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Dolly Kitty Aur Woh Chamakte Sitare Talks About Negotiating Feminine Desires in Masculine Spaces

empowered women in Hindi films, Dolly Kitty aur Woh Chamakte Sitare film Review

Ever since I watched Turning 30, I have been a fan of Alankrita Shrivastava, who debuted with the film in 2011. Though nowhere as nuanced in thought and execution as Lipstick Under My Burkha. Turning 30 starring Gul Panag for the first time addressed the elephant in the room, the pressure faced by urban career-oriented women on not achieving the perfect husband by the time they turn 30. The film was not without its flaws and ended up reinforcing some of the prejudices it wanted to break in the first place, but it stood out for fleshed-out female characters, which even in 2020 is a rare occurrence. Shrivastava knows how to write women who we may not agree with but can still empathise with.

Hindi cinema has a long and problematic history of depicting women as either prudes or vamps – Shrivastava along with her contemporary female film makers are effortlessly breaking the standard mould of how a woman should behave on screen to give us characters we have longed to see for decades. Dolly Kitty Aur Woh Chamakte Sitare, Alankrita Shrivastav’s third film as a writer and director – is about two cousins, Dolly and Kajal navigating through life in the upcoming city of Greater Noida. Dolly, played by the effervescent yet subtle Konkona Sen Sharma is a married woman living with her husband and two young boys in a rented apartment. Kajal played by Bhumi Pednekar is Dolly’s young cousin from Darbhanga, Bihar who wants to become financially independent. Sharma and Pednekar are both brilliant actors who appear to be in the skin of their characters from the very first scene where they are introduced. However, Pednekar’s Kajal did remind me of Sugandha from Shubh Mangal Saavdhan – her 2017 hit rom-com with Ayushmann Khurrana.

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The chemistry and camaraderie between Pednekar and Sen Sharma is laudable – they both fiercely challenge yet support each other. Kajal lands up a job as a cyber-romantic-companion for a dating app where she talks to men looking for romance (and of course sexual release) under the pseudonym Kitty. She finds accommodation in what seems to a home for surrogate mothers where she befriends Shazia, played by Kubbra Sait. As Kajal struggles with the dangers and pitfalls of finding freedom in testosterone-driven city of Greater Noida, Kajal tries to keep the myth of her happy marriage alive. She is dealing with the loss of desire in bed with her husband and the pressure of raising a queer child – whose queerness she first blames on her own experience of growing up without a mother, who eloped with her lover.

The film truly shines when it portrays Dolly and Kajal negotiating their own space and desires in a world largely run by men. Dolly works in what appears to be a government-like office where she is the only woman and is expected to make tea for her colleagues. Kajal is routinely eve-teased and judged for her career choices. They both appear to be in a balancing act of expanding and contracting their personalities to survive and live in the city that doesn’t grant them too much space.

Dolly Kitty Aur Woh Chamakte Sitare is not without its flaws – its biggest being its sheer ambition. Alankrita Shrivastava tries to pack a number of themes in this two-hour long and doesn’t do justice to either of them. From islamophobia to the housing scam to surrogate mothers to rural goons parading as moral guardians – these are all important issues which deserved to be more than just props in the story. Shrivastava’s might have wanted to integrate these parallel tropes to etch out Greater Noida realistically, but the treatment of these tropes neither do justice to the city nor its characters.

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The film also suffers from its over-alliance on its two lead actors and leave little for other characters to add. Kubbra Sait who gave a breakout performance in Sacred Games as a transgender is completely wasted in her role as Shazia. Aamir Bashir as Dolly’s husband Amit plays the stereotypical husband well, but I wished his dysfunctional relationship with Dolly was more detailed. Amol Parashar plays Osman Ansari, an MBA student who works as a delivery boy to pay for his education, and finds himself drawn to Dolly after making multiple delivery trips to her house. Then there is Vikrant Massey, who as Pradeep, Kajal’s client turned lover carries his fragile male ego with so much sincerity that I longed to know more about him.

I wish Shrivastava would have rested the urge to give in to ambition and focussed on limiting parallel themes. I loved Dolly’s younger queer son Pappu (Kalp Shah) whose love for all things feminine often lands him in trouble. He inhabits a gendered world where the girls from his school are being taken to a Dolls Museum while the boys are to be shown a Rail Museum. Pappu vehemently refuses to go to the Rail Museum and when his wish is not granted, he finds his way there by himself a few days later. The scene where Dolly finds her son mesmerised by dolls in the museum is one of the most moving scenes of the film. Pappu and Dolly deserved more time with each other on screen.

Even with all its shortcomings, Dolly Kitty Aur Woh Chamakte Sitare is an important film for our intolerant times where the space for women and queer people to express themselves is shrinking day by day. May we have more Dollys, Kittys and Pappus both on and off screen.

Bhawna Jaimini is an architect and writer. The views expressed are the author’s own.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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