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'Mumbai Diaries' is a love note to Indian city

The feature film follows a man and a woman connected by a one-night stand and a delivery man.

January 21, 2011|By Kevin Thomas, Special to the Los Angeles Times
  • Shai (Monica Dogra) in "Mumbai Diaries" (Dhobi Ghat).
Shai (Monica Dogra) in "Mumbai Diaries" (Dhobi Ghat). (Aamir Khan Productions )

Kiran Rao's "Mumbai Diaries" (Dhobi Ghat) is a shimmering, loving homage to the formerly named Bombay in all its teeming, crowded vitality. With its key settings in a crowded, largely decrepit, congested yet beguiling, picturesque older portion of this city of 14 million inhabitants, the film is like a rich tapestry in which are interwoven the intersecting lives of three people.

It marks a subtle, assured and altogether distinctive feature debut for writer-director Rao and its radiant leading lady, rock star and stage performer Monica Dogra.

Dogra's Shai is a New York investment banker on a sabbatical when she meets a painter, Arun (veteran star Aamir Khan, Rao's husband and co-producer) at an exhibition of his latest work. Liquor loosens inhibitions, and the next morning Arun declares their romantic tryst a one-night stand. Wealthy, successful and self-confident, Shai, on the surface, handles rejection with aplomb, but the pair inadvertently stays connected through an impoverished young laundry delivery man, Munna (Prateik Babbar).

Shai involves Munna in a photography project in which she is recording the lives and trades of working people of Mumbai, while Arun, newly settled in a refurbished apartment, discovers a cache of videos left in an old wardrobe drawer by a former tenant. As Shai and Munna traverse Mumbai, Arun becomes captivated by the videos of the beautiful Yasmin (Kriti Malhotra), which are messages to a loved one. Munna, who dreams of becoming a Bollywood star, finds himself falling in love with Shai but is reluctant to cross class lines.

Rao casts a magic spell in the way she so seductively views Mumbai. She reveals herself to be a master of cinematic sleight of hand, bringing unpredicted depth and meaning to the enchanting complexity that is "Mumbai Diaries."

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'Mumbai Diaries' (Dhobi Ghat)

No MPAA rating. In English and Hindi with English subtitles

Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes

Playing: In selected theaters

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