The characters are very well etched, their lives beautifully detailed and the camera lens non judgmental and real. Dhobi Ghat traverses the life of 4 people in the city - Artsy Arun to elite, sophisticated Shay, to lower middle class, aspiring actor Munna to naive Noor – new to the big bad city.
It’s hard to make a movie that has enough drama, and yet seems as real as a documentary. It means that you have to do double work to ensure that you have the best of both worlds – hold on to the power to fictionalize, but also recreate the space as its supposed to be by paying attention to every detail. I liked the way they constructed the different spaces and lives of these guys - so much detail, but nothing glares or jumps out saying - notice me, I have made the effort...Like for example, did you notice the lamp in artistic Arun's house or the statue of Buddha in Shay's, the stainless steel utensil holder – the most common kitchen ware in every lower/middle class household in mumbai that cant afford to furnish a kitchen, or the slapstick comedy that Munna is watching in his chawl with his like brother. And of course, Munna's room – walls plastered with all the pictures of Bollywood superstars….
Another charming thing in the movie are the relationships between the different characters. Of course, the one between Shay and Munna is the most obvious one. It was so easy to understand their relationship, in the sense that, its so easy to understand Munna would fall in love with her but be very inhibited..Shay is beautiful, sweet and unattainable. Munna loves her knowing she is impossible to attain, and Shay talks to him knowing that she cannot possibly love him. Class is a big thing, consciously and subconsciously. It was easy to understand why Shay liked him, but never loved him, or was never even confused about not loving him...like that was not an option. The movie managed to capture some other aspects of ‘class’ – like how Munna was expected to service the high class woman…gosh! The laziness, the fat and the arrogance of the woman!
Shay's unrequited relationship with Arun was interesting too...an unrequited relationship hinges on two things...obsession and hope..but the base is fear, till a realisation dawns...its like you are running away from the realisation with it chasing you, and deep down you know its going to get you. Shay gets it all in the end I think, and then tears roll down.
The film captured everyday sentences and expressions – which open windows to understanding complex contexts - A simple innocuous statement from Noor like "He has come. We will watch TV now..He doesn't talk too much...” is about arranged marriages with no conversation.
And I couldn’t help but wonder how Shay, and Noor belonging to such bipolar backgrounds did the same thing. They were both capturing the city using their own powers of expressions.
I liked the end – the climax, and then the going on of life, as though nothing much happened. Silent lonely tears and getting over the many emotions that swell up every once in a while. Life does not end, even if phases and relationships do. That’s how it is, more tragedies than comedies. And life goes on!