Dhobi Ghat (Mumbai Diaries) at TIFF


Right in the midst of one of the busiest times in my life -- EVER -- I gladly interrupted it all to fly up to Toronto for a day. Gladly because I did it to cover the world premiere of Kiran Rao’s beautiful film Dhobi Ghat at the Toronto International Film Festival. The film is produced by her husband, her love, known to us all as Indian cinema superstar Aamir Khan.

In Indian cinema there are stars and then there are SUPERstars. And among the superstars, there is one that -- in my very personal opinion, of course -- shines brighter than all others: Aamir Khan. Ever respectful to his fellow human beings, be it the pestering media -- a category to which, I admit, I also belonged while up at TIFF -- or the cabbies in NYC, who apparently all want to drive Mr. Khan around the Big Apple for free, Khan is the ideal combination of kindness, elegance, candidness, spotless work ethics and perfectionism.

But as wonderful as Mr. Khan is, Mrs. Khan -- the lovely Kiran Rao -- is the kind of woman you immediately want to become best friends with. And not just because she is pretty, witty and gorgeously talented, but because once you watch the film she has both written and directed, Dhobi Ghat, you won’t help but fall in love with her vision, just as Aamir admitted falling in love with her “all over again” when he first heard the narration of her script.

On the 10th of September, Dhobi Ghat began a winning journey that will take the film to heaven and beyond. Well, cinematic heaven anyway and I won’t jinx it by spelling out that magical “O” word… If you are thinking “Foreign Language Film 2012” we’re on the same wave length, but that too is a personal opinion. Mine and that of the over 1,500 other audience members who crowded the Elgin Theater in Toronto on Friday night, giving the film, the filmmakers and their stars a standing ovation.

For the story of the film, I like the synopsis given in the program notes at TIFF the best: “In the teeming metropolis of Mumbai, four people separated by class and language are drawn together in compelling relationships. Shai, an affluent investment banker on a sabbatical, strikes up an unusual friendship with Munna, a young and beautiful laundry boy with ambitions of being a Bollywood actor, and has a brief dalliance with Arun, a gifted painter. As they slip away from familiar moorings and drift closer together, the city finds its way into the crevices of their inner worlds.
” Simple, descriptive and not giving too much away. I’ll also leave you in deep suspense, since the film will be released at the start of 2011 and there will be plenty of time to slowly unveil its secrets, though still making sure to keep the full story surrounded in mystery, as is my habit.

What I will reveal is that apart from Rao’s amazing script and intelligent treatment of it, Aamir Khan has never commanded the role of leading man more than he does in Dhobi Ghat. He confessed to me that he played his character as “unlikeable” which only goes to prove that as women, we indeed love our bad boys! And Prateik, who plays Munna, is the find of the century, which of course goes again to credit both Rao and Khan for having discovered him. Even if the man comes from Bollywood royalty -- mom was Smita Patil and dad is Raj Babbar -- it was the AK Productions film Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na that introduced the world to this super acting talent. BTW, I went to TIFF all ready to ask Prateik how he had been able to portray Munna so candidly and shyly, thinking that the actor behind the character would turn out to be a fairly typical Bollywood type… Oh no, this man is as gentle and reserved as his dhobiwalla counterpart and actually whispers when he talks. Talk about life imitating art, there could not have been a more perfect Munna in the whole of Mumbai! And the ladies of Dhobi Ghat, Kriti Malhotra, who plays Yasmin, and Monica Dogra are two of the most real, down to earth beauties I have ever encountered during my behind-the-scenes journeys as a writer. Malhotra has sweet, intense eyes and a pretty smile, while Dogra is a Rockstar through and through. And yes, she really is one in real life.

Now onto to the fifth protagonist of the story of Dhobi Ghat: the stunning, atmospheric, grungy, infuriating, chaotic, passionate and sultry city of Bombay. Call it Mumbai if you wish, she’ll always be Bombay to me… It is one of those words that sends shivers up my spine each and every time I say it. I silently envy anyone who was born there and can utter “Bombay”when asked about their hometown. Why I love it, I will never be able to explain in human sounds. It is all about a feeling that lives deep inside my heart and sends butterflies to my stomach at the sight of some deep fried Vada Pao, a black and yellow auto rickshaw, the multicolored ferry boats at Gateway of India and the word Chowpatty. And now, I’ve found a cinematic image, a nearly 100 minute tribute to the city I love in Kiran Rao’s poem to Bombay. Simply watch the film, once it’s released to understand. After his first viewing, TIFF Co-Director Cameron Bailey tweeted about it: “Found a film in Bombay. If it hits you like it hit me, it will leave you drenched with emotions you can’t quite name.” And remember, the man watches millions of films for a living. He’s not easily swayed…

Before I end up writing a thesis about the film and my experiences at TIFF, I will say that my 36-hour journey to this prestigious festival -- second only to Cannes really -- was absolutely unforgettable and I’ll be back for a much longer go at it next year. The city of Toronto breathes great cinema for the duration of the festival and each and every person I came in contact with was helpful above and beyond the call of duty. One only had to look to the volunteers and press contacts at a crucial moment to get one’s point across. If only the rest of life was this simple and well organized! And the people around Aamir Khan and Kiran Rao gave us unequaled access to them and the cast, so much so that at times I had to pinch myself to make sure I really was in such intimate, cozy proximity to these talents I so admire.

If this reads a lot like a love letter, make no mistake IT IS. A love letter from me to a city that colors my dreams and a man who has given -- and will continue to give -- the world years and years of fabulous movies, as an actor, a director and a producer. A love letter to the woman who shares her life with him and now will also share the limelight, as one of the freshest, most talented voices in modern Indian cinema. And finally, a love letter to a film that will break all boundaries, all records and will continue to inhabit my heart until I get a chance to view it again, for a third, fourth, fifth time and beyond. I apologize if I’ve introduced you to a longing for this film but one you are now able to satisfy, since Dhobi Ghat is now showing around the world and is in its second week. Go watch it and allow its poetry to envelope you in the darkness of your local movie theater…

All images courtesy of Aamir Khan Productions

Parts of this article originally published on Sep 13, 2010.

Original post link: http://news.avstv.com/2010/09/13/avs-globe-trots-to-tiff-for-dhobi-ghat/

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