Appearances can be misleading, as you see in the case of Ruth, played by Kalki Koechlin in That Girl in Yellow Boots. On the outside, Ruth seems like just another foreigner navigating herself through the usual red tape you witness at the immigration office. Yet, peel the layers, and you discover a half-British, half-Indian girl who has come to Mumbai on a mission – amongst the millions of anonymous faces in the city, she is searching for her father.
Beneath that calm exterior, Ruth is in turns vulnerable and resolute. She makes her money by giving out happy endings in a seedy massage parlor, but finds herself often used by her parasitic druggie boyfriend. As Ruth fights for survival in a dark corner of this urban landscape, That Girl in Yellow Boots attempts to put the audience through an emotional wringer too. But while director Anurag Kashyap gives you a bunch of riveting scenes, realistically flawed character sketches, and even light, comical quirks in this bleak drama, it’s tough to stay with Ruth through her journey because That Girl in Yellow Boots becomes predictable subsequently, and loses its initial momentum.
One of the stumbling blocks is the protagonist’s relationship with her boyfriend (played by Prashant Prakash). You find yourself losing interest through a prolonged sequence where Ruth tries to break his drug addiction by handcuffing him in her tiny apartment. Yet, there are touches that are quintessentially Kashyap. The cinematography and sound design help build the world in which she lives, so you feel like a spectator looking in. The audience is thrown a bunch of red herrings as you wonder who Ruth’s father really is; and even when the director presents some morally reprehensible characters, he leaves you to do the judging.
The best bits in the film come from smaller roles. Puja Sarup is wonderful as the massage parlor receptionist who constantly chats inanities into her mobile phone. Watch how she gabs on at one point about star signs, even while Ruth is trying to come to grips with her life. Gulshan Devaiah also offers a fantastic portrayal of a small-time Kannada gangster Chitiappa who knows very well how to issue threats and steal Ruth’s entire savings, but fumbles about with a television remote. Naseeruddin Shah brings warmth through his role as Ruth’s only considerate customer, and Kalki Koechlin holds her own in the central part. She’s often touching as the conflicted Ruth, trying to keep afloat despite the emotional upheaval.
Kashyap, who co-wrote the film with Koechlin, closes with a bold climax that uncovers the disturbing issue that the film addresses, but he doesn’t go for an easy resolution. I’m going with three out of five for That Girl in Yellow Boots. Even if the story itself leaves you wanting more, the storytelling makes you go the distance.