'Girl in Yellow Boots' a Frustrating Character-Driven Cataclysm

Directed by: Anurag Kashyap; Runtime: 103 minutes
Grade: C-

The decision and dedication required for someone to seek out an estranged parent can be a powerful driver for personal drama, inviting reflection on the motivation behind a character's desire to do so. It can also lead to a vein of mystery behind how the individual hunts them down: the crossed wires, connections, and interrogations of people who have merely been in their presence. India's That Girl in Yellow Boots crafts a small-scale drama that attempts to touch on both sides of the paternal search, throwing a resolute and street-smart girl into a "stranger in a strange land" scenario as she follows the winding leads towards her father. While director Anurag Kashyap competently portrays the anxiety behind walking in the young foreigner's shoes, the efforts end up being wasted on the clash between the inert mystery of the search and the girl's pitiful taste in who she trusts, channeled towards a vile and irredeemable conclusion that actively destroys the positive merits of her character endurance.

That Girl in Yellow Boots drops us in the midst of one of Ruth's typical days in Mumbai, complete with negotiations for her visa, making mild progression in locating the father who abandoned her family, and working in a massage parlor that overlooks her gray-area employment. Yes, it's one of those massage parlors: she manually gratifies men for extra rupees, which goes directly into her funds for staying in the country and sustaining her research. She has regular clients that come by, some who partake in their happy endings and others that simply enjoy her massage skills, which results into a fairly lucrative system for Ruth that keeps her afloat while awaiting information. Her choice in men could use some work, though, as her temporary boyfriend tends to berate her about sex and snort coke in her home. As her personal life teeters near collapse, from keeping authorities appeased about her visa to her druggie guy overstaying his welcome, she eventually lands on substantial facts about her father's whereabouts.

Ruth's mysterious personality takes center stage in That Girl in Yellow Boots, as Anurag Kashyap focuses on her responsiveness to the tricky situation and her threshold of coping with dire situations. A fine character study forms amid her mundane massage parlor appointments and the way her funds mostly funnel into her search, creating an ecosystem around her that yields very little personal gratification as she interacts with the city of Mumbai. Rising Bollywood starlet and co-writer Kalki Koechlin brings both energetic desperation and intentional emotional detachment to Ruth's appointments and dealings outside the parlor, encapsulating a gypsy-like character who (mostly) speaks the language and moves with the country's rhythm yet cannot help but stick out as a foreigner. The simple dramatic pulse created by her integration and thread-following towards her father's whereabouts endures as the film's strongest attribute, coupled with Ruth's complicated grasp on sexual activity and her everyday "handshakes".

Despite multihued, finely-composed cinematography that follows Ruth's erratic routine through the streets of India, director Anurag Kashyap doesn't believe all that to be enough of a driving force, instead complicating matters with an abrasive subplot involving her drugged-up boyfriend, Parshant (Prashant Prakash). He doesn't seem like the type she'd waste her time and effort on, especially considering her dedication to other focus-consuming activities, making her conflicted affection and honesty with him incongruous with the rest of the film's intentions. The trouble he brings into Ruth's life ends up dominating the plot instead of supplementing it, to a point where the purpose behind That Girl in Yellow Boots becomes unfocused and lost in strained, dubious druggie and financial drama. When the entire reason for this British citizen to be living a hard-knock life in India revolves around her ancestral pursuits, along with the gray-area shadiness of her work, the presence of a bothersome addict feels nothing but forced upon the story for added conflict that the film didn't require.

Thing is, these clashing elements could still lace together into a meaningful drama, designed to create a transient life for Ruth that'd be easy -- and potentially rewarding -- for her to abandon once her search concludes. Alas, director Anurag Kashyap has grand ambitions for how Ruth's story would end, leading That Girl in Yellow Boots into a profoundly screwed-up twist at the end that renders almost everything that occurs during her time in India largely worthless and damaging to her character. Child molestation, pregnancy, and suicide heavily factor into the revelations that surface: hardly foreshadowed for bombshell's sake, without any expressive merit, and seemingly aspiring to the ranks of certain pieces of South Korean cinema. Despite the bravery of Kalki Koechlin's performance, the whole thing has little-to-no redeeming value beyond the guttural shock-value it crams into a livewire finale, and it's truly disheartening to watch the subtle and satisfying edge of Anurag Kashyap's gray-area character portrait swiftly falling apart in the pursuit of trivial, repellent pseudo-drama.

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