Friday, September 2, 2011

The 'That Girl in Yellow Boots' Review

 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 meager plot is nothing more than a clothesline upon which to hang some heated scenes and ugly Mumbai imagery. TGIYB is gritty and graphic, with artsy takes where the camera holds on motionless actors. It's not that the film's subject 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 real/reel gambit. Indie it may be, but art it isn't.

There isn’t much of a story here – a girl named Ruth (Kalki) 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. With a distinct lack of pacing, Kashyap resorts to far too many close-ups of his star until, as good-looking as she is, you tire of them. There's also something patronizing about the zeal with which Kashyap wallows in the Mumbai muck, especially since his characters' lives revolve entirely around the same.

In trying for realism, Kashyap only achieves dramatic inertness. He also doesn't seem to have a particular cinematic destination in mind for his supporting characters – the gangster Chitiyapa (a splendid Gulshan Devaiya) makes a 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), though integral in the first half is curiously ignored in the second. Naseeruddin Shah and Puja Swarup 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 runtime. 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 is dependent on being overtly naturalistic rather than carefully lit and set up – which is very frustratingly unlike an AK film. 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, somber tone of the movie. But the technical snags don’t hurt the film as much as the annoying red herrings do. Dabbling in laughable red herrings in a modern, idealistic, subtle film just defeats the purpose.

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 of the slim dramatic rewards it offers. There aren’t many allegories here, 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, it just makes for a movie that is more interesting to read and speculate about, than to actually see.

That Girl in Yellow Boots is a disappointing film that's less than the sum of its sporadically involving parts. It is unlikely that even the most sophisticated or jaded of festival audiences will endure the onslaught of gloom on display. Several of Kashyap's earlier films were hailed as the works of an artist. Sadly, TGIYB plays like the work of a dilettante. This is definitely not the explosive birth of the indie revolution he no doubt was wishing for. 

First published in Mumbai Boss


  1. Disappointment of the year, I'd say. Despite some stunning performances by Kalki and Devaiya, there just wasn't enough...umm...meat in the story. What could've been a gripping film noir-ish screenplay is reduced to a rather predictable, pointless and trite melodrama. And to think I'd been waiting for this since 2009! :-/

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