20 February 2009 | DICK STEEL
A Nutshell Review: Delhi 6
Abhishek Bachchan's character Roshan made a remark relatively early in the movie that made me laugh out loud. While watching a stage play, and not totally well versed in the history nor story, he commented that it was the one about a "golden deer", and to a certain extent, it was true, but of course totally taken out of context. It reminded me of a personal anecdote many years ago, where a Caucasian couple was standing next to me and watching a lion dance performance. Not knowing what they were, the wife asked the husband, who proudly replied "They're dogs, but they're good dogs!". I was chuckling too hard inside to want to enlighten them.
And personal stories of life is what Delhi 6 contains, being reportedly somewhat semi- autobiographical of director-co-writer Rakesh Omprakash Mehra's growing up years in Delhi. The film is set against the backdrop of Old Delhi with the postal code of 110006, hence the title, and for the wide-eyed boy like me who has never been to India (yet), it's quite an eye opener that the film captures plenty of the sights, sounds, food and you can imagine the smells, as seen through the eyes of Abhishek's Roshan.
An American citizen, he volunteers to accompany his aged grandmother (Waheeda Rehman) back to her hometown in Delhi 6 out of duty and curiosity as to hie ancestry, and for the first half, he's floored by plenty of new experiences formed from interaction with his extended family and friends of his parents and grandparents. From starting out wondering why his grandmother would want to pass away in Delhi 6, he soon realizes that it's the community spirit that is so strong within the town, that he too fell head over heels with it. And of course, getting to know the neighbouring beauty Bittu (Sonam Kapoor) helped too, even though it got off the wrong footing to begin with.
This is Rakesh Omprakash Mehra's ode to Old Delhi, filled with plenty of montage, with special effects no less, squeezing all things memorable that he had to say and pay homage to, on all things quirky like the community stage plays, superstition and rites, and down to the negatives like the rampant corruption of those in uniform, as well as the inane media news reporting and the caste issue, as seen through the eyes of an NRI - Non Resident Indian.
While the first half may be more touristy in spirit, with the filmmakers opting to showcase plenty of romanticized shots of streets and everyday life courtesy of Roshan's Motorola mobile phone, the tone of the film got more serious after the intermission, exploring base feelings, primal instincts and intolerant mob mentality coupled with sectarian violence. From the onset there's a kind of supernatural/mystery feel to the narrative with the strange hypothesis and theories of a "Black Monkey" being in the midst of and terrorizing residents, and surprisingly I actually appreciated how this angle was eventually treated and wrapped.
Sonam Kapoor had her debut in the feature Saawariya which I had enjoyed but unfortunately many didn't and the film tanked at the box office. While Saawariya co-star Ranbir Kapoor had already gone on to make his second film Bachna Ae Haseeno released last year, Delhi 6 marks the second film for Sonam, and I felt that while the role here didn't give her many opportunities to shine, given that it's the usual small town girl with big dreams, and very much more modern than the culture and tradition she is brought up in, again she lights up the screen with plenty of genuine vivaciousness that it actually became quite infectious for you not to fall in love with the character. Like the pet dove, her Bittu too has her wings clipped and tied by the father, preventing her from soaring to fulfill her dreams of becoming an Indian Idol. John Woo would've wondered why he didn't think of a dove-inspired dance!
While Sonam Kapoor was the first choice as the lead actress, surprisingly the lead actor role was bounced around and rejected by many, before Abhishek Bachchan gave the nod. I thought he brought out the role of Roshan quite convincingly, and his ability to single- handedly journey the viewer and navigate the new land was never doubted, bringing his big town tendencies to a small town he doesn't quite understand. And as bonus, no prizes for who was featured as an additional lending of gravitas to the film.
I particularly liked how the film inserted many plot devices and elements which were addressed and closed for the most parts, albeit some being done in quite an abrupt manner, such as how the grandmother's intent in the first half got forgotten immediately after the intermission. It did feel quite rushed toward the finale, but all is forgiven for the presence of A.R. Rahman's music. Again he provides some majestic tunes to highlight the key moments in the film, and while I had enjoyed every single one of it, one that I truly liked best was Makahali, which in the film was the name of the clipped dove. It had this really catchy tune that sticks, and picturized very effectively in the film, bringing out emotions of the moment wonderfully.
Delhi 6 preaches (yes it did feel that way, for the lack of time and very obvious ranting in the last act) about community, how as one people standing united with love for one another, that despite the frequent chaos, no obstacle cannot be overcome. But this balance is ever fragile, and it takes so little of a catalyst of fearing the unknown and unfounded superstition and suspicion to break it all down for the worst. It's a lesson for all of us, to open our minds and not fall prey to negative emotions, especially those that cause more harm to the greater good.