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Dolly Kitty and Woh Chamakte Sitare shows us that in a patriarchal society, being true to ourselves in everyday life isn’t easy for us women – but it is essential.
Like she did in Lipstick Under My Burkha, Alankrita Shrivastava puts women and their desires at the forefront in Dolly Kitty and Woh Chamakte Sitare, and shows us that in a patriarchal society, for women, living a life that is authentic to who we are is not easy – but it is essential.
Just a day before Dolly Kitty Aur Woh Chamakte Sitare came out on Netflix, I was having a conversation with a few of my female friends about the ‘fakeness’ of our online lives. We all observed that on social media, we do more than just put our best foot forward. Even when we are not intentionally presenting a rosy picture of our lives; even when we are open about our struggles, we end up masking our true selves. We end up holding back. And while this has always been the case – even when social media didn’t exist, we were never truly open, and often even our best friends dont’t truly know what our desires and dreams, or inner struggles are – this has become even more pronounced in a world where our lives are constantly on display.
The reason is simple – to live an authentic life, is to be vulnerable; and we have all learnt, the hard way, that as women, if we let the world see our vulnerability, we will be taken advantage of, judged, and forced into silence.
So, we keep secrets. Like Asha of Khayali Pulao, we take circuitous routes to satisfy the simplest of desires.
In Dolly Kitty Aur Woh Chamakte Sitare, Konkona Sen Sharma, plays a Dolly, a woman who is deeply dissatisfied with her marital life (and not just sexually), but who will not admit it, even to herself.
Bhumi Pednekar, plays Kaajal, aka Kitty, the ‘new girl in the city,’ aching for independence, and who is able to get some measure of it, only by working as a ‘companion’ for a ‘romance app,’ – and while she realizes that it is not a job that should be looked down upon, she knows what people will say, and so she keeps it a secret.
As a contrast to these two women, are two others, at opposite sides of the age spectrum, who live with a spirit of radical honesty.
Speaking from a place of experience is Dolly’s mother, (unnamed, played so beautifully by actor Neelima Azim), who left Dolly as a child, to follow her own dreams. She is not apologetic for the choice she made; she doesn’t want forgiveness. Only a chance to rebuild a relationship with her daughter and grandchildren. She was not happy in her marriage, and so she left, and that was that. And if that means she continues to be pushed away – she can live with those consequences.
Speaking from a place of innocence, is her younger child (played by Kalp Shah), assigned male at birth, who insists unapologetically and repeatedly, that she is a girl, even when she is punished for doing so. There is a scene in which she is found in a Doll’s Museum, after having travelled there alone. “What if something had happened to you?” Dolly scolds, only to be told by the child, as she admires herself in a mirror, dressed up in a feminine, doll-like costume, “You will beat me anyway when I get home. But till then let me have my fun.”
By juxtaposing these characters with each other, the movie asks us, nay, urges us, to be true to ourselves, and stand up for what we want.
The titular ‘chamakte sitare’ (shining stars) are a literal reference to the ‘star ratings’ that have become ubiquitous in life today. Dolly begins an affair with a delivery boy, Osmaan Ansari, played by Amol Parashar, after they get closer when she refuses to give him five stars for his work. Kitty must maintain her own star ratings, often by providing men with phone sex, and who therefore begins a relationship with the rare client, Pradeep (Vikrant Massey), who actually wants to talk.
I can’t say more – because spoilers – but when these relationships reach a turning point that leaves these women at their lowest, is when they find the strength to finally give themselves the metaphorical five stars, and value and prioritize themselves.
How they do that, is for you to discover after you watch the film. It is not a perfect ending. It leaves us with many questions. But, it does put the women on a journey of being true to themselves.
In Lipstick Under my Burkha, Alankrita Shrivastava explored the secret desires of women – from wanting sexual release, to simply wanting to be able to choose what we wear. Dolly Kitty Aur Woh Chamakte Sitare, also does the same, with an important difference.
Lipstick Under My Burkha left us at the point where the women had their secrets exposed, and when they were at their lowest. It forced us to leave them, even as they were just beginning to have a conversation, among themselves, about their dreams and desires. In Dolly Kitty Aur Woh Chamakte Sitare, we are allowed to listen in on the rest of the conversation. We see how Dolly and Kitty, both find strength in each other, despite their differences, by being radically honest with each other.
When I spoke to the writer director Alankrita Shrivastava, earlier this year, as part of the run up to the Orange Flower Awards, I asked her about this movie, and whether it had a similar theme of sisterhood, as Lipstick Under My Burkha. She replied saying that while she did not want to force fit a sisterhood narrative, or make it seem like women cannot or should not have a confrontational relationship, “there is a certain sense of shared truth, a sense of empathy that passes from one woman to another, and it doesn’t have to happen in the most obvious way, but even when two women are opposed to each other, sometimes there is a sense of understanding.”
This sentiment comes across beautifully in Dolly Kitty Aur Woh Chamakte Sitare. Dolly and Kitty have a contentious relationship. They fight, throw passive aggressive barbs at each other, and judge each other – but when push comes to shove, they are there for each other too.
Dolly Kitty and Who Chamakte Sitare is a complex and layered movie that tackles many issues. Besides the issue of women’s desires, it hints at conversations about surrogacy, about the rising religious fundamentalism and moral policing, the way society is not equipped to be inclusive of transgender children etc. There is a lot that we can unpack, even from a single dialogue or scene. I can see how this level of complexity may be something that viewers dislike – especially since Bollywood has trained us to not think too deeply – but on a personal level, I loved it.
The characters are as complex as the plot. From Kubbra Sait, who plays Kitty’s friend Shazia, (and who like Vijayalakshmi of Queen, introduces the ‘protected’ woman to new experiences); to Aamir Bashir, playing Amit, Dolly’s husband; to Karan Kundra, playing a DJ who is in love with Shazia, every actor is pitch perfect. The leading women – Konkona and Bhumi – shine in their roles as grey characters, who make questionable choices. They are no saints – but one does not have to be a saint to deserve a bit of happiness.
If I had to choose one thing about the movie that made me uncomfortable – there are a few seconds that show on screen violence against a child. I wish that had been hinted at instead of being so visual, because it is disturbing to watch.
Dolly Kitty Aur Who Chamakte Sitare is a landmark film, for its fiercely feminist lens. I won’t be surprised at all, if it is criticized for being “too feminist,”, “against Indian culture,” or “biased.” However, all I would say is that it stays true to its message of radical honesty, and doesn’t sweeten any uncomfortable truths, or self-censor.
It doesn’t prescribe any course of action, as much as it urges us to think deeply, about why we women don’t prioritize ourselves more, and what would happen if we did.
Films like this are rare – so go watch it.
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