Thoughts on That Girl in Yellow Boots
Let’s get the obvious out of the way right here right now. Anurag Kashyap’s That Girl in Yellow Boots is a good looking film. This is the story of Ruth (Kalki Koechlin)—the British girl who comes to India in search of her father who left his wife and daughter unceremoniously after his step-daughter committed suicide at the age of 15. Looking for this figure who will love her unconditionally, Ruth bases herself in Bombay, working in a seedy spa where she offers handjobs (handshakes and happy endings as she calls them) to her customers for an additional sum of money.
More than ever before, Kashyap has involved himself in the visual language of his film; with a particularly fascinating play with colour and tone. The spaces he creates are carefully constructed and well-shot, consequently building the mood of the film and contributing to the story of the characters. While it doesn’t quite compete with the masterful dungeon Kashyap made for the Modi-esque Baba Bangali in No Smoking, That Girl… is a well crafted film. While there are some poorly written and fairly incomplete characters , the main problem of this film lies not in detail but rather, in its instinct. (By instinct I primarily mean the project of this film, I am not claiming knowledge or access to some inner instinct of Anurag Kashyap).
The agenda of this film, which is to defy Bollywood’s song-dance-melo sort of happy ending, is unfortunately what lets it down. Two things are of the essence here. First, this is no longer a unique agenda for everyone in Bollywood—including the very authors of the worst B-town clichés—is now trying to be un-Bollywood. A case in point is Karan Johar and his last two directorial ventures, Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna which dealt with infidelity, and My Name is Khan that saw superstar Shah Rukh Khan playing an Asperger’s Syndrome afflicted Muslim who is out to prove that all Muslims are not terrorists. There is no doubt that following Ram Gopal Varma, Anurag Kashyap is among the early defiant voices who worked towards puncturing the melodrama of popular Hindi cinema. Secondly, and more pertinently, this has been Kashyap’s primary, perhaps only, agenda for far too long now.
RGV and the products of his Factory have held a fascination for the dark, ominous “reality” that resides in the corners, chawls and narrow galis of Bombay (or even of Paharganj), skillfully shoting these locations, announcing this as the alternative space to the imaginary big bungalows occupied by the protagonists of Karan Johar and Yash Raj films. More than once we have been told that this is reality, and we get it. The mystery hidden in these spaces is far from over, but personally I feel Kashyap has overstayed his welcome here.
The obsession with occupying one kind of space naturally leads to creating one kind of character that recurs in movie after movie. Further, the same problems of characterization appear again and again as well. My pet peeve is Kashyap’s imagination of women. Far be it from me to want the ideal, angel-in-the-kitchen type regressive image of a woman, but the idea that a woman’s independence rests on the ‘freedom’ to snort coke and give handjobs is getting a little repetitive. I would say that Ruth is an excellent example of Kashyap’s inability to handle women characters. As the young, pretty white girl (who looks all of 15) who is travelling to the dirty, unforgivingly filthy world that is Bombay all by herself, Ruth is initially invested with an unconditional innocence. However her fairly open invitation to her customers to give them a handshake, while they hesitate just a little before gratefully nodding their heads in agreement makes her a dangerous presence. The danger of this free sexuality reaches its inevitable conclusion in the fact that she has unknowingly been giving handjobs to her father. The question that is begging to be asked is, does this make Kashyap’s women actually independent. Given that at no point does he try to question taboo (the girl shouts at her father repeatedly, “don’t you see how sick this is, don’t you see what’s wrong with this”), I feel the taboo of free sexuality gets further reinstated.
There is a lot that Bombay cinema owes to Anurag Kashyap, and changing the visual language of films is on top of that list. However, it can be argued that he has followed a trajectory similar to his mentor Ram Gopal Varma (not as bad but similar), since he too made a significant intervention in the landscape of Bombay cinema, introduced a lot of new talent to the industry, but ultimately got way too caught up with an agenda that soon became the cliché it wanted to defy. Not unlike RGV, Kashyap too faces the danger of becoming stunted while his protégés use the space he created to do much more interesting and innovative work while he continues to obsess over sex, drugs, and incest. Not the happy ending he had hoped for.