Kiran Rao's "Mumbai Diaries" (Dhobi Ghat) is a shimmering, loving homage to the formerly named Bombay in all its teeming, crowded vitality. With its key settings in a crowded, largely decrepit, congested yet beguiling, picturesque older portion of this city of 14 million inhabitants, the film is like a rich tapestry in which are interwoven the intersecting lives of three people.
It marks a subtle, assured and altogether distinctive feature debut for writer-director Rao and its radiant leading lady, rock star and stage performer Monica Dogra.
Dogra's Shai is a New York investment banker on a sabbatical when she meets a painter, Arun (veteran star Aamir Khan, Rao's husband and co-producer) at an exhibition of his latest work. Liquor loosens inhibitions, and the next morning Arun declares their romantic tryst a one-night stand. Wealthy, successful and self-confident, Shai, on the surface, handles rejection with aplomb, but the pair inadvertently stays connected through an impoverished young laundry delivery man, Munna (Prateik Babbar).
Shai involves Munna in a photography project in which she is recording the lives and trades of working people of Mumbai, while Arun, newly settled in a refurbished apartment, discovers a cache of videos left in an old wardrobe drawer by a former tenant. As Shai and Munna traverse Mumbai, Arun becomes captivated by the videos of the beautiful Yasmin (Kriti Malhotra), which are messages to a loved one. Munna, who dreams of becoming a Bollywood star, finds himself falling in love with Shai but is reluctant to cross class lines.
Rao casts a magic spell in the way she so seductively views Mumbai. She reveals herself to be a master of cinematic sleight of hand, bringing unpredicted depth and meaning to the enchanting complexity that is "Mumbai Diaries."
'Mumbai Diaries' (Dhobi Ghat)
No MPAA rating. In English and Hindi with English subtitles
Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes
Playing: In selected theaters