Directed by: Rakeysh OmPrakash Mehra
Starring: Waheeda Rehman, Abhishek Bachchan, Sonam Kapoor, Rishi Kapoor, Vijay Raaz, Atul Kulkarni, Divya Dutta and Om Puri
**WARNING: Contains spoliers! If you have not seen the film and do not wish to know key plot points, please read my review after watching the film!**
A love letter to Delhi. A slice of life film. A world cinema standard film. These were my first thoughts as I left the cinema having viewed Delhi 6. Having missed the buzz surrounding Rang De Basanti back in 2006 (but still liking the film), I had high hopes for Delhi 6 (the soundtrack which I have fallen for in a big way had a lot to do with it) but also, I really liked Mehra’s first film Aks, which I had expected to cringe at after hearing it was inspired by John Woo’s Face/Off, but instead was blown away by the strong performances and the dark gothic vibe Mehra had managed to tap into.
The two main worries I had regarding this film were: 1) The weight of expectation. The last time I had loved a soundtrack and rushed to the cinema was for Saawariya which didn’t live up to the hype. But also,following up a high like RDB, which was one of the best films of 2006, is no easy feat to overcome and partcularly in a tough market at the moment (with only Raaz 2 and Dev D making a dent at the box office in 2009). 2) That I would not understand elements of the film as I am not familiar with Delhi and this would affect my understanding of the film. I had feared the film might be one which everyone else gets in a big way and I don’t (step forward Tropic Thunder).
Delhi 6 is the story of Roshan (Bachchan) an Indian-American who lives in New York with his parents and grandmother. When his grandmother (Rehman) is diagnosed as being seriously ill and expresses a wish to go back to her homeland to die, Roshan accompanies her expecting this will only be a short trip. But once in India, he slowly gets drawn into the dramas that surround the people of Delhi 6, including falling in love with the girl next door Bittu (Kapoor), learning how things are done in India as well as trying to look after his grandma. Though he learns many lessons on the way, Roshan also has something to offer himself…
Delhi 6 is that rare film that combines many strands together and manages to stay tangle free. There is so much going at every level – we have the character developments, followed by the family development, which then spills into a look at the habits of a community which in turn invokes insight into culture! If that wasn’t enough, parallels to the Ramayana are thrown in as well as the good ol’ religion vs secularity and the different levels inhabited by those particular elements. Phew! Delhi 6 could have easily gone wrong and its a credit to Mehra that he manages not only to keep a firm grip on all the strands running through the narrative but even manages to play with them. Many viewers will quickly pick up on the fact that the film doesn’t run chronologically but what this achieves I have yet to decide – maybe upon repeat viewings, this will explain itself. Mehra and Prasoon Joshi wisely skim the surface of many of the topics they touch but the only downside to this is for some of the audience, it can be overwhelming; as I left the cinema, people behind me discussing the film felt confused and said too much was going on. Maybe if they had concentrated more, that wouldn’t have happened but it does bring a valid point to the fore – this film requires concentration and is not one you can dip in and out of. But pleasingly, it does reward that concentration.
Technically, the film is fantastic. Delhi looks picturesque but real at the same time. It is the Delhi that people will recognise from other Delhi based films and at the same time, show a different perspective. The editing and camera work divided my opinion. On the one hand, the fade to black punctuating key points in dialogue and the jutting camera movement of the Kala Bandar make Delhi 6 more World Cinema than Bollywood. But at the same time, the editing can feel like an interruption to the flow; one feels that some points could have been drawn to its natural conclusion rather than being cut off. The film does deserve credit for holding back on the gloss and giving an earthy, urban texture to the film that does feel very Delhi-esque for those lucky enough to have been there. As forementioned, the music is sublime – the Masakali song is gorgeous on screen, the qawaali Maula Maula gets three plays though a full run through of the song during the film rather than just at the end of the credits would have been nice. The Kala Bandar song helps contribute to the atmosphere of the film and the rest of the album is suitably played in building the required ambience for the film.
In terms of performances, no one puts a foot wrong really. Waheeda Rehman is a treat as the grandmother, one minute swept away in the moment, the next coming down to earth with a bump. I thought she put in a spirited performance in a very subtle way which I liked. I also thought Abhishek was good in the lead, suitably awkward and eloquent as the role demanded. Mehra hasdefinitely scaled back Bachchan’s histronics in this film and to good effect too – subtle suits Abi and he should continue in this vein. Sonam Kapoor manages to come closer to the target second time round, with a energetic effort – at times, she does recite dialogue too quickly (recite and quickly being the key phrases there!) and can get carried away but Saawariya is now forgiven and her emotional scenes are well done (though a few people have disagreed with me on that). Om Puri is reliable, having fun as the over zealous father though clearly capable of more, Rishi Kapoor is very good as the uncle, effortless in his cameo and underplaying it nicely. I thought the relationship between Rishi and Abhishek came across very well and was belivable. Atul Kulkarni also impresses as Gobar, the orphan – playing the village idiot can easily lapse into a stock type role but Kulkarni gives it requisite grace.
For me, the two standout performances were Divya Dutta as Jalebi, the untouchable and Vijay Raaz as the police officer. Raaz casually strolls in and steals all the scenes he is in without batting an eyelid. Despite playing a horrid character, Raaz does the rare trick of making the police officer likeable. Similarly, Dutta makes Jalebi come alive, evoking humour and pathos at the same time, and every scene she plays is pitch perfect. Note the scene in the crowd where Raaz and Dutta spar verbally before Raaz strikes her with the cane – both actors are in their element here and it is easy to forget one is not watching a real life drama here. It is these little moments where Mehra largely succeeds, not only coaxing out great performances from his actors but realising the premise of his script.
Sadly, it doesn’tlook like Delhi 6 will achieve what it deserves to at the box office but don’t let that put you off seeing it. It is perfect for those looking for that post Slumdog fix and there is no doubting Raykesh OmPrakash Mehra is a talented director. Though the film isn’t quite the mirror of truth it tries to be (a clever metaphor which even made it to the innovation credit sequence and the CD cover), when this generation looks back for an insight into how Indian culture was in the Noughties, they could do worse than to watch this film.