Mumbai Diaries (Dhobi Ghat)
Director: Kiran Rao
Written: Kiran Rao
Having Aamir Khan as a guide through Indian cinema has not failed so far – and “Mumbai Diaries” is another brilliant example. This one I would call the “Real India” movie, as it doesn’t have the utopian view of “Lagaan”, or the idealism of “3 Idiots” and “Like Starts on Earth”. It is about real people with real aspirations in a world that is not always fair and depends so much on luck.
The main story is about Shai (Monica Droga), an investment banking student in the USA. She is from a rich family, and loves photography. She meets Munna, a poor “dhobi” (a caste group that specializes in washing clothing), who dreams to become an actor. Munna becomes Shai’s guide to the local places in Mumbai in exchange for her shooting his photo portfolio. The more typical Bollywood story would lead to a romantic ending, but as I said, this is the “Real India” movie. It explores the subject of love between different social classes (or different casts to go further, as cast division is still an issue in India) in more realistic way. As Shai’s brother said to her,
I know you guys have things in common and all, but after a point it’s like ‘How many clothes did you was today?’
It is a seemingly cruel jest on his part, but it has much truth in it. If the background, experiences, and entire lives of two people are so far apart, it is virtually impossible to make it work. No matter what romantic movies would have you believe, love does not conquer all. This attitude is what makes it a very different Bollywood movie.
The second story in the movie is about a loner artist, Arun (Aamir Khan), who moves into a new apartment and finds VCR tapes of the previous resident, Yasmin. A newlywed, and new to Mumbai, she records her experiences as letters to her brother. Arun’s lone moments are filled with music of Begum Akhtar (beautiful music that I discovered through this movie), his developing connection to Yasmin, and inspiration he takes from her view on the city and her experiences. This is all artistically captured by the camera, and very beautiful to watch. Arun himself is quite a sad character, but nothing too dramatic, rather someone you might meet in real life.
In the beginning, the movie shows Mumbai from different perspectives, and then zooms in to the individual people with their particular stories. The dialogue is written brilliantly, so genuine and life-like that it makes the characters appear real and relatable. In the end, the movie simply zooms out, leaving you to wonder what will happen next to the characters, with nothing clearly settled nor concluded.