Dipen Guhawrote on Aug 31 2009 11:57PM
Sudhir Mishra's "Chameli" offers the experience of the Mumbai street through an intense portrayal of one night. Chameli( Kareena Kapoor) is a prostitute who walks the streets. On a fateful rainy night, she encounters an investment banker who is stranded because his car has broken down. Contact between the two leads to an unusual connection, drawing them into a vortex of subterranean violence that tells a story of desperation, sex work, underworld encounter killings, transsexuality, and police brutality. Instead of mounting the density of the city, Mishra creates a simulated architectural design of the street that combines pillars, archs, streetlights, and an open corridor. Aman (Rahul Bose) is introduced as a slightly melancholic. impatient, and naive man whose comfortable existence as a corporate executive does not prepare him for what he will go through when he meets Chameli. Chameli is seasoned prostitute who walks confidence and has an irreverent impishness about her. The film contrasts the lives of the two protagonists. Aman's first person narrative, as he navigates through his office, a bathroom, and a nightclub party is laced with a desire to transcend his melancholic disposition, the cause for which is revealed later in the film. A woman sings at the nightclub as Aman laments the life he lives, surrounded by mediocre, boring and incompetent people. We see Aman standing next to a window that reveals the force of the downpour outside. The rain provides the transition to Chameli's quarters and becomes the metaphor to signal the stormy nature of the night ahead. Chameli and her friends live in a claustrophobic space that has peeling walls and a run-down, shabby look. As the prostitutes talk about their nightmare experiences, someone from the street calls out for Chameli, but she refuses to go down. A man named Nayak wants Chameli, but she refuses to go to him because he is ill and could infect her. The reference to AIDS is deliberately understood.
Aman's car stops dead in the middle of a street as he is returning from a party. He gets out of the car and runs to a covered arcade area for shelter from the rain. Chameli, who is waiting here for customers, assumes Aman is a prospective client and walks to offer her services. Aman shirks away, leaving Chameli in a listless state, However, the two soon start chatting and sharing their experiences, some true, some false. Their conversation is constantly interrupted by various elements of the night--a cop who wants to collect money from the pimp under whom Chameli works, a boy on a cycle selling cigarettes and tea etc. Throughout the night Aman and Chameli reminisce about their lives and get to know each other. The conversation has an existential quality driven by each other's perceptions and personal revealations.