Film Review: ‘That Girl in Yellow Boots’
Director: Anurag Kashyap
Cast: Kalki Koechlin, Naseeruddin Shah, Gulshan Devaiya, Prashant Prakash, Shivkumar Subramaniam, Kartik Krishnan
That Girl in Yellow Boots is undone by a filmmaking methodology that’s just unimpressive enough to alienate the mainstream audience, while ringing clichéd to hardened indie-heads. As a colossal fan of visionary director Anurag Kashyap’s previous work, it pains me to digest this fact.
Everyone involved in this film seems better than the material. The meagre plot is nothing more than a clothesline upon which to hang some heated scenes and ugly Mumbai imagery. The film is gritty and graphic, with artsy takes where the camera holds on motionless actors. It’s not that the subject matter is too abstract to be understood by the “mainstream Bollywoodians”. It’s that there doesn’t seem to be much point to the whole thing, other than the usual attempt to depict the harsh realism of Mumbai on screen. Indie it may be, but art it isn’t.
There isn’t much of a story. A girl named Ruth (Kalki Koechlin) searches for her estranged father in Mumbai. She works at a dingy massage parlour where she offers certain pleasures (‘handshakes’, she calls them) to her clients for some extra dough. Kashyap, displaying a distinct lack of pacing, resorts to far too many close-ups of his star, but as good-looking as she is, you tire of them. There’s also something patronising about the zeal with which the director wallows in the Mumbai muck, while ostensibly telling the stories of characters whose lives revolve around the city’s underbelly.
In trying for realism, Kashyap only achieves dramatic inertness. He also doesn’t seem to have a specific cinematic destination in mind for his supporting characters: the gangster Chittiappa (a splendid Gulshan Devaiya) makes an solid entry but then just keeps popping in and out of the plot; a mysterious man (Kartik Krishnan) keeps taking bribes from Ruth, but it is largely unclear as to who he is; Ruth’s boyfriend (Prashant Prakash), though integral in the first half is curiously ignored in the second. Naseeruddin Shah and Divya Jagdale are the standouts, but are given thankless roles. Shah in particular drifts through the film with no purpose other than to fill gaps in the long running time. One scene involving Shivkumar Subramaniam and Kalki at a bar is perhaps the ultimate expression in upscale slumming passing for avant-garde art.
The video work is suitably grainy and rough, but at times, it is—frustratingly and very unlike a Kashyap film—dependent on being overtly naturalistic rather than carefully lit and set up. Naren Chandavarkar’s moody, minimalistic electronic background score is excellent but the lone song that plays in the film is gratingly upbeat, and seems out of sync with the humourless, sombre tone of the movie. But the technical snags don’t hurt the film as much as the annoying red herrings do.
Only in the second half does the story begin to move toward its brutal, hopeless conclusion. The climax is devastating but the art-house nuts will complain about the slim dramatic rewards it offers. There aren’t very many allegories and they don’t amount to much. But suckers will still go hunting for meaning in the trite metaphors, interpreting the ‘handshake’ act as some kind of philo-babble about the human race or the world in general.
For the rest, this just makes for a movie that is more interesting to read and speculate about, than to actually see. A disappointing film that’s less than the sum of its sporadically involving parts, it is unlikely that even the most jaded festival junkies will endure the onslaught of gloom on display. Several of Kashyap’s earlier films were hailed as the works of an artist. Sadly, That Girl in Yellow Boots plays like the work of a dilettante. It is definitely not the explosive birth of the Indian indie revolution he was no doubt wishing it would be.Tags: Anurag Kashyap, Bollywood, Film, film reviews, Gulshan Devaiya, Kalki Koechlin, Kartik Krishnan, Naseeruddin Shah, Prashant Prakash, Shivkumar Subramaniam, That Girl in Yellow Boots