It isn’t often that you watch a Hindi film with a pair of mainstream Bollywood stars who are unapologetic and unsentimental about their desires.
A majority of such films have a tendency to taint such women and punish them as vixens who need to be set right, but director Alankrita Srivastava’s feature ‘Dolly Kitty Aur Who Chamakte Sitare’ doesn’t succumb to that familiar narrative.
The women in her world and ‘DKAWCS’ are bold and beautiful, and revel in making bewildering choices.
Never have I loved an opening scene of a film as much as the one in this slice-of-life drama. Two cousins Radha/Dolly (Konkona Sen Sharma) and Kajal/Kitty (Bhumi Pednekar) are in an amusement park near Noida and go into the house of horrors where bloodthirsty zombies spring out to scare them.
As they ride together in glee, a fidgety Kajal reveals that her smarmy brother-in-law (an on point Aamir Bashir) was hitting on her and was making her uncomfortable. Radha, who is older to Kajal, reacts like our usual elder, supercilious sibling — with a smidgen of sarcasm and patronising censure. “You are just confused and your hormones are playing a number on you. It happens, don’t stress,” said the devoted wife, played brilliantly by Sharma. Her defence mechanism to protect her family unit was brilliantly underlined.
In a swift master stroke, director Shrivastava set the template for this highly enjoyable and unsentimental women-driven drama. There’s so little melodrama with these women and they are wonderfully wacky. The movie doesn’t go down the predictable route at any point. It delves into their soulless suburban existence and their collective desires to climb the social ladder in a pleasing matter-of-fact manner.
The movie, aptly set in Noida — the concrete jungle in Uttar Pradesh — often considered as the poorer cousin of their snobbish neighbour Delhi, seems like another character in this film. Just like the growing metropolis that yearns to be a full-fledged sparkling city, the women are driven by their ambition to be better financially and socially.
On the surface they seem satisfied but it’s clear that they hate that they have to conform. But the credit has to go to the filmmaker and the actors for never coming across as a pair of scheming social climbers. Their aspirations, their adultery, their dreams, their deception, their craze for consumerism and their moral decline are never vilified.
Sharma as the spunky Dolly — who is confused about her ambivalent feelings towards her husband and the father of her two children — is a pleasure to watch.
So is Pednekar, who is in top form as the young and fiercely independent Kitty — a name she acquires when she joins an adult hotline company.
Pednekar is catty and brings to the table a potent mix of vulnerability and strength. Both women play off each other as they perform their emotionally-charged scenes with a studied ease and alacrity. Even with their wily deceptions they never bore you.
You often wonder about their life choices — why would Kajal stick around at a morally murky job or why would she hit on her friend’s (Kubbra Sait) ex-boyfriend? Or why would Radha risk her staid marriage to commit adultery with a food delivery boy? Your guess would be as good as mine. There are no neat answers or tidy endings in this film and that can be frustrating.
But there are several silver linings in this drama. Usually, the male characters are a casualty in a women-driven narrative. But this film never paints its men as monstrous creatures. Just like the checkered women, the men in this film are deeply flawed and are struggling to make sense of their own shortcomings. Be warned, there’s a string of subtext that runs through this busy screenplay. Questions about casual adultery, sexism at the workplace and complicated parenting are all woven into this busy film. It may seem like a lot, but the film never underwhelms you at any point.
The movie’s climax may also seem a bit hurried and choppy, but the journey until there is eventful and deeply satisfying. Make sure to make this your weekend watch.
Film: ‘Dolly Kitty Aur Woh Chamkate Sitare’
Director: Alankrita Shrivastava
Cast: Konkona Sen Sharma, Bhumi Pednekar, Kubbra Sait, Aamir Bashir, Omol Parashar, Vikrant Massey
Streaming on: Netflix
Stars: 3 out of 5