Friday, September 09, 2011

That Girl In Yellow Boots 

Mumbai By Night

The problem with Bollywood cinema right now is the lack of a viable alternative.  On the one end is junk like Bodyguard you don’t want to see; on the other high-quality cinema of Anurag Kashyap (and his followers) that you can’t bear to watch.
That Girl in Yellow Boots is typical ‘indie’ fare that invariably hopes to attract audiences through controversial content.  The story follows Ruth (Kalki Koechlin), who has come to India to look for her father. He had left when she was a kid.  She has received a letter from him, and set off in search; and while she makes the rounds, she works in a seedy massage parlour and specializes in what is euphemistically referred to as “hand shake.”
Her backstory—troubled childhood, sister’s suicide, difficult relationship with mother—comes through, but not how she acquires a junkie boyfriend (Prashant Prakash) or why she puts up with him.  Ruth is portrayed as stoic and world weary, far beyond her years.  She deals calmly with several clients (including a paternal Naseeruddin Shah, who comes for a real massage and is shocked at what she does for money), with the chatty woman who runs the parlour (Puja Sarup), a gangster Chitiappa (Gulshan Devaiya) who is there, because you can’t have a Mumbai underbelly film without a gangster, and the many cogs in the wheel that could lead to her father.
This kind of film has to be ugly and brutal, but to give credit to Kashyap, he doesn’t make Ruth’s experiences with cops, officials and sundry riff-raff too violent or sordid; even so the finale that comes up creeping slowly and inexorably is discomfiting, with no catharsis provided.  Though incest, child abuse and other evils do take place in our society, watching a film about it—and one that deals with it so casually--  is not an experience to look out for.
Kashyap has populated the film with actors from the theatre, so every little cameo is well-performed—Kumud Mishra, Makrand Deshpande, Divya Jagdale, Shiv Subrahmanyam, Pura Sarup—all known names from the city’s theatre. Kalki, who is described by a character in the film, through her teeth, as “part Bugs Bunny part Julia Roberts” carries the film with her look of innocence and strength. It’s a difficult role that she performs with confidence. But it’s not a film you’d recommend to your best friend.


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