Note: This movie has no MPAA rating, but it is most definitely for adults only.
Ruth, the title character in That Girl in Yellow Boots, is a puzzle. She’s brave and forthright, yet she subjects herself to conditions unimaginably grim — embarking on a humiliating, painful quest in search of a goal that, were it not so personal, would hardly seem worth pursuing.
Ruth (Kalki Koechlin) leaves England for India to search for her father, a man she doesn’t remember and who her mother has painstakingly erased from their lives. A letter written to Ruth by her father expressing a desire to meet her proves unusually difficult to trace.
Unable to get an official Indian work permit, Ruth works in a disreputable massage parlor performing sex acts, using the proceeds to bribe officials to extend her travel visa. Being a white woman alone in India makes Ruth both a novelty and an object of desire. Her growing knowledge of Hindi puts her in the odd position of being neither a local nor a tourist.
The lone bright spot in Ruth’s life is not her druggie boyfriend, Prashant (Prashant Prakash), but Diwakar (Naseeruddin Shah), the only client who actually comes to Ruth just for the massage. He’s the father figure she’s been looking for, if only she could put aside her quest.
As the conditions of Ruth’s life go from bad to worse, it’s hard not to ask: Why? Why not give up the search? Why not go home, make some money doing something more dignified and resume the search later? But by the time we meet Ruth, she’s sacrificed so much that she seems unable to stop.
There’s also the question of why her father hasn’t made more of an effort than just writing a letter. If Ruth succeeds in finding him, can he possibly be worth the effort it took?
Koechlin is amazing as Ruth. The camera (behind which sits her real-life husband, director Anurag Kashyap) lingers on Ruth’s face, her blank expression showing the price she’s chosen to pay, shutting off her emotions while she seeks the one person she believes will love her without wanting anything in return.
Koechlin co-wrote the screenplay with Kashyap and used experiences from her own life to flavor Ruth’s world. Raised in India by French parents, Koechlin says she remembers being treated at times as though her skin color indicated an amoral character. Note that, in the movie, the other masseuses at the parlor are blonde.
That Girl in Yellow Boots is not fun, but Koechlin’s performance and Kashyap’s tense and thoughtful directing make watching it a worthwhile experience.