Right at the offset at a local funfair in Noida, a satellite city of New Delhi, you realize that life’s neither fun nor fair for cousin sisters Dolly (Konkona Sen Sharma) and Kaajal (Bhumi Pednekar). Dolly’s stuck in a marriage that was successful during the procreation phase (she’s got two children) but now is largely loveless and sexless. Husband Amit (Aamir Bashir, superb in a matter-of-fact patriarchic upper hand act) has a roving tendency, addicted to porn on the cell, but blames it all on his frigid wife, which causes her to freeze in self-doubt. Amit’s roving hand sends unsubtle messages to Kaajal — who’s come from Darbhanga in Bihar — who, in a terrific scene laden with irony, spills the discomfiting beans about Amit to Dolly in a house of horrors ride; Dolly’s expression changes a tad before dismissing her sister’s misgivings. But deep down inside both women, there’s emotional forces at play. And nothing prepares them — or you — for the true horror of a roller coaster ride that awaits them ahead. That horror’s also called women struggling to eke out their identities and traverse unknown paths to discover that sexual tick that’ll make them tock.
Writer-director Alankrita Shrivastava (Lipstick Under My Burkha, co-writer and director, Made In Heaven) has loads to tell in Dolly Kitty Aur Woh Chamakte Sitare (Dolly, Kitty, and Those Twinkling Stars), and each of her characters gets their slow-drip empathetic due in the arc, even as it navigates its leads’ desires, dreams, failures, and triumphs via an effective cinematographic and production design — John Jacob Payyapalli and Tiya Tejpal capturing a city’s pulsing nightlife as effectively as they clasp its night-shift offices, lighting up the frames, even as a middle-class apartment lies still, struggling to fall asleep. That nightlife is what Kaajal discovers, as she moves out of her sister’s home — ostensibly to escape Mr. Limited Range Rover’s attention — and her exploitative job at a shoe factory. That she lands up at dubious alternatives for both — her living quarters and livelihood — is ironic and disturbing. But that’s for Kaajal — who turns into Kitty, working on the phone to romance lonely men’s planet — to discover. Dolly, meanwhile, puts up with as much, but under a more ‘respectable’ garb; she dreams big too, pawning jewels and flicking money from her office to propel her dreams and shopping outings. Part of that dream is an apartment whose hand-over’s interminably locked by its builder: that’s not the only newspaper story that Shrivastava adds to her story; there’s many more clippings that she inserts: the culture brigade and a communal coat of derision that she ties to a violent spill-over later. And her lead actors burn their way through the movie: Konkona Sen Sharma keeps it all tucked in with such ease and yet offers a keyhole into her self-doubts with just fleeting glimpses, it’s a masterful act; Bhumi Pednekar gets in a raw innocence that she combines with fragile grit to pull off a terrific performance.
Director Shrivastava ties up exploring sexuality via the innocent fascination of Dolly’s younger son, Pappu (Kalp Shah) while she begins to break free of her office’s sexist mold (when the boss, Ghanashyam Pandey, played with a terrific natural beat by Shahnawaz Pradhan says, “Mrs. Yadav? Tea?”, it’s not an invitation, it’s a regressive clue for her to brew the stuff for him). This, as she discovers an interesting — and interested — delivery boy, Osmaan Ansari (played with a likable sincerity by Amol Parashar), while Kitty begins to explore her feelings with regular caller Pradeep (Vikrant Massey, slipping with chameleon-like ease into his ambivalent character). Partly what catalyzes Kitty is one of the residents of the shady lodging that she’s put up in. The place is called Twinkle House that’s been supposedly blessed by Virgin Mary — there’s some more irony there for you, as you discover what actually happens there — and offers “healthy facilities for lodging and food (for women only).” Her friend there is Shazia (Kubra Sait) who keeps DJ Teja (Karan Kundra), smitten by her, dangerously dangling like a smoldering cigarette in their relationship.
Add to this Dolly’s mother’s turning up — Neelima Azeem in a subtly powerful cameo — and the stage is set for an intricate tying up of Dolly and Kitty’s paths. Their paths may seem parallel in their similarity, but their struggles are paved on the same road. Somewhere along the movie, I couldn’t help wondering how this movie would have panned out as a mini-series because there’s so much packed in here. And that’s also where the movie falters, as the denouement seems a bit too pat and convenient, as if wanting to get a clean shot of resolution. And does a long-awaited shattering orgasm (tellingly, for both women, not in the classic missionary wham-bam routine) open up the gates of libertarian paths for middle-class women or does it offer a peek into what could’ve been but can never be? Director Shrivastava quickly — and conveniently — chooses the former option, abandoning any echoes of ache and longing.
That quibble apart, the movie’s also a LED-screen light to the sign of our times. Once, not too long ago, our dreams and lovelorn songs were made of promises to go get those stars for the ones we loved. Those star-struck promises remain. But they’re now the stars that you tap on your mobile phone apps to rate them.Movie data powered by IMDb. All images owned by the producers.
Dolly Kitty Aur Woh Chamakte Sitare is streaming on Netflix and is rated A (Adults Only) for sex and mature themes.
Dolly Kitty Aur Woh Chamakte Sitare
Director Alankrita Shrivastava Time 2h 25min
Writer Alankrita Shrivastava
Stars Konkona Sen Sharma, Bhumi Pednekar, Vikrant Massey, Amol Parashar