That Girl in Yellow Boots: A Review
That Girl in Yellow Boots – Dir: Anurag Kashyap; *ing: Kalki Koechlin, Naseeruddin Shah
In Bollywood’s artfully manicured fistful of pretty fingers, filmmaker Anurag Kashyap’s style, sense and sensibility stick out like a fat, hairy thumb that also simultaneously appears to be giving a modified version of the bird to the rest of the digits. For where his seniors and peers take great pains to wallpaper over the vagaries of everyday lives, Kashyap seems just as bloody-mindedly determined to tear down that façade of pin-ups and paisleys to get at the vermin and rot behind. For those unfamiliar with the director’s work, he is the anti-Yashraj, the subterranean lover of the underbelly, the bastard at the family reunion making all the ‘legits’ chat uncomfortably about the weather. Not that his films are necessarily ‘realistic’ per se, but certainly a stylized version of a coarse and unembellished reality. In That Girl in Yellow Boots (TGYB), which he co-wrote with his wife and lead actor Koechlin, Kashyap gets his hands dirtier than ever before, digging deep into hitherto uncharted territory for mainstream Hindi cinema, where love is a four-letter word lost in translation, and a ‘handshake’ has rather less savoury connotations than the usual boardroom howdy do.
TGYB is ostensibly about a troubled young woman’s search for her long-absent father. Ruth (Koechlin) is British but has been slumming it in India in order to try and locate her Indian stepfather who abandoned the family in the wake of a tragedy many years before. It isn’t easy to discern at first why this reunion is so important for her; so important that she has reconciled herself to working in a seedy ‘massage parlour’ to earn her keep, and to consort with an even seedier assortment of gents. And yet, despite her blasé outlook on the worst that Mumbai has to offer, she is also an out-of-place innocent, refusing to relinquish her virginity to her lover and also displaying complete faith in her own ability to cure him of his addictions by chaining him to her window. This quality draws the fatherly attention of Diwakar (Shah), probably the only client who genuinely comes for a massage, minus the fringe benefit.
But of course TGYB is more than just a series of now-harrowing, now-darkly-hilarious vignettes stringing together some sort of spiritual journey with paternal acceptance as the destination. If anything, Ruth doesn’t seem to be travelling in any direction at all; it’s a life with a supposed purpose but still awaiting any real meaning or movement. For at the heart of it, Ruth’s quest is not so much familial as it is for that mythical sense of ‘identity’ that obviously eludes her.
Kashyap and Koechlin have put together an intriguing character study here, not only of Ruth as an individual, but also those countless anonymous lives that pepper the urban landscape, each struggling to carve out some form of meaningful existence, to prove that they matter, even if only to themselves. It’s not an easy, feel good film, and in certain respects it’s a little lacking. But with a quirky cast of supporting characters, a superb musical score by Naren Chandavarkar and Benedict Taylor, a haunting visual style that’s part Almodovar, part Wong Kar Wai, and a quietly riveting central performance by Koechlin, TGYB provides an interesting little walkabout in those kinky boots.
Cult: Dev D. – Kashyap messes with a venerated classic (Devdas) and ends up with a much acclaimed classic of his own.
Current: Dhobi Ghaat – Director Kiran Rao explores the darker side of three Mumbai lives
Coming attraction: Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola – Bollywood’s other maverick Vishal Bhardwaj has announced his next project and we await with bated breath; his Saat Khoon Maaf is already forgiven and forgotten.