Director: Alankrita Shrivastava
Writer: Alankrita Shrivastava
Cast: Konkona Sen Sharma, Bhumi Pednekar, Vikrant Massey, Amol Parashar
DOP: John Jacob Payyapalli
Editor: Charu Shree Roy
Streaming On: Netflix
Writer-director Alankrita Shrivastava is an observant chronicler of the inner lives of Indian women. Since her debut film Turning 30 in 2011, Alankrita has turned her gaze to a question too often ignored by Hindi cinema – what do women want? One of Alankrita’s finest creations is Bua ji, in her second film Lipstick Under My Burkha. Bua ji, a 55-year-old widow, played with heartbreaking vulnerability by Ratna Pathak Shah, develops an uncontained passion for her strapping swimming instructor. This is not a woman seeking a revolution. All she wants is to savor life and find a semblance of happiness.
Dolly and Kitty seek the same. Dolly, the older one, is a mother-of-two who has made peace with her sexless marriage and her mundane job. Her cousin Kitty, whose real name is Kaajal, has recently arrived from Darbhanga district in Bihar. She’s wide-eyed and determined to shine in the big city, which in this case is Greater Noida. Both are ordinary, middle-class women seeking the things that the men around them take for granted – agency, sexual satisfaction, freedom. They can be foolish, nasty and competitive but ultimately, they help each other to forge a path.
The best thing about Dolly and Kitty is that they are a mess. They can lie and steal. There is infidelity, willful ignorance, denial, naivete. Both do really dumb things but because they are played by two keenly intelligent actors – Konkona Sen Sharma and Bhumi Pednekar – they don’t come off as silly or capricious. The opening sequence between the two, set amidst the gaudy lights of an amusement park, is sparkling – Kaajal tells Dolly that her husband is trying to have sex with her but Dolly brushes it off with a shrill laugh. That pitch tells you that she knows that it’s true but she can’t bring herself to acknowledge it.
However, for most of the next hour, the actors are apart as the film follows their parallel lives. Without their chemistry, the narrative takes a hit. The drama sags and the script lurches from one hot-button issue to another – within the story of two women finding themselves, Alankrita also bungs in gender stereotyping, culture wars, the commodification of romance, consumerism and the hollowness of urban India. In one scene, a character says: Greater Noida is the new Shanghai. The action plays out against rows of drab, half-constructed buildings, which hint at a better life but don’t deliver on the promise. Dolly tries to fill the void in her life with an air conditioner, clothes, a flat but it only gets bigger. When Kitty finds herself alone on a road at night, vehicles filled with leering, predatory men, go by. Underneath the modern façade, the city is a jungle.
There are simply too many points being made. And as the political overwhelms the personal, the film loses its hold. The writing veers from sharp to sloppy. There are a few beautifully staged moments – one in which Dolly meets her estranged mother and another in which she begins to understand her younger son who likes to dress up in girl’s clothes and play with dolls. Alankrita also underlines the small slights that women routinely endure – so in her office, Dolly serves tea to her male colleagues daily and when she asks for a loan, her boss dismisses her with, ‘Par aap toh shauk ke liye kaam karti hain.’ But we also have paper-thin characters who exist merely to advance the plot – among them a beefy DJ whose brother is a bullying, religious zealot. The climatic action, in which he plays a key role, is far-fetched and borderline silly. But keep an eye out for Vikrant Massey, who is as usual, bang-on as Kitty’s suitor Pradeep.
Kaajal becomes Kitty when she joins the Red Rose Romance App, which might remind you of Dream Girl and Tumhari Sulu, both films in which the leads sold a notion of companionship over the phone. Dolly, Kitty Aur Woh Chamakte Sitare also takes a page from the ultimate classic about women breaking rules – Thelma and Louise. Like in that film, a sweet, young man gives a woman the gift of an orgasm. Despite the good intentions though, the film doesn’t deliver because it is written in broad strokes. But it might be fun for Dolly and Kitty to get their own streaming series. I would like to know if they ever found their chamakte sitare.