"To be honest I had never even been to Dhobi Ghat before I went to see the location for the film’s research", says Kiran Rao, director and writer of one of the most anticipated films of this year — Dhobi Ghat. Backed by Aamir Khan Productions, the film revolves around the four stories of characters from different backgrounds and the role the city plays in their lives. She says, “I wrote the title even before I started writing the film because the dhobi (washer-man) seems to be a great character to use to explore parts of the city.”
The central character is a dhobi called Munna, a washer-man, played by Prateik Babbar. “I liked the changeable identity that his character afforded me,” says Rao. “He is from a poor background and has come to the city to make a living. He has dreams of becoming an actor. But here he is, washing people’s clothes… he sometimes wears the occasional client’s shirt out to the movies. This is his life.”
Research for the film took Rao to corners of the city she had not seen before. And since she hasn’t lived here her entire life, understanding the nature of its chaos was easier. “The dhobi’s character helps me show you can come to Mumbai to forge a new identity. You can leave your past, your caste and poverty behind and look to making a new future,” says Rao, explaining the connection of the city with the film.
“I felt that the Dhobi Ghat is a metaphor for the city, where all kinds of people come and create this energy that makes the city the place it is. It is the meeting of all kinds of people and communities that makes it an exciting place. The film really helped me discover Mumbai, in a sense.”
Eventually, when the director saw the location, she knew it fit perfectly. The character of Munna, however, lives in a slum by the railway tracks in the film. “The Ghat is the levelling ground. This is where the city rubs off your edges and makes you part of this giant flow of energy. All kinds of filthiness come here to be evened out and sent back anew.”