Restored on DVD: Dharavi – Dreams bound by shackles of disparity

Rating: 3.5 stars

Verdict: A humane account of frail ambitions in the boisterous slums of Dharavi.


An NFDC-Doordarshan joint production, director Sudhir Mishra’s Dharavi is the acute observation of the lives of people living in India’s largest slum area. Filmed during the 1990s, the story of Dharavi is about a taxi driver, Raj Karan Yadav – his drive to find himself better off, a tryst with reality and a muse that he finds in Hindi film actress, Madhuri Dixit.

While noted filmmaker Sudhir Mishra’s films have carried the label of being dark in color and moods, I found this film running every which way that read Eastman color. The film establishes the paradox that life is. While for the richer it is the yearning of happiness, for Raj Karan and many like him, happiness equates to the pleasure in finding themselves out of the crater of poverty.

Raj Karan (Om Puri) and Kumud (Shabana Azmi), a working couple shares space with their son at a room rented in Dharavi, Bombay. The meager income and hopes to dwell richer are paths that are far from finding coherence for the taxi driver. In the city of dreams, where no hope is too big and no idea too small, Mishra’s protagonist keeps his dream of buying a factory alive every passing day. He strategizes his moves with allies Chaurasia and Chandu who invest an equal share of money for the business of dyeing to take off.

Screenwriter-Director Sudhir Mishra has always found critical acclaim for his films and Dharavi is no different a player in the league of Mishra’s body of work. While commenting on the acting department of a classic such as this makes the job of a critic less purposeful, so does the effort to analyze the director’s vision. The side characters make the film meatier and give or take emotions from the two principal characters; without which, reaction neither from Raj Karan nor Kumud bears significance.

The film shows Om Puri’s character through highs and lows, and intoxication comes handy with a sprinkle of fantasy for the taxi owner. Looking gorgeous in a red saree, Madhuri Dixit makes a special appearance in the film. Raj Karan is shown to share a moment or two with the actress in dream sequences where he emerges victorious, whatsoever be the extremity of situations faced by him.

Dharavi, in some parts is moderately edited. The story also shows local goons and their close association with Raj Karan. With the screenplay written to draw the viewer’s attention to the complexities in the life of Yadav and his wife, the character of his mother and brother-in-law remain less highlighted and inconsequential thus. The film has no major songs apart from background score in remote parts. What follows hereafter is the shattering of hopes, deceit and the surmountable desire to start afresh after the brutality of events in the lives of people in Dharavi.

Why should you watch this film?

It is one that has no sunshine and it fails to entertain you with song and dance sequences. But, for an audience that appreciates beyond the commercial boundary of entertainment, Dharavi is one of Sudhir Mishra’s most-noted works.

Dharavi is a title under the NFDC label ‘Cinemas of India’. The film is out on home video by NFDC.

By Soham Bhattacharyya

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