Synopsis – A disillusioned Delhi wife and her new-in-town cousin navigate damning secrets, dreams and their thorny dynamic on their respective roads to freedom.
My Take – Announced a year ago, this Balaji production was supposed to be a special release, after all it had director Alankrita Srivastava helming the project, whose calling card so far has been the superb, clear-headed 2017 feminist saga Lipstick Under My Burkha, which amidst controversy managed to find both critical and commercial success.
Now released on Netflix, picking up a leaf right from where she left off, here, director Alankrita Srivastava once again deals with not so amenably communicated issues of the Indian women, their inner liberty and their intricacies. And while the effort is well-meaning, unfortunately, it doesn’t fair as well, as it tries to stuff too much into one story-line and does not manage to say enough about anything.
Her previous film succeeded because it was glued to a central theme but here, the central theme has to fight for its own space among so many different themes and taboos that too in the span of 120 minutes. But what renders this one largely ineffective, is not merely this multiplicity of elements but the script’s inability to blend them into a cohesive whole, resulting in its thematically over-crowded feel and its vagueness about most.
A less rigid screenplay would have aided both the quality of the message and the sharpness of its delivery. Hence, leaving most of everything that is right about the film undone by its fuzziness in storytelling, and occasional tackiness.
Set in Noida, the story follows Dolly aka Radha Yadav (Konkona Sen Sharma) and her cousin, Kajal (Bhumi Pednekar). While Dolly is a middle-class married woman, a mother of two, and working a clerical job in the account’s department of a government company. But unknown to the world, she is trapped in a loveless marriage, yet assisting her husband Amit (Aamir Bashir) financially in buying a decent apartment for themselves, and is frigid when it comes to marital sex.
On the other hand, Kajal, who has recently moved to the city from Bihar, is struggling to make a living. Though she initially moves in with Dolly’s family, Amit’s wandering hands forces her move into a hotel, and take up the next job in line i.e. a call center of an app under the guise of the name Kitty, that offers lonely men lightly sexual telephone conversations in a bid to persuade them to spend money on the company’s gift shop.
However, amid the compromise adjusting to this strange job, she falls in love with a regular caller, Pradeep (Vikrant Massey), who she begins to believe is her light at the end of the tunnel. Meanwhile amidst all troubles, Dolly finds herself being attracted to sweet talking and much younger MBA studying delivery boy, Osman (Amol Parashar).
The film has a fairly strong foundation as a story and is adorned by the superlative performances of the two leading ladies. It sparks when both Dolly and Kitty are together. A brief scene, where the two cry and discuss their individual lives and how is everything a mess ends up being much more engaging than seeing a bunch of ideas fighting for screen space. And the film’s progressive aims are never in doubt.
Director Shrivastava’s intent itself results in several crucial positives. It is refreshing, for instance, to see the actual diversity of north Indian society being represented in a Bollywood venture, that too without making too big a deal of it. The presence of an OBC family, a Muslim delivery boy, and a Christian-run hostel all in the same narrative with varying degrees of importance here is more realistic than the upper-caste Hindu socio-cultural homogeneity depicted in most Hindi films.
It is also unusual too for a Hindi film to dwell on women’s sexual desires or portray the mundaneness of sex, not just its romantic aspects, such as with that scene in which Pradeep helps Kajal wash the blood off a bed sheet after her first sexual encounter.
But director Shrivastava also goes on to touch a garden variety of topics. As a result, the script losses its essence and eventually dis balances itself from its main goals. From gender stereotypes to highlighting the actual loneliness of the city, the film jumps from one topic to another.
For some reason it explains that feminism and women’s liberation is all about finding sexual happiness, best achieved outside the conventional boundaries of marriage, family and other bindings. It sees Dolly make no effort whatsoever to make her marriage work as admittedly, she has never been able to love her husband from the very beginning, but discovers total carnal pleasure in the very first man she befriends outside, a food delivery guy.
Kajal’s premise is somewhat more plausible as she is duped by her first love and rebounds to the next possible person. There are also other subplots with loose ends here like Kitty’s younger son’s penchant for cross dressing and potential transgender tendencies, the unfinished apartment and Dolly’s financial frauds at work are also kept inconclusive.
But the worst part of the film was perhaps in the final act where all relevant characters of the script come together to attend an art event where political goons vandalize the podium and bullets fly free, killing two members of the cast. The event is unconvincing as the protagonists actually had no business being there in the first place, and therefore may be dubbed as an unimaginative and contrived situation created to bring the story to its logical end.
Nevertheless, both Konkona Sen Sharma and Bhumi Pednekar dish out effortlessly convincing performances that are a pleasure to watch, while Vikrant Massey and Amol Parashar are charming in their supporting roles. In other roles, Aamir Bashir, Kubbra Sait, Karan Kundra and Kalp Shah manage to leave a mark. However, Neelima Azeem is totally wasted as Dolly’s estranged mother. On the whole, ‘Dolly Kitty Aur Woh Chamkte Sitaare’ is a well-intentioned social drama lost in a fog of nebulous writing and detached storytelling.
Directed – Alankrita Shrivastava
Rated – R
Run Time – 120 minutes