the movie is needlessly sordid, I think it’s important to sometimes shine a light on the underbelly of life, rather than pretending that it doesn’t exist.

The movie isn’t unrelentingly grim, however. There is humour provided by the receptionist at the massage parlour, who is constantly chatting on her cell phone, by the Kannadiga gangster Chittiappa, who is alternately hilarious and horrifying, and occasionally even by Ruth’s boyfriend Prashant (an excellent performance by the actor of the same name). Naseeruddin Shah is typically lovely in a small role as one of Ruth’s regular clients at the massage parlour. 

During the Q & A after the film, Anurag said that the idea for the movie was inspired by several (unrelated) stories that appeared in the Indian media. However, he wanted a woman to write the script because he didn’t want the movie to become the story of a girl as told by a man. I heartily commend him for that. So Kalki co-wrote the script with him. The movie is a good showcase for her talents - she is a wonderfully expressive actress and is equally credible while portraying vulnerability, cynicism, girlishness, anger, and determination. I look forward to the work she does in the future, which will hopefully include more collaborations with her partner Anurag, because I found that (presumably) under her influence, this movie lacked a lot of the machismo that characterized his other films, and therefore made it more accessible to me as a female viewer."

See, I knew Simran would do it more justice than me. Thanks, girl! 

And just because, as someone I know always says about me: "she is nothing if she is not opinionated", I have to add that while I agree that it is a story to be told, I did not find it a story to pull me in. I blame it on the fact that much like in real life, I have problems relating to characters who cannot appreciate what they have in their lives. The whole quest of the girl in yellow boots, as is quite evident right from the trailer, is for the one person who will love her unconditionally, the one person she thinks cares about her without any expectations: her father. Meanwhile, she seems to have no respect for the two characters, one seen, one unseen who do genuinely care about her: her (admittedly strict) mother in England and Diwakar, the character played by Naseeruddin Shah (and what is it with Naseer who keeps doing these blink and you'll miss him roles? I miss the man!). Now where exactly Ruth figured that the man who left her and her mother when she was 5 and managed to only write one letter in 15 years, was the one who really cares about her... it's anyone's guess. But because my personal belief  is that people who are not appreciative of the gift that is their life (and the people in it) deserve everything that's coming to them, the emotional connection to this character was lost on me completely.

Oh well... TIFF is over! It's been beyond awesome this year! But all good things come to an end, and the great thing about it is that as of next week I can go back to reviewing movies with both Dolce and Namak having a say, giving cheese ratings, being cheeky, and doing all the things that make this blog such a fun experience for me.


dustdevil liz said...

Great reviews, Simran and Dolce! I hadn't realized that Kalki Koechlin co-wrote the script- definitely will check it out on dvd.

Anonymous said...

I don't think this movie is for me (didn't when I saw the trailer either) but I appreciated reading your and Simran's thoughts. Thanks for taking the time to do the write up :)

Anonymous said...

so is this the 'Brown Bunny' of indian films or does kashyap not even have it in him to make an egregiously bad film?

Rameshram(posting from out)

Dolce and Namak said...

@ Dustdevil: and it's a good script, some of the dialogues are very smart.

@ Never-evil: it's definitely not my kind of film either, so totally with you on that, but if I was to recommend it to you for one reason, it's the cinematography and the way they captured the "face" of things: the city, the people. That is pretty cool to watch.

@ Ramesh: I haven't seen Brown Bunny, only vaguely know of it and from what I know I can't see any resemblances.
It is definitely a well done piece of work, from the script to the character development, to the way the story is paced and the way it unfolds, to the camerawork, to the use of language - the entire "shell" is great. The contents is what left me cold, so that's why overall it didn't work for me, but then everyone relates to films in their own way... Definitely not a bad film though.

Anonymous said...


see brown bunny.


Anonymous said...

not that I would want tokill discussion of this worthy(?) film or anything...


Dolce and Namak said...

@ Ramesh, you're right, normally I would delete a comment that is off topic if it doesn't contribute to the discussion, but I'm tempted to leave this one until I see that movie (which mind you, could be never :-/) in case the comparison makes sense. And don't feel too bad about killing the conversation, I don't think there will be much of it since, well, no one has seen the movie :)

Anonymous said...


im waiting to see the as well before I say conclusively that that was the zeitgist Anurag K was shooting for. (although knowing him, I think it might be) . Im sure this film will be out on indian stores soon, knowing how easily Anurag k films usually find
distribution in and outside india(unlike the other one..kiran rao's film which seems to be shooting for an US Indie/festival release).

As for stilling your hand Oh great censorious anarch, sometimes we are toughest on the very things we love the most ;)

Para said...

So u did do a review on the movie. Good . Was waiting to see what u thought.

I agree w the latter part of the review as I also did not find an emotional connection w the characters , Kalki's or Prashant's characters.

But when I learned it was shot in 13 days I did have a bit more appreciation for it.

And yes, it put light on an issue not normally discussed in Indian culture but really am not sure if it was an immportant movie for that issue i.e not sure if the right/imp elements were brought out.

I thought Prashant's character was made too (looking for the right word here) umm.. it was too much like someone i would find picking garbage on the street (of India) than the character that he was supposed to portray.
And yes, it affected how i felt towards the movie...

Not a movie I would recommend but good to see that some ppl really enjoyed it.
So much effort and love goes into making movies that I am rooting for the makers usually.

And Namak why did u think noone has seen the movie. when I went, the theater was pretty full !

Dolce and Namak said...

LOL Well, not really a review, Simran did the reviewing, I did the bashing :P Just kidding.

I think I know what you mean when you say not sure if it was an important movie for that issue. It's hard to tell how it will do and will it become big enough for people to see it and talk about it. I think it brought up the right issues, just in the wrong way. Like I said before, it's hard to relate to a character that does everything on her own will, it's hard to say "oh poor thing" and then take this issue to heart, so even if it does bring up how the society works at that level, it doesn't create a visceral reaction in the viewer strong enough to make him/her think about it and react to it. It's more like: well, if that's what you want to do for a living, so be it, no one is forcing you. Also her relationship with Prashant was odd to say the least, she keeps saying he only wants one thing from her, well, what does SHE want from HIM? Not very clear on that... :-/ And the fact that she is in this relationship doesn't make her more endering to the viewer, I felt.

The other thing related to that is the movie's audience. This is not meant for the masses, it's meant for the artsy crowd, and it doesn't seem to me like that's the crowd that should be spoken to about these issues...
Then again, I don't think the movie set out to resolve anything, they just wanted to bring some truths to light, and in that they succeeded.

Oh, and btw when I said no one has seen the movie, I meant no one who reads my blog (and would comment) has seen the movie :) (other than you :D). My theatre was also almost full last Saturday. I was very happy about that.

Radical said...

a good ONE year after you put this out for us to read..the film is finally now releasing in india!

Dolce and Namak said...

Ha! So true! Have you seen it, Vistrit? Curious what you'll think of it. Do come back and tell me.

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