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Sunday, December 10, 2023

Dolly Kitty Aur Woh Chamakte Sitare Review: Alankrita’s Feminism Firecracker & Bollywood Trailblazer

Alankrita Shrivastava’s Dolly Kitty Aur Woh Chamakte Sitare, produced by Ekta Kapoor, was UK Asian Film Festival’s submission for the opening night movie and now it has released on Netflix.

The film navigates the journey of two women hailing from a small town in Bihar and setting up in Greater Noida.

Then there is Kaajal (Bhumi Pednekar) Dolly’s new-in-town cousin who wishes to pursue a life which rises above mediocrity and thus, works at an adult hotline, using the pseudonym.

Throughout the movie, both protagonists navigate damning secrets, dreams and their thorny dynamic on their respective roads to freedom.

Alankrita’s previous work Lipstick Under My Burkha evoked conversations about the portrayal of feminism in Hindi cinema and women being able to explore sexuality unabashedly.

The film explored the secret lives of four women in search of a little freedom and in a similar vein, we see this concept in Dolly Kitty.

Whilst Dolly and Kaajal live life on their own terms (to some extent), they are not portrayed as formidable forces – or put on a pedestal of any sort – to exhibit their prowess.

Rather we see them as grey characters, as ordinary human beings, who do what their hearts desire and not allowing gender to act as a hurdle.

It is so refreshing to see this approach as often in Hindi cinema, women are seen in two extremes – either in a goddess-like role or a complete antagonist.

Dolly Kitty exhibits that such representations can work effectively if sensitively done, which Shrivastava does well.

Plus, what also the director gets right is that the protagonists’ struggles are not limited to sex.

Whilst it is a major part of their lives, there are a lot more aspirations and hopes to the characters, which the film exhibits successfully.

Shrivastava is a pioneer in portraying heightened emotions and a dramatic climax through such a poised yet poignant manner.

Visuals like two women having a drink together, reflecting on life and mistakes they made as well as men, is the progressive visual which we need to see in such films.

There were times when I felt nostalgic of Made In Heaven (which she wrote and co-directed) while watching the movie.

Noida city is depicted to be an instrumental character in the movie. Through various locations and situations of those living in the underbelly are eye-opening but yet not sombre.

With the predominant natural sounds of the city and raw locations, create an authentic feel and make the narrative seem rooted.

As Kaajal tells Doll: “You’re surviving, not living” and this is the sentiment which is conveyed throughout the film. The setting is fascinating because it also exhibits the dichotomy of modern-day society.

On one side, we see an increasing infrastructure, the emergence of technology (i.e. online food delivery platforms) but yet sexual harassment and toxic human behaviours are rife.

Subtly, the filmmaker brings to light several rampant topics – ranging from racism, extramarital affairs, patriarchy, interfaith relationships and transsexuality (which is an important aspect to the narrative).

All of these subjects are neatly addressed by Shrivastava to ensure that the movie is not politicised nor is it preached.

On top of this, the casting is apt. Konkona Sen Sharma and Bhumi Pednekar were a combination I never realised we needed until I saw Dolly Kitty. 

Respectively, both are terrific as actors. Their camaraderie as two contrasting siblings with differing aspirations and hopes from life is solid.

Konkona is fabulous in every aspect. She encapsulates the necessary nuances of an ordinary married woman and mother well. The way we see her struggles in aiming for a false utopia is quite relatable.

Sharma is supreme during the emotional sequences.

For me, the show-stealer however is Pednekar. Having played characters from the outskirts of India before, she seems to have got the knack of essaying such roles.

As actors, both Konkona and Bhumi cover the multi-dimensions of their characters. 

It’s also delightful to see Kubbra Sait (as a sex worker Shazia) and Neelima Azeem (the estranged mother of Dolly).

Equally, the male actors Aamir Bashir, Vikrant Massey, Amol Parashar and Karan Kundrra are great in their respective parts.

It’s quite a relief to not see men portrayed a demonic or in a monstrous light and are just seen as humans who have made mistakes and wrong decisions.

Usually, in a film, there are obvious glitches or weak points. However, for me, this movie was near perfect as it pushes the social envelope further.

Perhaps seeing characters with a saffron flag being antagonised is becoming a repeated (almost stereotyped) trope in films which touch on social issues.

I wish we could move away from political references in cinema as we have the news for that. 

Nonetheless, Dolly Kitty Aur Woh Chamakte Sitare is a brave, real and important work of cinema.

It showcases feminism in an ordinary fashion without it falling into any brackets whatsoever. 

Interestingly, Alankrita uses symbolism to exhibit liberation. First, it was the ‘lipstick’ and now it’s the stars aka ‘Sitare‘.

Shrivastava is paving a new path in Bollywood (and Indian cinema as a whole) with her revolutionary style of cinema and this deserves to be applauded.

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (4/5 stars) 

Dolly Kitty Aur Woh Chamakte Sitare streams on Netflix.

Anuj Radia
Journalist and film enthusiast.

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