Dolly Kitty Aur Woh Chamakte Sitare review: Is sexual freedom a sign of feminism?

Or is ‘man’-kind not sensitive enough to feel the emotions of a woman? Director Alankrita Shrivastava is back with another feminist tale, but this one has a sense of déjà vu all over it

Rating: 2.5 / 5

When a traditional, closed society gradually opens its doors to liberalism, there’s bound to be a discussion on the merits of the new social thinking.  Cinema is often a great tool to moot a moderate, liberal society.  Amidst the new social wave, a patriarchal society often sees discussions on feminism. Hindi cinema told such stories in the golden era and later during the parallel cinema.  As parallel cinema slowed down, feminist tales got submerged under the weight of populist, escapist cinema in the late 80s and 90s.

This decade [2010-2020] though has seen some strong feminist tales. While some have gone along traditional social lines, some filmmakers have used materialism, desires as part of their definition of feminism.  Screenwriter, filmmaker Alankrita Shrivastava was lauded for her new age feminist story Lipstick Under My Burkha [2017] that explored feminism through varied characters spread across different section of the society.

Shrivastava returns with another feminist drama [film] Dolly Kitty Aur Woh Chamakte Sitare [2020]. The Netflix original film navigates feminism through the eyes of two backward caste Bihari cousin sisters – Radha a.k.a Dolly [Konkana Sen Sharma] and Kaajal a.k.a Kitty [Bhumi Pednekar].  The former a parched housewife, while the younger Kitty is simply seeking to discover her individuality in a tough competitive cosmopolitan city – Noida, Uttar Pradesh.  Dolly and Kitty each go through different situations, relationship, and just like Lipstick Under My Burkha [2017],  the women embrace their loneliness.

 There is a sense of déjà vu, but Shrivastava questions parental attitude explored through the eyes of a doll loving child.  Save for this, there’s not much refreshing about Dolly Kitty Aur Woh Chamakte Sitare. Sadly, the twinkling stars are just a dream for the protagonists.

What worked under Lipstick Under My Burkha’s [2017] favour was the humour that helped to pass on its core message. Shrivastava’s protagonists in Dolly Kitty … lead more stressful, anxious lives for such humour to creep in.  Kaajal bears a sullen, confused look for much of the film, but it’s only the sweet talking with her client Pradeep [Vikrant Massey] that brings the out few smiles on the face of the ‘love’ call centre executive. Pednekar takes on what is arguably her most emotionally, physically expressive character. And she backs with another stellar performance. Ditto for Konkana Sen Sharma and Massey, who are proven performers.

It’s not the commercial success, or performances, but Shrivastava succeeds in creating a discussion around her stories.  Do you buy into the core message of Dolly Kitty Aur Woh Chamakte Sitare?  It’s not the sense of déjà vu, but you do now question whether sexual expression, freedom is fit to be bracketed under feminism? For long, feminism was perceived to be a level playing field for all, irrespective of gender, class, caste.  Are Dolly Kitty denied a level playing field? There is nothing in the film that suggests so. It’s simply about the two women, their anxieties, woes, fears and desires.  

The parallel religious prejudices, moral policing, sexism tropes carry their individual subtle message and impact the lives of the protagonists, but Shrivastava’s stories now run the risk of generalising men, rich, society at large. After enthralling us initially, the same sexual freedom narrative now appears to be corrupting the true essence of feminism.  The feminazis might accuse of misogyny, but in a movie business, such tropes have a very limited sell-by date.

A Lipstick Under My Burkha [2017] had a controversy to build the hype around it, but producer Ekta Kapoor is in no position to afford [or create?] one now. Their [Balaji Telefilms Ltd] sanskari [cultural] image on television is in total contrast to their bold approach to cinema. Kapoor and Balaji have perhaps pushed the envelope a bit too much for their own liking. The regular controversies, riling people, begs the question does Ekta and her team do it deliberately?  We condemn the recent stone pelting in the Kapoor household, but the producer should be clever enough to know that its hard to sell this template forever. You can call critics misogynists, but sexual freedom, materialism is no feminism at all. Maybe ‘man’kind is not sensitive enough to feel the emotions of a woman. We respect a Dolly, Kitty’s individual desires, anxieties but that cannot be misplaced for any feminism any more.

While there is a difference of opinion with regards to the filmmaker’s idea of feminism, Shrivastava can’t be faulted for a fairly engaging screenplay. Dealing with multiple characters, and doing justice to them is never easy. Shrivastava throws up couple of intriguing minority characters – Osman Ansari [Amol Parashar]– the young delivery boy who gets closer to Dolly and the materialistic Shazia [Kubbra Sait], Kitty’s bestie who doesn’t mind swinging to the green pastures. Osman takes Dolly out for a bizarre date at a kabristan [cemetery]. The delivery boy has big dreams, but getting 5-star approval rating from Dolly is most dear to him. He hopes if not in life, Dolly would give the 5-stars in death.

 Shazia goes by her rules. She isn’t afraid to make love to her beau DJ Teja [Karan Kundra] with her roommate Kitty watching on with envy.  Though they have a different perception towards love, the two minority characters meet the same fate.  Kundra is his usual disappointing self, but young Parashar and Sait do a decent job.  

It is bizarre that while Pednekar has the Bihari accent to her, but there is none in Konkana’s tone.  Shrivastava’s explores the mother-child relationship through Dolly and her sons, and Dolly and her not-so-doting mother [played by Neelima Azeem].   Dolly ponders whether having a doll loving child is atonement for her mother’s sins. While a child may have an individual desire, but it’s bizarre that there’d be a school getaway where a visit to Delhi’s famous dolls museum is strictly limited to the girls in school.

The one too many anxious, disturbed souls can make you disinterested in their stories, but you relate to their loneliness.  Of course, it comes in different circumstances for us all. Much of it perhaps stems from the disappointment in chasing the chamakte sitare [twinkling stars] – a metaphor for dreams.  While we respect Dolly, Kitty’s anxieties, fears, and empathise with their disappointments, but we don’t have 5 stars to give. Like life, film reviews seldom get 5 chamakte sitare.  Two and a generous half twinkling star – that is all we have for Alankrita Shrivastava’s Dolly Kitty Aur Woh Chamakte Sitare [2020].

The film is currently streaming on Netflix.

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