Here's a tale of a hooker that hooks you. Go with open eyes and mind and you will come away an enriched person from this elevating film about a fallen woman.
Catch her if you can. She's Julie. A nice wholesome impish girl from Goa who ends up in five-star hotels of Mumbai peddling, in the words of the film's excellent dialogue writer, "a woman's most effective weapon" - her body.
There have been many films on an unsullied woman's journey into the arms of corruption - some outstanding, others mediocre, and then the rest plainly exploitative.
Deepak Shivdasani's film falls in a different, refreshing and often startling niche.
The segmented plot - tautly written and worded - takes the protagonist through three phases in her life, all qualified by a male presence.
In the way the men in her life define her odyssey from purity to damnation, "Julie" is structurally akin to Shyam Benegal's "Bhumika". The cerebral serenity that was affordable to Benegal is, alas, denied to Shivdasani.
His cinema addresses itself to an audience that's neither intellectually equipped nor inclined to be patient with the polemics of a grossly unequal social order where a woman's right to her body and mind is constantly reliant on the male order.
For all its extraneous and intrinsic limitations, "Julie" succeeds in packing in a rousing punch.
The expertly plotted narrative manages to include cutting comments on the commodification of a woman's body and soul, and on the media exposure of private emotions - Achint Kaur excellently portrays the dilemma of a TV anchor.
Director Shivdasani, so far not renowned for any extraordinary skills of sensitivity, keeps his narrative miraculously free of verbal and visual sleaze.
There are long lovemaking sequences replete with wet smooches. These appear more aesthetic and mature than the clumsy love scenes filmed on the call girl (played by Rekha) in Basu Bhattacharya's "Astha".
Far from being offensive in its attitude to sex, "Julie" actually turns around to become a scathing women's picture. The suffering of the protagonist in a masculine, predatory world echoes the greatest films on female resilience - from Nargis in "Mother India" to Shabana Azmi in "Bhavna".
Shivdasani, openly enamoured of our great women's pictures, even squeezes in a tribute to Raj Kapoor's "Bobby" when Neha Dhipua opens her door to love with besan in her hair, a la Dimple Kapadia.
Dhupia lacks the experience and emotional range to furnish her fertile role of feminine power with that extra edge of the screen greats. Nevertheless, she manages well, delivering moving monologues in key places, for instance after her go-getting lover Rohan's (Sanjay Kapoor) betrayal, or in her final plea for a sex worker's right to dignity when on live television Julie says: "Your mothers and sisters are at home. Why can't I be with them?"
One of the film's main achievements comes from the dialogues by Sanjay Pawar. The words are hard-hitting and thought-provoking without ever resorting to crudity or double meanings.
When, in a sequence reminiscent of K. Balachander's "Aaina", after becoming a hooker, Dhupia runs into her first love (Yash Tonk), her words about his cowardly betrayal ring in our ears long after she ceases to speak out.
This is indeed the power of the 'pain' in full glory! Shivdasani constantly invests a high level of aesthetics to the drama. Refreshingly, he steers clear of artificial studio sets. Thomas Xavier has shot most of the film in eye-catching hotel lobbies, receptions, restaurants aurents and other places of 'decent' social interactions.
The soundtrack and the background score are remarkably rich and expressive. But the filmy songs by Himesh Reshammiya let the film's mellow and tragic mood down.
Shivdasani displays a commendable control over his narrative. The editing patterns are fancy, but never flashy. A poignancy perpetually underscores the protagonist's unholy pilgrimage.
At the outset, we're immediately hooked to Julie's tale when she barges into a spunky TV anchor's office proclaiming she's a prostitute and demanding to have her say on camera.
Eschewing scapegoats and avoiding apologies for its protagonist's 'fallen' status, 'Julie' builds up into a beautiful "Prince And The Showgirl" love story. Tycoon Mihir Shandilya (Priyanshu Chatterjee), with his Brahminical affluence, may seem like a dizzying splash of fantasy.
But as a character, Mihir works - because we want him to, because every Julie in real life needs to be redeemed and every film that ventures into the heart rather than revelling in the loins needs to be applauded.
"Julie" isn't a great film. But it's an honest and moving work, deserving of an attentive audience.