Forget Salman Khan, even Fatema Kagalwala is on a roll. One day, two posts. Click here to read her hilarious dissection of Bodyguard, and scroll down to read her post on Anurag Kashyap’s latest release, That Girl In Yellow Boots.
Seedy is not Mumbai’s underbelly, it is the defining aspect of its identity. In this quagmire is a young girl struggling to survive. An English citizen in a strange city, she is but twenty years old. At a time when most of us our dreaming of building fancy careers, watching our weight, worrying about skin/hair problems while striving to date that hot bod, she is fighting to stay afloat in the dense-ness of red tape and sexual exploitation.
She is Ruth, Anurag Kashyap’s protagonist in his latest film, ‘That Girl in Yellow Boots’. She is as vulnerable as she is steely and as undaunted as she is brittle. She meets exploitation at every corner, simply because she is young, female, single and white-skinned. She is looking for her father who abandoned her when she was five. There is darkness everywhere she turns and she buys some light with the money she earns by giving massages and handjobs to willing customers, what she ironically calls, ‘happy endings’. As the official synopsis reads ‘everyone wants a piece of her’, and she obliges – if it will lead her to father.
Anurag Kashyap lays it out thick. Grime, blood, sweat and semen. Loss, pain, failures and trauma. Darkness is no stranger to the film-maker, his oeuvre almost revels in it. He always says it as it is, sometimes even too much. But TGYIB doesn’t suffer from over-doing. Ruth’s world is murky and steeped in pain but there is spirit in her struggle. Her existence seems doomed but there is assurance in her steps. There is an emptiness in her eyes and a desperation in her heart but her mind is focused. She is love-less but not lost. She is gathered and determined.
So is the narrative. It follows its story with focus even though it becomes unstructured and loose at times. It doesn’t give into impulsive cinematic expressions at the cost of her character’s journey and that seems to be symptomatic of a creative evolution of the maker. For that alone, this can be called a notable film.
This time round there is no shying away from emotions. There is no uncomfortable distance from vulnerability and neediness is not wrong. There is a unique objectivity which is a hallmark frame of reference with Anurag Kashyap’s films, something that made Black Friday the classic it is. Along with this objectivity there was also apparent a seeming reluctance to engage emotionally with the character. Hence Dev simply remained a lost drunkard, Chanda an unapologetic fighter and Paro’s vulnerability never found the sure footing to blossom enough.
But Ruth is not like that. She is almost life and blood. I say almost because she falls prey to a lot of unsure moments in the film which keep her from blossoming fully. Her interactions with her boyfriend seem half-heartedly performed and the fault does not lie with the protagonist but the choreography and uncultivated chemistry between actors. Her denouement is not intense enough but while she is on unsure ground she is also explored from more ways than one. However, she is not sentimentalised and therein lies the strength of the film. Wouldn’t that have simply undone the very premise of her character?
Kashyap employs child abuse as a prominent theme, perhaps to enforce yet another layer of brutality to the already dismal world of the film. But this he juxtaposes with a fatherly figure, Ruth’s only male massage customer who is affectionate to her without objectifying her. Female strength finds yet another towering personification in the massage parlour owner, Maya (A brilliant, effortless and sparklingly honest Puja Sarup). Their identification and subsequent bond speaks volumes about the opposing forces of exploitation and survival.
Cinematic elements come together in harmony to tell the story of Ruth’s journey. Even as Rajiv Ravi’s digital camera caresses Ruth’s dismal life with an expressive graininess, Wasiq Khan’s seamless production design melts grunge with the dullness of the ordinary. We notice the torn beige sofa and the darkly-lit, narrow parlour lounge almost becoming metaphors of Ruth’s dislocated life.
In the pursuit of defining its protagonist’s journey, the film however fails it’s peripheral characters. Shiv Subramaniam, Mushtaq Khan, Divya Jagdale, Makrand Deshpande, Piyush Mishra, all remain mere tools of the exploitative environment without completing an experience. This singularity becomes representative and seems forced and has much to do with broad-stroked writing, seeming to take the ‘easy’ way out.
There is also the sketchily written character of Kannadiga ganglord Chitiappa explosively performed by Gulshan Devaiah, easily the star of the film. He settles in instantly and shines through till the end, effortlessly balancing the Nana Patekar-esque eccentric stereotype with the defencelessness of a school boy. This balance is what Prashant Prakash never gets right unfortunately. His see-sawing volatile character had immense scope to capture a spectrum of moods, emotions, swings and even personalities but he never really manages to get under our skin.
The film begins on an unsure footing, taking us slowly into Ruth’s world, introducing it through her encounters. Dialogues are many a times listless, almost murdering moments. Improvisation shows in the body language of actors and sync sound catches the uncertain intonations of lines made up on the spur of the moment. For a film crafted to evoke a response beyond the intellectual and focused on following Ruth’s path to her father, this serves as an undoing.
The film largely works because of its choice of actors. Kalki’s oval-faced innocence, a full-mouth unable to hide the Bugs Bunny teeth and the clear sad eyes looking at you become synonymous with Ruth right from the beginning. The actress wears her character unlike any other she has done before, and it is this certain ‘giving up to the character’ that one senses, which becomes the most appealing. We never cry with her or hurt for her but somewhere the film convinces us to feel enough for her to know what will happen to her and silently wish her well. As a takeaway, that is big.
Luis Bunuel said – “Fortunately, somewhere between chance and mystery lies imagination, the only thing that protects our freedom, despite the fact that people keep trying to reduce it or kill it off altogether.” Team TGYIB uses theirs very well to give us a world that is precisely between chance and mystery.