Anurag Kashyap has, without doubt, one of the most eclectic film careers in Hindi cinema. Along with highly lauded writing credits for both Satya and Udaan, Kashyap is also known for making the off-beat cult fave Dev D and the upcoming Gangs of Wasseypur, about mafia hegemony over coal mining in India’s Jharkhand state. Now, teamed up with Koechlin, who Kashyap married earlier in 2011, he delivers one of the most disturbing entries in recent Hindi film annals. That Girl in Yellow Boots is less about fashion footwear than it is a profoundly in-your-face diatribe on obsessive compulsions that cross family, geographical, cultural, and sexual boundaries.
Parked entirely in a seedy looking Mumbai, which serves as an anonymous what-happens-here-stays-here setting, co-written by Kashyap and Koechlin, the story follows Ruth Edscer (Koechlin), a young Indian-British girl who is working in Mumbai in hopes of discovering her long-lost Indian father. Overstaying her tourist visa, Ruth helps out at a massage parlor in hopes of making connections to “foreign returned” men who may help her reunite with her father. Ruth also carries on with the two-bit junkie, Prashant (Prakash). Prakash’s transgression with Gowda (Devaiya), a minor underworld don, invariably leads to Ruth’s path crossing that of Gowda on a lukewarm trail that may lead to Ruth finding her father.
Because Yellow Boots spirals in and out of control over the search for a lost father, it is similar to, in some ways, and very different from Zoya Akhtar’sZindago Na Milegi Dobara. In an age where non-traditional relationships are increasingly commonplace, here are two very different quests for biological roots in hopes of soothing an unsettled heart and mind. In a revisionist approach to Yellow Boots as a fairy tale, the resonance to Red Riding Hood surely cannot be brushed aside. Like Riding Hood getting side-tracked on the way to grandma’s, Yellow Boots can just as easily be taken as a complex follow-the-rules-or-else fable about the loss of both moral and sexual innocence.
The sexual imagery that Yellow Boots conjures up is no less frightening. In a world where the Lolita-like Ruth caters to mostly older men, there is an undercurrent of close calls to two powerful universal taboos—pedophilia and incest. Shots of massage room close-ups are clinical and without fanfare. They are all the more disturbing because sex is taken so lightly. One has to keep reminding oneself—this is a Hindi movie, this is a Hindi movie! Koechlin’s Ruth is a rare “exotic” creature in a city built on one-dimensional beauty and lots of money. The beauty is controlled by women and the money supply is controlled by the middle-aged, often nondescript, sexually repressed hordes of male bureaucrats who are power brokers. Koechlin, after a limited role as a rich princess in Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, emerges as a surprisingly strong central driver here of what is essentially a feminist outreach for self-definition. She absolutely nails the fresh-faced “foreigner” look.
Along with the frank depiction of a seedy sexuality, there is the cussing. Yellow Boots has perhaps the most out-there, anatomically descriptive, Hindi expletive-filled dialog in memory.
Like much else going on here, after the first few outbursts, the lingo also recedes into the domain of the mundane. While Ruth’s story lacks the fascist zealousness that pervaded, say, Manish Jha’s chilly Matrubhoomi: A Nation Without Women (2003)and its pursuit of female infanticide, Yellow Boots is groundbreaking, nonetheless. Originally screened at the Toronto Film Festival in 2010, where it was received well, Yellow Boots received wide release only recently. While it is far from average family viewing, for discerning viewers, this is powerful stuff.
Globe trekker, aesthete, photographer, ski bum, film buff, and commentator Aniruddh Chawda writes from Milwaukee.