Pick of the Week: Dolly, Kitty Aur Woh Chamakte Sitare
Starring Konkona Sen Sharma and Bhumi Pednekar, Dolly, Kitty Aur Woh Chamakte Sitare is a sincere and unafraid story of two Indian women - cousins Dolly and Kitty - navigating their way through an intractably misogynistic society, to personal and sexual emancipation.
Men have had coming-of-age stories in Indian films for a long time. Whether it’s Ved realising he’s unhappy because of his career choice or Sid’s lack of a sense of purpose in life, in Bollywood the transformation of these male characters out of their ‘unyielding ways’ is also impossible, or perhaps incomplete, unless tended to by an empathetic woman.
Dolly, Kitty, Aur Woh Chamakte Sitare treads similar lines, except it shows two women coming into their own; and without cold-pressing the men in their lives into sharing the burden of it. On one hand is Dolly (Konkona Sen Sharma), an independent, working woman who’s still bogged down by societal expectations when it comes to herself or her family. On the other is Kaajal or Kitty (Bhumi Pednekar), her small-town cousin from Darbhanga, Bihar, who has called off her wedding and come to Greater Noida, or what she calls, ‘the city of dreams’ to build herself a career. Amidst the everyday hustle to prove themselves in a misogynistic society, they come to rely on each other as unexpected sources of support.
Dolly is Kitty’s elder cousin and their friction because of age is deftly portrayed through their characters. Being the elder one, Dolly has internalised society’s expectations of how to behave and how to balance the roles of being a woman, a wife, a sister, and a mother. She’s teetering on the precipice of giving into her own desire and grappling with feelings of guilt, partly because of unresolved issues with her mother. Kitty on the other hand, despite being younger, carries the baggage of being a newcomer to the big city. She has an unusual combination of being free-spirited yet vulnerable, but above all, values the freedom to make her own choices. She wants to make her own life in the city, and doesn’t doesn’t dwell on her choices, even if she might regret them later. And while their ideas of personal freedom do not completely overlap, both have strong feelings about the same.
The film is a commentary on female sexual desire, and the desperation women feel while trying to escape the cage of societal hypocrisy, one both characters also see themselves trapped in. Flawed female characters have been very few in Bollywood and with good reason. We don’t like flawed women on the silver screen. We want them to be redeemed by a selfless act, an act of sacrifice which reinforces the age-old stereotype of women only existing at the two extremes of the spectrum; either completely flawed, or absolutely ‘pure’. Dolly, Kitty… doesn’t rinse out its characters for this image nor does it portray them as ‘good’ women. It tries to put forth the idea that women are just as vulnerable and capable of making mistakes, and like men, they too have every right to blur out their moral compasses, if they so desire. It manages to steer away from the token redeeming of women by not showing an extremely unlikeable, hostile setting (as is typical of the mainstream), but instead focusing on the internalised misogyny in society, which is not easy to blatantly point out.
Though the film does a commendable job in fleshing out great performances from its actors, the storytelling seems contrived in some parts. Between the two characters, Dolly is a better written character than Kitty, whose flaws, ambitions, and backstory are left a bit blurry. And even if this was a deliberate attempt to portray her as ‘starting on a clean slate’, it still makes some of her actions seem unmotivated and unnecessary. The supporting acts of Dolly’s husband (Aamir Bashir), Pradeep (Vikrant Massey), and Osman Ansari (Amol Parashar) are worthy catalysts to the cousins’ self-discovery, without overshadowing their journeys.
Beyond its good intentions and stellar cast though, what the director is trying to say might seem a bit foggy and cluttered, especially in Dolly’s story arc. Even if there are elements that seem to betray real life, they are not brought together in a cohesive whole. Where the film strikes gold thought is in its portrayal of a woman’s sexual desire, and not just the hot and heavy parts, but also in capturing the entire psychology of sex - the awkwardness, the fear and hesitation behind it - not because of societal expectations, but because of the act itself. But above all, the film opens up a space for dialogue around something that is rarely portrayed in mainstream cinema; brave, flawed, and unapologetic female characters.
Now streaming on Netflix.
Alankrita Shrivastava is an Indian writer-director who studied filmmaking at Jamia Millia Islamia. Her second film was the critically acclaimed Lipstick Under My Burkha, which won numerous accolades at national and international film festivals. She has co-written episodes of the Amazon series, Made in Heaven and assisted on notable films like Raajneeti, Apaharan, and Khoya Khoya Chand. Dolly, Kitty is her third film as a writer-director.