Rajeev Masand – movies that matter : from bollywood, hollywood and everywhere else

January 22, 2011

The lives of others

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 1:13 am

January 21, 2011

Cast: Aamir Khan, Monica Dogra, Prateik Babbar, Kriti Malhotra

Director: Kiran Rao

In Dhobi Ghat, written and directed by Kiran Rao, Mumbai city is as much a character as the four protagonists whose lives intersect during the film’s 95 minute running time.

Shai (played by Monica Dogra) is a wealthy NRI investment banker who is in town on a sabbatical from her job, to indulge her passion for photography. She spends the night with brooding artist Arun (played by Aamir Khan), who regrets the one-night stand. But Shai, although hurt, feels like they made a connection. Munna (played by Prateik Babbar) is a dhobi nursing acting ambitions, who agrees to introduce Shai to the city, and ends up with a crush on her. Yasmin (played by Kriti Malhotra) is a young Muslim girl who has moved to Mumbai from a small town in Uttar Pradesh, and is recording video diaries for her brother back home. We only see Yasmin in this recorded footage that Arun stumbles onto and becomes obsessed with.

Unfolding against the city’s bustling geography, these stories reveal an intimate and sometimes unpleasant portrait of Mumbai. The issue of class difference rears its ugly head as Shai and Munna become friends. Lack of privacy is another key theme, as is the migrant experience.

Director Kiran Rao makes some interesting points, but there are a few things that just don’t work. The overuse of coincidence, for one. In a city bursting at the seams, the characters in this film seem to be running into each other just about everywhere. Also, Munna is a dhobi, who works nights as a rat-catcher; at one point it’s even insinuated that he’s sleeping with a housewife possibly for cash. Is there any job this guy doesn’t do? And yet he’s available on call to provide tourist-guide services to Shai.

Arun’s obsession with Yasmin is another tricky area. His curiosity about her life may be understandable given that he appears to have no life of his own, but the reaction to his ultimate discovery about her appears contrived.

To be honest, Arun is the only character in the film that strikes me as awkward. He’s saddled with clunky dialogue, and played uncomfortably by Aamir Khan, who surprisingly comes off as too conscious. Monica Dogra as Shai takes some getting used to, but finds her feet along the way. It’s Kriti Malhotra as Yasmin who strikes the perfect note, and whose haunting influence can be felt long after the film is over. Prateik Babbar as Munna oozes charisma and confidence, and your heart goes out to his character in the end when reality puts a break on his dreams.

Beautifully shot and aided by an evocative background score, Dhobi Ghat is occasionally indulgent and moves at a glacial pace. Yet Rao creates some endearing characters, and embraces Mumbai despite its dichotomies. The result is a film that slowly grows on you.

I’m going with three out of five for director Kiran Rao’s Dhobi Ghat. If you have an open mind and an appetite for the experimental, take a bite out of this one.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)


  1. Couldn’t agree more!!In a way the movie gives away this sense of hypocrisy. I feel that because, for me its really insensible that some one staying in Malabar Hills makes a movie about Dharavi. Kiran Rao must be congratulated for her intelligence in choosing a subject which is quite a serious one but extremely cliche. She has done her homework really well and one must appreciate the honesty in her direction. Prateek Babbar is the highlight for sure. What was rather funny was that most people believed this one to be an Aamir Khan movie but to be displeased to the core. To be frank, the subject did let the movie down a bit.

    3 out of 5 is perfecttt!!
    hope Saat Khoon Maaf doesn’t disappoint…

    Comment by Swaroop Kodur — January 22, 2011 @ 2:01 am

  2. dude seriously 3 star is way too much.. for average movie ruined my day…

    Comment by kabir — January 22, 2011 @ 2:22 am

  3. Rajeev,

    I always read your reviews before I make up my mind to catch a movie. I was curious to see you take on Dhobi Ghat, considering the mixed response out there. Well, I guess I am going to see this one. Luckily they are playing this one in Denver.


    Comment by Rajesh Shetty — January 22, 2011 @ 3:51 am

  4. I think this type of movie get Hindi cinema to the world class platform.Kudos to Kiran Rao

    Comment by Anant Raj Singh — January 22, 2011 @ 9:55 am

  5. this is too much… insulting to other actor….fully partiality …….Nobody is right till somebody is wrong./

    Comment by jazz — January 22, 2011 @ 10:10 am

  6. I don’t agree with your review.Totally wastage of money.I can give half star for this movie.

    Comment by Nikhil — January 22, 2011 @ 10:49 am

  7. doesnt touch emotionally.its a beautiful experiment gone wrong

    Comment by dashant — January 22, 2011 @ 12:09 pm

  8. ohhh, how can u give 3 srars,there is no conection we feel.boring,without ending,without entertainment,not much dualog,what a film all about ?only pritiek seems promising.i donot agree with u mr ragive ,sorry. all the audience were lauging after ending.

    Comment by chintan — January 22, 2011 @ 12:20 pm

  9. there were couple of things that didnt work for me..

    we see an obsessed amir khan watching the 3 tapes through out the movie pausing and resuming the tape at various places ..with that level of interest on what he is watching, who wouldnt just watch the whole tape in one go??? specially him who is a painter and has all the free time in the world beside painting…it would have been more interesting and convincing by making amir hunt for the various parts of the tapes.. and may be amir trying to reach out to her brother and forwarding the message and the painting at the end….that would have given more depth to amir’s character..
    the way shia ends up at amir’s place and then dancing romantically didnt just come across convincingly as the scene were not established correctly..it didnt came across as either one or both were into each other before you pick up some one home…very cliche shot was used to establish this.
    agree with what you have to say about prateik’s character doing all sets of job yet having all the time in the world to be a tour guide..
    no story behind that old lady who just sits and stares..is that character set just to establish that yasmin is all alone and she has no one to talk to, not even her next door neighbour???..but we see her talking to her maid and maid’s daughter…

    the movie could have been much more interesting…

    Comment by kevin — January 22, 2011 @ 2:04 pm

  10. The movie flopped because of Prateik Babbar.

    Comment by Kunal — January 22, 2011 @ 3:30 pm

  11. I’m not agree with your review……from my point of view………it’s a class film……..and a honest film also……
    it’s just like 21grams , babel ……… it is a very hardcore realistic film………..and obviously not for everyone……

    Comment by Soumya — January 22, 2011 @ 5:44 pm

  12. your review says aamir dint portray his role well….on the contrary i feel he did a great job…he suited the role…otherwise your review was spot on , as always!!

    Comment by gaurav dangi — January 22, 2011 @ 8:58 pm

  13. Its a nice movie i agree with Rajeev some points are exactly what i was thinking kudus to Prateik the only thing that is watchable and AMir is just waste of the Actor here.

    Comment by Mi — January 23, 2011 @ 1:09 am

  14. I have always found your reviews useful.

    For watching Dhobi Ghat, I purposefully avoided reading any reviews at all.

    I found the film to be quite fresh and color-full in its approach and overwhelmingly responsive to the underlying emotions.

    That is why I don’t much agree with you point about the coincidence of Munna being available full time for Shai. Wouldn’t one leave out on one’s regular chores for the one piece of goodness one finds in life, and that is apparently evident on Munna’s face as he seems to be losing the possible income from the lady.

    I would also say that Amir’s portrayal of an off-centered Arun is somewhat correct. What can one expect from such a reclusive person after a shattered marriage with no more access to a beloved daughter. Doesn’t one like this would divulge into chain-smoking and often blabbering out of context and speech while he speaks about a casual encounter. And how couldn’t one get so shocked with the outcome of the videos on which he has centered his painting work on.

    Tell me Rajeev Ji, are you outsourcing your reviews?
    This is a personal request, please do not do so. There are not many honest watchers and reviewers in Bollywood.

    Comment by Mayank Gupta — January 23, 2011 @ 1:20 am

  15. Dear soumya,
    i completely agree with you. its wonderfully made but not for everyone.. please suggest me those kinds of movies love to watch them

    Comment by harsha — January 23, 2011 @ 12:42 pm

  16. Rajeev,
    you yourself are admitting that aamir’s role was awkward for the film and the dressing of the Munna and his role was also not practical one . I frankly dint find and catchy dialogues . So wat makes you give 3 stars with such slow paced movie leading to no destination except an emotional climax , that was kinda heart touching.

    Comment by Kaushik Mallya — January 23, 2011 @ 4:29 pm

  17. It was definitely a wonderful movie….although there ain’t much of a story , it’s the characters that makes long lasting impact. prateik babbar will definitely make a good actor in future.

    Comment by rohit G — January 23, 2011 @ 7:17 pm

  18. i really liked the movie……
    apart from aamir everyone seemed perfect in his/her role…
    i think it deserves 4 stars…..
    a brilliant experiment from kiran rao.
    nice to see such stuff in bollywood now…..

    Comment by hitesh tejwani — January 23, 2011 @ 11:49 pm

  19. hi guys i saw the movie and i didnt like it. aamir khan what ever shit you are trying to give dont think that it will work out. ok if you are making a experimental film thats fine but make it engrossing but dont make it cliche.aamit if you are eyeing for oscar by doing this movie then iam ashamed.we want lagaan,dil chaatha hai,range de basanti and 3 idiots from you not this stuff.horrible film.aamir dont be over confident in your ventures please this film drags big time and aamir one thing you did right not giving a chance for interval if it was then people would have gone out half way through the movie.

    Comment by dipu — January 24, 2011 @ 12:15 am

  20. A Complete wash out…Dhobi Ghat…!!!
    First Farah and now Aamir , Farah wanting to please her husband and Aamir endorsing the work of his wife.
    Aamir’s reputation proceeds his work, one is aware that he will act only if the story has a strong presence.
    Dobhi ghat left one wondering how could Aamir disappoint his fans to this extent.

    I went to see Dobhi Ghaat with lot of expectations but was let down, the story line was in bits and pieces and no time to comprehend.
    Kiran Rao could have shown a lot more of this beautiful city Mumbai, she could have included the politics, the culture, the mesmerizing locations the city offers to one and all. She could have shown the Red light Area, bollywood or the fashion industry . Lots make this dream city so desirable.

    As far as my knowledge goes there are no muslim dhobis , where as the character of Pratik Babbar portrayed as a muslim dhobi was very disappointing and lacking in research.

    Aamir looked good in the film, Prateek has done well too and the lady protagonist her performance was superlative.

    wish Kiran had found other ways to show this beautiful city of mumbai, this movie was a complete let down by way of story line or continuity may be the only saving grace was 90 minute movie without the interval as if one had the opportunity then one would go home in the interval.

    Comment by Arif Akhtar Kakvi. — January 24, 2011 @ 2:29 am

  21. i liked it a lot.. its not for evry1.. i jst loved it.. nxt ngt i wnt for YPD and was thinking abt DHOBI GHAT while wtchng tht.. i jst loved it .. spcly yasmeen..

    Comment by acerishi' — January 24, 2011 @ 9:37 am

  22. Hi Rajeev,

    I have religiously followed all your reviews over the last few years. Overall, I think I’d agree with most of your reviews except for a movie like ‘Kurbaan’ which was trash in my view..

    Watched the movie, here in Colorado today and sadly I think you’ve missed the film… May I recommend you to watch the movie again.. It’s a case of missing the forest for the trees.. I think Aamir’s character was particularly well sketched in the way, it was.. He plays this reclusive person who’s obsessed with Yasmin. But dont you think people (whether introvert or reclusive) would always have something to be inquisitive about. And Aamir’s character was just that.. And showing Aamir the way he was (a loner, someone not having a life, as you said), when he got to know about her end, was completely taken aback.. I thought that was an amazing scene. Somehow who was running away from relationships all his life, had suddenly developed some sort of an affection for a stranger, whom he felt connected to..

    I think this movie at least deserves a 4 star.. I agree it might not set the box office on fire, but it’s an engaging film which engages the audiences and the story unfolds beautifully. I hope this will be India’s nomination for the Academy Awards in 2012.

    Comment by Kunal — January 24, 2011 @ 12:16 pm

  23. didnt see the movie……considering the mixed response……………. i hop it doesnt dissappoint comin from aamir khan production….i m gonna give it a try

    Comment by joel — January 24, 2011 @ 2:59 pm

  24. Well… Some say its a class movie… kindly requesting them to define that class !!!!! there is no class. Where is the story??? a normal student of any film making institute can make a better DOCUMENTARY about ANY CITY.. Rajiv, I used to have respect for you, but this is a ridiculous review !!!!! ????????? Prateik looks promising and brings this DOCUMENTARY live for few minutes. Thats it !!! I lost my money ?? Where is the complain box Mr Rajiv?? U own a website… Dont you think U should be little conscious for your fans and for sake of your own reputation….

    Thumb Down for Aamir Khan too.. He always choose the good script… What happened for this time?? Business Mind!!!!


    Comment by Keyur — January 24, 2011 @ 11:51 pm

  25. This is a movie that you will either leave you fuming for ruining your evening or simply wow you. One thing is absolutely guaranteed.. it wont leave you indifferent. I personally loved the movie, its insightful and honest. I dont know why any movie in this country that makes you “think” is labelled as “experimental” This is a movie that should not be missed.

    Comment by amit — January 25, 2011 @ 2:28 am

  26. I loved the movie,while you are right amir’s character may seem awkward but somewhere down the line all his actions are justified.His life is lonely, he prefers it that way and through Yasmin he finds a creative soulmate they are similar in the ways of their thoughts.He finds himself distracting himself from his lonely existence and finds happiness even if its voyeuristic at times.I found shai’s accent a little strange in the beginning.The use of photography the colours that can be seen at night of the houses(blue light from windows).The camera movements are very intriguing.From the taxi scene in the beginning of the movie to the scene where the whole screen is black except the bottom ride side. Also kiran rao leaves a lot of figuring out to the audience, she expects her audience to interpret and unravel the story subtly. Her non-linear movie making style is something people aren’t used to maybe thats why they were people who found it to lack substance.I for one found the emotions not thrown at my face instead the characters make you feel what they feel. In the last scene the smile on ‘munna’s’ face as he gives arun’s address to shai says it all

    Comment by munmun — January 25, 2011 @ 8:07 pm

  27. faaltuest movie of d century

    Comment by Swapnil — January 26, 2011 @ 2:54 pm

  28. Itz proved with dhobi ghat that aamir is nt a gurantee 4 hit

    Comment by Sumeet — January 28, 2011 @ 8:04 pm

  29. Rajeev masand…stop watching movies…u never like any movie…..plz stop watching indian movies

    Comment by fcker — January 29, 2011 @ 12:25 am

  30. Will not agree with you this time. 3 stars is too much. The movie deserves 2 stars. The biggest mystery is – Why was this movie ever made? Though the background score and cinematography is awesome.

    Comment by Anshuman — January 30, 2011 @ 11:56 pm

  31. Guys..I hear two things: DHOBI ghat total WASTE and DHOBI ghat a CLASS film.
    In my opinion 3/5 (means good !) rating is deserved for a 1st time director making movie on something you’re not probably interested!! I wouldn’t call it a WASTE because I know what WASTE movies are and man I don’t wanna give a big fuking list here. The director shows her creativity in intersecting four different lives of people in Mumbai (which was promised during the promos) and A.K. had guts to make a totally off-beat film, and convince the audience to not to go watch movies if you expect another Ghajini or 3i and he almost succeeded !!! Tell me, how many Indian movies dare to take a different approach than making shit-ass business-oriented (aam-janta) with an hour of half-skirt songs and ZERO script (yes, I am pointing @ Akshay kumar and all his fellows who have determined to spread crap allover this industry).
    To talk about the movie, I was OK with Dhobi ghat, a watchable, innovative script. But what i was not OK with was MONICA DOGRA (a hot-waste !!) and I bet you director had no clue where she was heading in the end, and finished the movie as soon as she found something a STOP sign. Movie could have been more interesting (Agreed), little more entertaining, and climax should have been more catchy. I mean this is something like going out on V’day and having a buttered bread in the night!!! This type of movie should have a jaw-dropping climax (the only reason I loved Sixth sense), but I guess better luck next time. A.K. was good (disagreed with R.Masand, he well portrayed a guy who was uncomfortable with his life), all characters except Monica were good.

    Comment by nihin — February 6, 2011 @ 8:06 pm

  32. good movie…..

    Comment by piyush — February 13, 2011 @ 8:54 pm

  33. I totally agree with you. The movie grows on you. I agree that the pacing is too slow but that’s very typical for any art movie. Though i admit it does bore you at places but that excellent climax at the end pinched my heart. And i don’t feel ashamed to admit it that there were tears in my eyes. I give all the credit to ‘the-lady-in-the-cam’ Yasmin played by Kriti Malhotra who was so so natural that i almost felt what Amir’s character must have felt at the end. And its only because of her performance that the whole movie is worth watching once again.
    And BTW good review!

    Comment by gopal — February 19, 2011 @ 12:18 pm

  34. Watched the movie yesterday night on DVD! Finally!

    Brilliant movie … beautiful snippets ….mosaic of imagery and sounds … Monika Dogra & Prateik are actors to look out for in the future. Kudos to Kiran Rao for incorporating a fresh perspective to movie making in Bollywood!! Loved the movie, wish had watched it in a cinema hall!!


    Comment by Rahul Sengupta — April 17, 2011 @ 9:32 am

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