In the 2011 Indian movie Dhobi Ghat, Shai, the main character, falls in love with the young man who washes and hand delivers her clothes every day. Their love is obviously impossible: she’s a wealthy investment banker spending time in Mumbai on a sabbatical; he’s a modest dhobi (washerman) who moved to the big city in search of a better life. Through him, though, she at least rekindles her passion for photography when she decides to shoot him at his place of work, the Dhobi Ghat.
“It’s a photographer’s dream,” explains Sanjit Das, an actual photographer who found an assignment, if not love, in the world’s largest open air laundromat. He photographed Dhobi Ghat for Panos and Sony’s Future of Cities project. To him, Dhobi Ghat is an example of incredible organization amidst the chaos of a large city, and of tradition enduring through modernization. He joined R&K from Malaysia.
Roads & Kingdoms: When did you start working on this story?
Sanjit Das: I shot it about a year ago, but I kept going to Bombay because I’m working on a book about Bollywood actors. It was good to go out to Dhobi Ghat just for a couple of days and shoot, and more than shoot, understand why people still do this. I mean, we all have automatic machines now. And if you’re washing clothes commercially, you would think that you would make it more economical and less time consuming, right? But it was quite interesting to spend time with the dhobis and understand, so I ended up spending most of my time talking to them rather than shooting.