Delhi 6

First things first. Amrita, you were right. This is the first real Rahman album in a while. I could obsess about each song in turn for a month. So I’m going to imagine that he actually won those two Oscars for this album and not for Slumdog Millionaire. Go Rahman! (To have spoken a line in Tamil and quoted Deewar up there — you rule, man.)

It is a measure of Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s success with Rang De Basanti that he could get pretty much any character actor he wanted for Delhi 6 and not have to worry about giving them enough screen time. It is also a measure of his ability to direct such a vast ensemble cast that they manage to pull the movie through some crucial moments where the script doesn’t quite give them the backup they need. Alas, even such a team can sustain it for only so long.

Delhi 6 tells the story of a second-generation Indian-American who comes home with his grandmother who has contracted a tumor and wishes to spend her last days in her ancestral home in Chandni Chowk (PIN code 110006, hence the film’s title). For the next hour and a half, you let yourself get surrounded by this neighbourhood, swayed by its rhythm, loved by its people and worried/amused by their little rivalries, while a “monkey-man” terrorizes the city and this neighbourhood with mostly-imagined nocturnal attacks.

You have no idea where the film is going, but it feels comforting to be welcomed into and ensconced in this world Mehra creates with such fondness. And when he decides to ratchet up the tension by bringing in the spectre of communal disharmony, this neighbourhood, with people jostling for every inch of space, begins to seem combustible. The way he brings this up doesn’t work too well and almost plays like comedy at times, but you care enough about the people that it doesn’t seem to matter.

Trouble is, he’s now created a situation that he cannot resolve in too many ways. And in trying to resolve it in an unexpected manner, he stretches credibility a bit too thin. And you walk out feeling… a bit let down, to be honest. These characters deserved better than an ending like this.

There are a few other glaring flaws. Like Amitabh Bachchan in an entirely unnecessary cameo that irritated me no end by its mere presence. Or Abhishek Bachchan’s now-you-hear-it-now-you-don’t accent, coupled with a performance that really isn’t on par with the rest of the cast. But what was really disheartening was how Mehra simply refused to be subtle when needed.

Consider the minor character who carries around a mirror and asks everyone to look into it. This mirror is referenced so beautifully in the end credits, it almost makes you forget the missteps he made right at the end. But instead of leaving it at that, he got one of the characters to speak at length about what the mirror really means. For heaven’s sake, man, we get it!

But despite all these flaws, when I wake up today I don’t remember its ending. And months from now, when I think of this movie, I know what will come to mind:

Om Puri and Pavan Malhotra indulging in a game of one-upmanship during a bhajan session.

The luminous Sonam Kapoor dancing in the Delhi metro. This is a girl worth watching out for. Anyone who is capable of dancing and smiling while running the risk of having a pigeon poop on her head at close range is a keeper.

Rishi Kapoor’s easy elegance. Why did this man ever have to be young if he could be so fantastic in old age?

Waheeda Rahman’s character making meticulous preparations for her own death. Lady, we see too little of you, but when we do, you make us thankful for it.

Atul Kulkarni, Vijay Raaz, Deepak Dobriyal, Divya Dutta, Supriya Pathak, Sheeba Chadha…

They are the only reason to watch Delhi 6. If that prospect doesn’t sound enticing, then this movie isn’t for you.

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13 thoughts on “Delhi 6

  1. Amrita says:

    Wth? Gremlins ate my last comment did they?

    The problem with Delhi 6 is what you’ve mentioned here – it’s an ensemble piece squashed into a story that’s ostensibly about Roshan. What I did like about the movie though is the way it showed the kala bandar evolve into something bigger than itself. That was a very nice piece of writing. Almost made up for the atrocity that was the mirror metaphor.

    And yes, I’m sticking my fingers in my ears and shouting neener neener neener about AR winning for Jai Ho when this album is around. Sigh.

    PS – Amitabh Bachchan is Abhishek Bachchan’s father. Did you know that? Shocked me too! … Not.

  2. pitu, Ebrahim>> It appears you are not alone. A lot of people seem to share your opinion of the movie. The box office reports don’t look too good either.

    Amrita>> I think he wanted to use Roshan as like the reporter Thompson in Citizen Kane but with more involvement as things went on. It’s not a bad idea per se, and the idea of using the monkey man wasn’t so bad either. The precise moment when it completely went to hell for me was when Abhishek got on his soapbox.

    ~ramsu

  3. Tongue Twister says:

    And my “sticking my fingers in my ears and shouting neener neener neener” moment happened during the after-Oscars Oprah party, where she called him AR “Rain Man” – I swear!! I can’t count the number of times I’ve itched to literally twist people’s tongues and staple it to their palates…I mean how hard can it be to say “Rah Maan” without adding the additional “i”s and “n”s?

  4. Heifer High says:

    If I hadn’t read O’Henry’s short story “Hearts and Crosses” the same day I caught “Dil Gira Dafatan” on youtube (today), that shot where the camera pans from the white cow to the man on horseback would have meant next to nothing. (I know, thank heavens for small mercies that show us the big pictures non-existent outside our heads!)

  5. Tongue Twister>> With a name like mine, these are the moments when I am indescribably happy about not being an Oscar winner 😀

    Heifer High>> I hadn’t read that O’Henry story before you mentioned it here, so I looked it up. The ending wasn’t phenomenally surprising, but I can see how the imagery brought back memories. Did they also brand the cow in the song? I don’t remember — gotta look it up on youtube.

  6. HH says:

    “Did they also brand the cow in the song?” You’re kidding, right? for, given the highly non-secular context (of the movie, from what I hear), I’m guessing you’d sooner find a branded child or wife, unless the decorative cloth-piece (permanently) adorning the worship-cow’s back counts. 🙂

    And true, the ending wasn’t phenomenally surprising or anything but that’s besides the point. (Do feel free to laugh your head off when I say all that matters is The Cosmos continues to keep its pinky-promise to the child in me, as part of this Game we agreed to play a long time ago: It would serve up deja vu moments so long as I treated them as carnival sights and not Manna from Heaven; and my part of the promise would be the moment I begin to mine those “moments” for deeper meaning, I agree to be skunk-squirted and sent off in a barely breathing (hardly ecstatic) tizzy to dive into the nearest tub of tomato juice! Phew, so not fun when you break rules like that and get all skunked, but thank heavens for tomato juice!)

    P.S: Speaking of “looking up” the (1904) story, you’ve got to surely envy me for being able to hold the Reader’s Digest bound edition of The Heart of the West, O’ Henry’s cowboy-fable collection, complete with a rugged map of the Lone Star state embossed in gold on its brown leather jacket.

  7. HH says:

    Okay, I finally succumbed to curiosity and did what I normally wouldn’t dream of doing, especially for a movie that I’ve been waiting so eagerly to catch — I watched a 30-rupee version that was apparently picked out from a plethora of pirated DVDs displayed at a Ranganathan Street platform, earlier this month! (Quality? A bit pixelated, yes, but not bad overall.)

    And oh yeah, Delhi-6 works! The detailing, the minutiae, was so awesome that I couldn’t care less about the botch ups in the last half hour or so that seem to have gotten most others worked up into a serious lather. Things like that photo-frame in Rehna Tu (poetry-spouting Ali’s picture, book-ended by works of the Bard and Kahlil Gibran) were absolutely priceless. Will watch it again in a heartbeat (once the original DVD is out)!

  8. HH>> I think it is one of those movies whose flaws don’t seem as egregious as time goes by. The good stuff, however, becomes even more endearing. It’s like Swades in a sense — when I first saw it, it seemed preachier than I would’ve liked, but it’s grown on me.

  9. I do not see much of Swades in this movie and that is when u leave out the story and the script… u actually have fun watching the movie. The actors, characters, Sonam Kapur, Rahman, ROM and his swirling cameras through chandni chowk’s streets .. did the trick and I had a smile al d way back home …

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