In the annals of Indian cinema, 2010 could well go down as the year in which Aamir Khan courted the arty film festival circuit with as much commitment and dedication as he does the material world of the box office. He will be remembered not for the mega success of 3 Idiots, released last year, but for the two ‘indies’ he produced and promoted with characteristic passion. Anusha Rizvi’s Peepli [Live] opened at the Sundance Film Festival, and later travelled to Berlin and several other events, before having a successful run at the theatres last month. Last week, Aamir was back at the 35th Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), promoting his new home production Dhobi Ghat, written and directed by his wife Kiran Rao. He was joined by Kiran and actors Prateik Babbar, Monica Dogra and Kriti Malhotra at the film’s sold-out world premiere at the 1,560-seat Elgin Theatre.
Dhobi Ghat carries a second title—Mumbai Diaries—and is a fitting ode to the maximum city. It tracks the lives of four disparate individuals and deals with the theme of breaking class and religious boundaries. The film is a remarkable feat coming from a first-time director. In the programme notes for the festival, Cameron Bailey, the co-director of TIFF, wrote that Kiran is “informed by (the Asian masters) Wong Kar-Wai and Tsai Ming Liang, but (directs) with her own intimate sensibility”. High praise that surely set higher expectations. “Do not expect another Ghajini,” Aamir told the screaming Toronto fans who had filled up the Elgin. And he was right. In Dhobi Ghat, Aamir (playing a reclusive painter, Arun) delivers one of the quietest performances of his career. But the real star is Babbar, playing Munna, the dhobi. The actor has tremendous screen presence and carries the weight of the film with ease. No surprise, then, that after the screening, Babbar received louder applause than Aamir.