It may get a bad rep for its fantasy, melodramatic films, but Bollywood still holds a soft spot in our hearts. So when Dhobi Ghat was screened at the Toronto International Film Festival last year, we had moderate expectations for the Aamir Khan film, but we were caught by surprise. Not only does Aamir take a back seat by playing a supporting role in the movie, the film is as anti-Bollywood as they come. In a good way.


Why Dhobi Ghat is worth your $10.50 + tax, even though there are no songs or dances

“This is my love letter to Mumbai.” – Kiran Rao, Director + Writer of Dhobi Ghat

The film follows Munna (Prateik Babbar), a dhobi (clothes washer) dreaming of becoming a Bollywood star. He spends hours posing in front of his mirror, lifting weights and mimicking his celluloid idol, beefcake Salman Khan. During the day, he washes and delivers clothes to upper and middle class families across Mumbai, including two clients, Arun (Aamir Khan) and Shai (indie rock star Monica Dogra in her film debut).

From Munna we meet Shai, an NRI photographer/finance person from New York, on sabbatical in Mumbai. At a fancy gallery party, Shai meets Arun, the quiet, depressed artist behind the exhibit. After a wine-fuelled midnight tryst, Shai grows semi-obsessed with Arun, from whom we’re introduced to Yasmin (Kriti Malhotra), a bubbly young woman who’s just moved to Mumbai with her new husband. And the story continues, each character tied together through their experience of place, and the intimate relationships they develop. Dhobi Ghat is Kiran Rao’s ode to Mumbai – the rich, the poor, the ugly, the beautiful.

Prateik Babbar, who made his debut in a small role in Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na, is raw and vulnerable in his portrayal of Munna, while Aamir Khan is in the most understated role of his career. No loud pronouncements, no jumping in the air. Just a studied, nuanced performance of a heartbroken, introverted painter. And both female leads (this is a movie with only four characters) are like a breath of fresh air when so many Bollywood actresses are mediocre-talented ex-models/Miss Universe/Miss World types.








It’s in the details

Debutante director Kiran Rao (and Aamir Khan’s wife) pays unexpected attention to the little details, setting the mood for her debut venture. Munna’s character idolizes Salman, but never utters a word about him. Instead, he posts magazine cutouts of his idol on the walls of his home, is seen outside the theatre waiting to watch Khan’s recent film Yuvraaj, and the most surprising detail: Munna wears a knockoff of Khan’s signature thick, silver chain bracelet (alright, this writer was slightly obsessed with Sallu as a teen).

There’s also a scene in Dhobi Ghat where Yasmin is at the beach and writes her name in wet sand. Seconds later, the ocean erases any trace of her presence with the low tide. Mumbai, fast-paced, constantly moving, identities being created and erased everyday.

Why we love Kiran

At the Toronto Film Fest last September, Kiran was laid back in her signature black plastic frame glasses, lack-of-fuss hair and casual attire, tying her leather jacket around her waist while answering questions from the audience. She described her film as having, “different textures, with photography, painting, and film influences.”

When asked about her cast, she noted that at first she didn’t want to have Aamir in the film. “I didn’t want to have the baggage that comes with Aamir Khan. I wanted new faces.” After an exhaustive search, she went back to her partner, and cast him as Arun, a role which Aamir seems to slip into effortlessly. But she did go with new faces for her two female leads, admitting, “I trolled Facebook looking for new faces for my film!” And her Facebook stalking paid off with two leading ladies who had little to no on-screen experience prior to Dhobi Ghat (Monica is a musician born in the USA, but now rocking it out in Mumbai, while Kriti was a TV host).


Dhobi Ghat is far from Bollywood in its offbeat story, understated acting, and deeply sensitive portrayal of Mumbai residents. No songs, no dance, no pretending all is right – but not a depressing look at the city either.

Dhobi Ghat opens in select theatres around the world, including in Toronto and Vancouver, on January 19, 2011.

Story By: Manjot Bains  |  Photo Source