This is one film that has all the infuriating elements of an art-house movie. There is the artist Arun (Aamir Khan), the investment banker-on-sabbatical-turned-passionate-photographer Shai (Monica Dogra, in the picture above)), the working class washerman Munna (Prateik Babbar), the middle class partying philistines. The angst-ridden dialogue of the ostensibly sensitive middle class Arun and Shai is resoundingly shallow. But debutant director Kiran Rao manages to wade through the cliched scenes with its predictable background music by the end of the 95-minute film.
Wisely, Rao keeps away from showing the dhobi ghat or the back alleys, the slums or the chawls more than it is necessary. She is looking at what goes in the lives of the people, in their hearts and minds and how they relate those stories.
It is because of this honest approach that she brings in a certain freshness to the shots of Mumbai's streets and skyline. It remains the city that throbs with stories of love and pain, disappointment and death.
Her deft directorial touch lies in the video-within-the-story telling the story of Yasmin Noor, which emphasises life stories of people who moved away out of the homes and out of the world. It is the echo of Noor's simple story that gives 'Dhobi Ghat' a touch of poignancy.
The other strength of the film is that Rao is honest about the perch from where she is telling the story of Mumbai. Yasmin Noor-in-the-video, Munna, Shai are all discovering Mumbai in their own simple way. And there is Arun feeling as an artist would the emotional impact of others' lives that only Mumbai can offer.
The film is viewed by two outsiders, each one of them with their own artistic sensibility -- Arun and Shai. Arun discovers the Yasmin Noor and her life story, Shai discovers Munna and his Mumbai.
This film would not have been different even without the presence of Aamir Khan. This is a director's film.
Rao's film could remind viewers of Sofia Coppola's 'Lost In Translation'. The two films show the sensibilities of women directors.