Yesterday I did something I haven’t done since way back when I was in college – saw 2 movies back to back in the theatre!! In college of course ‘movie marathons’ were commonplace – whether in the theatre or on the old trusty VCR. Delhi 6 also holds a special place in my heart because it is the first movie I watched after my brother passed away and I thought it would be impossible for me to watch any movie anytime soon…it took me a month and was very painful, ’cause watching movies was what we did together in Goa, it was ‘our thing’…
So to the movies – Delhi 6 and Billu Barber or Billu as it’s now called (apparently it’s been shortened because ‘hajaams’ were offended by the term ‘Barber’!! Kyon?? Bhagwan jaane!! I just don’t get it!!) This post will not mention Billu other than to say that the only thing I liked about the movie was Irfan Khan, exemplary as always.
I fell in love with Delhi 6 and was surprised to find that I am in a minority! For me the film captured the true ethos of India – chaotic, frenzied, colourful, illogical and somehow utterly lovable!! It reminded me of the song…Hum logon ko samajh sako toh samjho dilbar jaani, jitna bhi tum samjhoge utni hogi hairani…We are like that only!!
The film uses the darkly hilarious episode of Delhi’s famous ‘Black Monkey’ case, to introduce Roshan (AB Jr. doing a good job at last post-Guru and thankfully no wife in tow) a 2nd generation Indian-American born to a Hindu father and Muslim mother, who returns home to Chandni Chowk to drop off his grandma (played to perfection by Waheeda Rehman!) who is dying from a brain tumour.
They arrive at the beginning of Navratri, a 9 day festival of colour, pomp and riotous celebration, in honour of good triumphing over evil. Ram kills Ravan and everyone celebrates from the common man to the Gods! The Ram Leela in the movie was one of the highlights for me – beautifully done and yet not slick enough to lessen its inherently rustic feel. Another great scene for me was the ‘Holy Cow giving birth scene’ – hilarious and utterly believable and uniquely India!
My favourite scene in the movie: Roshan, disgusted with everything happening around him has decided to return to the US and tells his Granny that they are leaving. She tells him No! and he loses it and yells at her! He then breaks down and apologizes and she consoles him as only Grannies can, “Don’t worry Beta, sab theek ho jaayega. Bhagwan sab theek kar denge!” And he looks at her incredulous, and says, “Kaunsa Bhagwan, Dadi? Dad ke Ram yah Mom ke Allah?” and goes on to say something to the effect of ‘How can you have so much faith in God and yet have so little in yourself? How will God help when you don’t lift a finger to help yourself?’ It was a powerful moment in the movie for me – not original, no, but powerful.
As the story or rather stories unfold and there are several – they reveal a treasure trove of instantly recognizable, colourful if rather cliched & stereotypical characters. The brilliant ensemble cast, the director manages to put together made this movie eminently watchable. Whether it’s the brief, incisive performance of Divya Dutta as the untouchable garbage collector Jalebi; or the expert characterizations of feuding brothers Madangopal & Jaigopal by Om Puri & Pawan Malhotra – brilliant as always, while their wives (equally impressive Supriya Pathak and Sheeba Chaddha) manage to nurture the family bond, through all the strife, with a little help from their adorable sons & a moving brick; or the vulnerable, bumbling village idiot Gobar, played by Atul Kulkarni (who seems to have become a Mehra favourite too!); or Vijay Raaz who plays the slimy, corrupt local cop to perfection; or Sonam Kapoor’s sensitive portrayal of the beautiful, confused, rebellious Bittu; or her hapless unmarried aunt torn between her brothers; or my favourite Rishi Kapoor as Uncle Ali Baig – an ex-suitor of Roshan’s mom, who is Roshan’s confidante and the one sane man in all the resident chaos; I recognized in them, members of my family and friends and parts of myself, that made them instantly real, believable and close to my heart. Prem Chopra and K.K Raina (seen them after ages on film) have a handful of scenes but leave a powerful impact as does Deepak Dobriyal, who plays Mamdu the Hanuman worshipping Muslim sweetmaker.
The cinematography is brilliant – I have never been to Delhi, but I will be most disappointed if I don’t find Chandni Chowk, the way it’s filmed in the movie! The music is superb! Maula Mere Maula and Genda Phool come to mind instantly! Rehman’s genius at work yet again. I had read that the director had two endings in mind while shooting – one sad and the other happy. Without giving the story away, I’m glad he stayed with the one he did! The tempo builds up in the second half and the ease with which religion can be used to flame public sentiment in India is unnerving and terrifying to say the least, but also very reminiscent of the political climate in India in recent years. Is it unrealistic, the speed with which old friends turn against one another and then later seem to reconcile? Not to me – I’ve seen it happen and truth really is stranger than fiction! Anyone that follows Indian politics will agree!
Is the story original? No. It has the familiar and rather contentious theme of an NRI returning home, finding the ‘love of his life’ and predictably seduced to stay, by the craziness, beauty & paradox that is India, one that I must say, to me in Swades, was not very convincing! I guess I get it now, now that I’m older and wiser 🙂 Nor does the movie have any answers – how can it – who does? Understanding India is difficult at best – Solving its issues?? Complex at best. Not in my lifetime – that’s for sure!
So this to me is India as I see it – hectic, divided into a million castes and classes, irrational, emotional, a victim of decades of incompetent governance, prone to mobs, religious fanaticism and lethargy that has now translated into a frighteningly prevalent ‘Chalta Hai’ attitude! People disconnected from reality in many ways and yet connected to each other in the strangest! And in the midst of all the disorder and chaos, we somehow still find the strength to nurture our families, celebrate our festivals, forgive our neighbours and survive increasingly horrendous terrorist attacks!
For me I guess the essence of Delhi 6 & indeed India is crystallized in the words of Roshan to his Uncle Baig, when the latter is convincing him to return to the US after Roshan gets into trouble with his neighbours & the local police – “But India works Ali uncle! Its people make it work!” Amen!