Alankrita Srivastava’s latest film Dolly Kitty Aur Woh Chamakte Sitare is now streaming on Netflix and it is nothing less than a delight to watch. Starring Konkona Sensharma and Bhumi Pednekar in lead, the film deals with a question often ignored by mainstream filmmakers: what is it that women want? Dolly Kitty Aur Woh Chamakte Sitare opens up many points of conversation regarding difficult topics such as female desire, the importance of sex within marriage, the taboo of having sex outside marriage, gaslighting of women, bringing up young boys who like to dress up as girls, consensual sex versus groping, and many more. In providing each of its women the azadi (freedom) that they aspire to have, the film also liberates the mindset of its audience.
Like the loveable Bua ji (Ratna Pathak Shah) from Srivastava’s last film Lipstick Under My Burkha, the women in this film too don’t seek an outright revolution, they merely want to free themselves from the shackles of unhappiness that patriarchy has clamped them in. And this freedom ranges from making chai for one’s own self to walking away from a failing marriage. However, there are so many small, nuanced oppressive structures that each woman in the film wants to seek freedom from, that sometimes it starts to get overwhelming, and the same can be said about Srivastava’s latest creation as well. There are multiple ideas and themes that clash together, and in an attempt to portray the rich complexity of women’s inner lives, the film itself gets entangled in the web of its intricacies.
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Dolly Kitty Aur Woh Chamakte Sitare is produced by Balaji Telefilms and was initially set for a theatrical release. However, the coronavirus pandemic forced its release to be shifted to an OTT platform. Earlier, the film had its international premiere at the 24th Busan International Film Festival.
The film revolves around the lives of two cousins, Radha aka Dolly (Konkona Sen Sharma) and Kajal aka Kitty (Bhumi Pednekar) living in Greater Noida. Dolly is married to Amit (Aamir Bashir) and from the very beginning, we are given hints towards how the marriage is at the brink of falling apart. From Amit constantly hitting on Kitty to Dolly not revealing how she arranged money to pay the instalment for their new apartment, there is clearly too much going on in this household. We are also given glimpses of a few uncomfortable sex scenes between Dolly and Amit, where neither can pleasure the other. And soon enough, we see Dolly seeking pleasure outside, since she cannot find it inside her marriage.
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On the other hand is Kitty, a small-town girl wanting to make a living in a big city. She joins a call centre for love and sex chats in order to pay for her bed at an overcrowded women’s hostel. While she is fully aware of how her job will be looked down upon by her family members, Kitty still enjoys the freedom that comes with her choices. In the process, she has some good and bad experiences: she meets several people, loses her virginity to the wrong guy, understands how cruel the real world can be and toughens up accordingly.
Dolly Kitty Aur Woh Chamakte Sitare makes a strong commentary on gender roles, societal norms and moral policing. Dolly and Kitty’s lives take them through different circumstances, and they become the first ones to judge each other’s choices: Dolly looks down on Kitty for her job, Kitty sneers at Dolly for toiling her life away for a sexual harasser of a husband. Eventually, each realises that when societal expectations fall apart, they both are equally miserable in their lives. There also comes a moment when each woman in the film seems to be envious of the other woman’s privileges, and the script beautifully merges things together to show how deep down, as women they are all looking for the same things, craving the same freedom.
The film also lays bare the double standards of the society which turns a blind eye towards men who cheat while being married but declares little boys who like dolls as ‘sissies’ and women who seek pleasure outside marriage as ‘loose’. It raises questions on the non-existence of call centres where women can seek companionship as well. It also picks up many themes directly from newspaper headlines, like those of saffron-clad goondas proclaiming themselves as guardians of Indian culture and beating up people with progressive ideas on women’s empowerment. And to be very honest, the top-notch performance by each actor in the film drives its messages home.
Words are not enough to describe how easily Konkona Sensharma and Bhumi Pednekar make their characters likeable and relatable. The supporting cast with Amol Parasher, Vikrant Massey and Aamir Bashir stand out as well. All the male characters come together to portray the different types of men that women encounter in their lives, with some becoming catalysts for their empowerment and others becoming crutches.
What Doesn’t Work
The film has many shortcomings. Firstly, there’s just so much happening that the film forgets what exactly it wants to deal with. For example, the story sets itself in Greater Noida to point out at the real estate scams that have been rocking the city in the past few years but drops the theme halfway through. Religious intolerance towards Muslim delivery boys and their consequent harassment by Hindu mobs is yet again another theme that is left hanging. Kitty’s character arc is not given the same spark as Dolly’s, and hence the former’s story becomes comparably monotonous over time. The ending of the film also falls flat and seems merely like a convenient way out to hurriedly tie up the loose ends of the plot.
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Despite these shortcomings, in my opinion, the film wins. Because it gives its women the space to discuss what they want, how they want and more importantly, the space to decide on what they do not want. It revels in small everyday victories instead of making grand statements on its issues and themes. Dolly Kitty Aur Woh Chamakte Sitare aims for the moon and lands amongst the stars, and for all such reasons and more, it deserves a sincere watch.
Views expressed are the author’s own.