When you can't take a literal trip, you can always join a virtual caravan with help from Bollywood. Though Indian cinema produces hundreds of movies a year in multiple languages, Bollywood Hindi films really stand out. They're the epitome of commercialism, color and glam. I've grown up watching Hindi movies. Now I understand why they never fail to entertain viewers, not only in the sub-continent but also in lands farther away. It's because Bollywood sells dreams and people love that.
However, Dhobi Ghat is not a Bollywood commercial blockbuster. It's a ninety-minute art flick which definitely falls into a niche category. This film is about serious cinema not just mass appeal.
The plot is interesting, delicate and simple. Director Kiran Rao wrote the story herself and tries to highlight the lives of people in Mumbai, formerly called Bombay. The story revolves around four characters who live there but belong to different social classes. The movie shows how these people interact with each other in diverse circumstances and how their relationships develop, even though they come from different backgrounds and lifestyles.
The four characters include a recluse but successful painter (Arun), an elite American banker taking a break from her work to travel (Shai), a rat killer and laundry washer or dhobi (Munna), and a young, married Muslim girl (Yasmeen).
Arun moves into a Mumbai apartment, where he finds videos of Yasmeen who lived in the same flat previously. Arun starts watching the tapes and sees how the newlywed is always lonely and missing her family while her husband is never at home. In time, Arun comes to empathize with her. He and Shai, meanwhile, share a romantic spark, but this remains an unfinished business. Shai plays a key role in the film as she develops a strong bond with Munna despite their social class distinction. While Munna leads a tough life in Mumbai, he aspires to rise above his current rut and become a Bollywood hero.
The director highlights fine details. The story evolves naturally without a tinge of artificiality. I think all four characters add equally to the mix. The actresses are newcomers but perform admirably. The male leads do justice to their roles with Arun played by the prince of Bollywood actors Aamir Khan and Munna played by Prateik Babbar, who is already making a mark for himself as a serious actor. Dhobi Ghat is subtle, short and thought provoking for those who enjoy artistic cinema.
Zaira Rahman is a spicy Islamic girl who writes travel reports from her home in Pakistan. Unlike the British Spice Girls, she's not a ho and speaks comprehendible English. She's an advocate for the ethical treatment of people and animals plus the author of the books Pakistani Media: The Way Things Are and If Mortals Had Been Immortals & Other Short Stories.