The only hint of colour that there is in the life of the female protagonist is confined to her boots. It is significant that we do not see that piece of fancy leather footwear ever again after the introductory scene, which provides a worm?s eye-view of British citizen Ruth (co-screenwriter Kalki Koechlin) patiently waiting for her turn at the foreigners? registration office in Mumbai.
The girl is here to seek an extension of her tourist visa. But she doesn?t palpably have a chance in hell in this beehive of slothful, corrupt and predatory government functionaries out to extract their pound of flesh.
Director Anurag Kashyap projects this den of exploitative red-tape as a microcosm of sorts of a pitiless city that breeds social and moral deviants who think nothing of riding roughshod over the destinies of the defenseless.
The superbly crafted, wonderfully acted and consistently evocative That Girl in Yellow Boots paints a dark, dismal and desperate portrait of life inside Mumbai?s daunting entrails where Ruth hopes to find salvation and a father who went missing from her life when she was only five.
In order to merely stay afloat in this putrid urban cesspool, the girl works in a massage parlour where she services wrinkled, lustful old men, going beyond the call of duty to make some money on the side.
Just as gloomy and grim is the dank ambience of Ruth?s little home, which seems to be under constant siege. It is invaded frequently by a coke-snorting boyfriend Prashant (Prashant Prakash), a Kannada-speaking gangster Chitiappa (Gulshan Devaiah) and sundry other strangers out to exploit her vulnerability.
That is the price that she must pay for being an illegal migrant: the search for her father brings her face to face with the dregs of society as she is dragged head first through the moral muck of a massive metropolis where Ruth is reduced to a hapless prey.
Kashyap?s film is structured like an urban thriller sans the fisticuffs and gunfights. But the sights and sounds of the city remain on the fringes of Ruth?s ill-fated quest for happiness. The focus of the drama is squarely on the protagonist?s inner traumas as she negotiates dangers and bitter truths at every step.
That Girl in Yellow Boots does not traverse familiar thriller terrain. We see stray bits of the city entirely from the perspective of Ruth?s alien eyes. She isn?t familiar with the dynamics of Mumbai; so the view is tempered with a degree of bewilderment.
We see Mumbai from a half-open window of the massage parlour or from the entrance to her home or in the form of what Ruth catches from a moving auto-rickshaw or taxi. She does not have the wherewithal to come to grips with Mumbai. It is too overpowering for her.
The Mumbai that we usually see on the big screen has as much music and magic as mayhem and madness. But in the city that this film depicts, there can be no room for a fairy tale. It gnaws into the vitals of individuals in insidious ways and leaves them gasping for a gust of the fresh air of innocence and honesty.
That Girl in Yellow Boots is obviously the story of Ruth, a girl caught in a ruthless world, and Koechlin captures the landscape of the protagonist?s bruised heart and mind to absolute perfection. But the film benefits no less from the finely etched cameos of the supporting cast.
Especially impressive are Puja Sarup as the loquacious massage parlour receptionist who is constantly on her mobile phone making small talk even as an emotional storm swirls around Ruth and Gulshan Devaiah as the fumbling gangster whose bravado borders on the comical.
If we do not see more of Sarup and Devaiah in Mumbai movies in the years to come, the loss would be entirely Hindi cinema?s.
One might quibble about the director holding his punches in portraying the ?physical? dimensions of the moral quagmire that Ruth is trapped in, but That Girl in Yellow Boots is a significant step forward for Kashyap.
It is well-nigh his most controlled film to date: the style, fluid and unobtrusive, complements the theme rather than overshadow it.