Starring Kalki Koechlin, Prashant Prakash, Gulshan Devaiya, Puja Sarup
Directed by Anurag Kashyap
Rating: *** ½
There is this kind of a cinema that blends the real smells and sounds of the surburbia with a surrealistic dreamscape that scans and demystifies the main protagonist's inner life, creating external manifestation of his or her inner world in terms that can only be described as image-enchanting.
That Girl In Yellow Boots is the story of a British girl Ruth's search for her biological father in the noisy dispassionate chaos of Mumbai.
It is also a film that marks the coming of age of Kalki Koechlin. Whether the Lolita-Chandramukhi in Dev D or Abhay Deol's annoyingly upperclass girlfriend in Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, there was always something about that girl. And now we know what it is.
In That Girl In yellow Boots Kalki takes us on a journey through her character Ruth's outer and inner world in a way that very few protagonists have done in recent times.
We see her distanced and detached from the lascivious clamour of Mumbai (captured in gloriously grating detail by Rajeev Ravi's colourful camerawork). But in some weird and inexplicable way Ruth is also an integral part of the suburban chaos that repudiates her identity.
Fighting off lewd advances in bureaucratic offices, giving ‘handshakes' (read: handjobs) to customers in the massage parlour, dealing with a junkie boyfriend (Prashant Prakash, aptly cast) who refuses to be tied down (and we mean that literally) and confronting a Kannada gangster (Gulshan Devaiya), Ruth, as played by Kalki, is a splendid survivor.
Emotionally battered and permanently bruised she emerges at the end as above the sickening chaos of peddlers, pimps, prostitutes and the other manifestations of Mumbai's murky underbelly.
The camera cruises Ruth's places of pleasure and pain with the exploratory scupulousness of a voyager waiting to discover an unattainable Utopia. Ruth's world is doomed. She is not.
Anurag Kashyap has always shown a keen eye for dereliction. Here he swoops down on Ruth's world of fringe existence. The ruthless rootless Mumbai is a world that neither accepts nor rejects her.
The sequences in the massage parlour where she works illegally are the liveliest, thanks in no small measure to actress Puja Sarup playing the voluble parlour owner. She is a prized find, if for no other reason then for threatening to gouge out the mighty Naseeruddin Shah's eyes.
Oh yes, Naseeruddin Shah also drops in. And he's a spot of sunshine in Ruth's cold scheming universe. He is the only customer who treats Kalki with paternal affection. Fortified against any emotional attachment, her feelings bottled up and her inner world walled from hurt, Ruth rejects all attachment.
All sorts of men drop in at at the parlour looking for "happy endings", a euphemism for orgasms. There is no happy ending to Ruth's story, though.
Stranded in a world that she cannot own or even occupy, Ruth's search for her father becomes a much larger metaphor for the search for roots that constantly takes us away from home in pursuit of dreams that do not have any logic relevance or even a basic link to reality.
There are portions in the film that tend to get over-indulgent in their realism. The first time that the Kannada gangster visits Ruth's place, he—and the sequence—overstay their welcome. The finale is a letdown.
Ruth's search for Daddy comes to a virtual deadend leaving us feeling as betrayed as Ruth. And does sex really work as a bargaining point for a young solitary sexy girl in ALL her professional dealings in an Indian city? (Come on, give the working-girl a break!)
The questions have no easy answers. What remains with us are the deep fissures in the conscience that Anurag's narration crystallizes by building a labyrinth of real characters played by interesting engaging actors in full-fledged and cameo parts.
If you look hard you will see director Hansal Mehta and actor Rajat Kapoor in walk-on parts. Standing at the centre of of Kashyap's volatile treatise on hope-on-dope, despair, love and its loss in the underbelly of the metropolis is Kalki Koechlin whose face is an effortless map of the human heart.
As played by Kalki Ruth remains a cross between an enigma and a survivor, a fighter and manipulator, a victim and a vamp, a lady and a tramp.
You may forget those yellow boots. But you will never forget the girl wearing them.