Sunday, September 11, 2011

That Girl in Yellow Boots (2011)

There's something intensely compelling about the seemingly banal opening scenes of That Girl in Yellow Boots; we follow Kalki Koechlin's Ruth going through the motions at the Foreigner's Registration Office, trying out her workmanlike Hindi in an effort to impress stodgy bureaucrats, walking down a crowded street to the massage parlour she casually asks her already satisfied customer for a handshake (1000 Rupees okay?) and walks back home to a dilapidated apartment. There is a junkie boyfriend, there are acquaintances at the parlour, there is a mother back in Brighton. The reason behind her increasingly numbing existence is her father: having left home when she was five, following the suicide of her fifteen-year-old sister, he’s been out of her life… till a letter injected with fatherly longing makes it way to her. Her search for him brings her to the bylanes of Mumbai, and it is in the middle of this untiring quest that we find her.

Anurag Kashyap is one of the few – and amongst the finest – auteurs in the Indian film industry. Some of his works have achieved universal acclaim – Dev D comes to mind instantly; others have received much more polarised reactions, finally resulting in acquiring a cult status – No Smoking is the obvious example here. There’s a degree of unpredictability that comes with every new Kashyap release. On the one hand, there’s an ease with which he transcends genres; on the other, he can sometimes let his directorial flourishes get out of hand (again, the last fifteen minutes of Dev Dcome to mind, possibly the only misguided step in the entire movie).

That Girl in Yellow Boots is a triumph of directorial control. Starting from the way every single frame is composed, down to the soundtrack, and of course the performances themselves, this is a movie that successfully establishes its seedy universe and runs with it. The supporting players are wonderfully realised – Ruth’s boss at the parlour gives us some of the movie’s most refreshingly hilarious moments in her matter-of-fact phone conversations with a lover, while Chittiapa, the Diga gangster, delivers a scene that bristles with comic energy that’s quickly side-lined by something more sinister. The Bangalore audience I was watching the movie with may have gotten a little more from his defining scene, however – every rendering of his dialogues in Kannada was met with knowing peals of laughter from the crowd.

But it’s that Girl herself who really makes the movie, and indeed, it’s hard to imagine any other contemporary actress managing this role. Kalki Koechlin mixes intense vulnerability (remember rooting for her over Paro in Dev D?) with a tough-as-nails vibe that’s the perfect mix for the character we’re exposed to in the movie. There’s an exquisitely deadened look in her eyes as she negotiates yet another handjob; there’s a touching charm to her attempts at reaching for a bag of money being stolen from her. The devil is in the details: her English accent is consciously modulated to make the bureaucrats feel at home, and then gets its Brighton twang when she’s conversing with a P.I. She’s required to emote multiple emotional outbursts, and the movie negotiates these without entering maudlin territory.

The movie closes with an equally compelling wordless sequence that deals with the immediate aftermath of our discovery regarding Ruth’s father. It’s the final masterstroke in a movie that acquires power as it goes along, and the final shot that lingers on her face is yet another testament to the cinematic alchemy that happens when director, actor, and screenplay come together in perfect harmony.

(as published on

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