Dhobi Ghat (Mumbai Diaries), writer-director Kiran Rao’s debut outing, is as impressive as they come. The film – told in non-linear storytelling mode – revolves around four characters who live in Mumbai and how they connect with each other and the city. The central role is played by the teeming metropolis, Mumbai, which controls and shapes the lives and dreams of millions of people.
Seen through the prism of each character, the city acquires a shape-shifting quality that is evoked through moody visuals, an interplay of light and sound, snatches of music, black-and-white stills and paintings, the drumbeat of rain. The skillful use of these cinematic techniques adds texture to the film, and depth to each character’s otherwise wafer-thin storyline. Each character has his/her take on the city — Arun, the artist, and Shai, the New York-based investment banker refer to the city as Bombay or Munna, the dhobi (washerman) calls it Mumbai or even when he jokes that perhaps Shai misses the squalor of the city and that’s why she wants to capture it on camera! Or when the newly-married migrant to the city, Yasmin, comments that the rain in Mumbai is unlike rain anywhere else — incessant. Or when Arun says that Bombay is his “whore and muse”.
The city throbs like a heartbeat within each character. Not once does Rao let go of this tenuous, ever-present, under-the-surface connection between city and characters through the film. A special mention must be made about the beautiful background score, composed by the Argentine musician and composer Gustavo Santaolalla (of Brokeback Mountain, Babel and Amores Perros fame). It’s a salute to the Maximum City, done with panache, style and sensitivity.