Cast: Konkona Sen Sharma, Bhumi Pednekar, Amol Parashar, Aamir Bashir, Kubra Sait, Karan Kundra and Vikrant Massey
Director: Alankrita Shrivastava
Rating: 2.5 stars (out of 5)
The film opens in a House of Horrors. A 21-year-old small-town girl, Kaajal Kumari, in the middle of the ride, complains to her Noida-based older cousin Dolly Yadav of an inappropriate act by the latter's husband only to be have her misgivings dismissed casually. But that is not where Dolly Kitty Aur Woh Chamakte Sitare loses its way. Its stuffed monsters and ogres are elsewhere.
Dolly Kitty Aur Woh Chamakte Sitare, a Netflix original film produced by Balaji Telefilms, could be likened to another part of the amusement park where we find Kitty spending a weekend with Dolly's family at the start of the film - the house of mirrors. It tries to capture far too many of the 'realities' surrounding a two-member sorority dealing with social and sexual conundrums and chasing fulfilment on their own terms. In doing so, it gets trapped in a maze of overlapping shadows. Too many reflections leave a fuzzy blur in their trail.
You are confused and your raging hormones are to blame, Kitty is told. Running away from marriage, she has just moved to Delhi NCR from Bihar's Darbhanga district in search of a job. Dolly cannot bring herself to believe that her husband could be a sexual predator.
Dolly Kitty Aur Chamakte Sitare, written and directed by Alankrita Shrivastava (Lipstick Under My Burkha), is a tale of two contrasting women struggling to rise above their belief systems and years of moral conditioning. Their fight is, of course, well-meaning. They desire control over their lives and bodies. The film employs broad strokes to get its point across, undermining the impact of the exercise.
Bhumi Pednekar is the supposedly muddled Kaajal/Kitty. Konkona Sen Sharma is the unhappily married mother two boys Radha/Dolly. The two actors lend an edge to this feminist drama by etching out characters that are absolutely believable. Unfortunately, the duo is made to spout rather cheesy lines as they go about asserting themselves in a patriarchal world and, worse, endure a whole lot of awkwardly mounted sex scenes.
Dolly Kitty Aur Woh Chamakte Sitare is peppered with praise for Greater Noida in Uttar Pradesh where much of the film has been shot. "Greater Noida is the new Shanghai," says one character. Another person calls it a sapnon ka shaher (city of dreams). But as is de rigueur in any Bollywood film set in and around Delhi, dystopia is round the corner and we can see it in the physical form of incomplete residential towers surrounded by dusty expanses.
Believe it or not, the city has a homegrown rapper DJ Teja Gujjar (Karan Kundrra). The character sits at the intersection of two plot flashpoints - one related to a bunch of goons who have taken upon themselves a mission to protect Indian culture, the other pertaining to a love triangle involving ambitious girl Shazia (Kubbra Sait in a cameo), who helps Kitty widen her horizons.
If you do try and seek out some strong points in this rather unsubtle film, there are a few. One of them has got to be the way the screenplay treats the male characters and we aren't referring to the perversion-prone guys who use the romance app where Kitty is a star 'voice'. They are all severely flawed, insensitive individuals, but none of them is a monster. That makes the presence of casual sexism around the two women more distasteful.
Dolly's husband Amit Yadav (Aamir Bashir) struggles to make enough money to pay the monthly instalments for a new apartment that the family has booked in the misplaced hope that the home will be completed and delivered in time. The guy is too busy with the uphill task to notice that his 'frigid' wife may be in need of attention.
Dolly takes a shine to Osman Ansari (Amol Parashar), an MBA student who moonlights as pizza delivery boy to pay for his studies. She is seeking to rekindle the passion that has gone missing from her life and marriage. Kitty develops a soft spot for a male nurse Pradeep (Vikrant Massey) in the course of her nocturnal chats. She is still a virgin and hopes not to make a hash of losing it.
Casual misogyny is in the air out here. Dolly, who has to do all the housework, cannot get away from exploitation even in her workplace. She has to make tea every morning for the chief accountant who, like her husband, takes her for granted until she decides to rebel.
Kitty, too, gets pushed around as she looks for a dwelling of her own to protect herself from her brother-in-law's unwanted advances - neither finding a room/bed nor avoiding the man she secretly detests, as she realises, is as easy as she thinks it would be.
Dolly Kitty Aur Woh Chamakte Sitara - the last two words of the title refer to the five-star rating that the boy who delivers more than just food to Dolly as well as sex phone provider Kitty crave for - throws other themes into its two hours. One of Dolly's two sons, Pappu (Kalp Shah), loves to play with dolls and dress up in a girl's attire much to the consternation of his mom.
Before the film ends, we also meet a rebellious female artist who puts up a giant vagina installation as a celebration of "the metaphoric feminine" and triggers mayhem that takes a toll.
Although it merely skims over a few of the buttons it hits, the film does not err with the noises that it makes. It addresses female sexuality, the assertion of women's freedom in and outside wedlock, moral policing, rising intolerance, and other essential gender themes - one of the characters even mentions "hymen re-stitching" ahead of her marriage. All that is very well.
The punches that Dolly Kitty Aur Woh Chamakte Sitare throws would have landed with greater force had the film not chosen so many cards to put on the table and in such an obviously didactic manner. A bit of calculated tangentiality would have aided both the quality of the message and the sharpness of its delivery. We would have loved to see Dolly and Kitty's stars shine bright and steady. As things stand, they merely flicker.