Film Review: Chalo Dilli

Directed by: Shashant Shah

Starring: Lara Dutta, Vinay Pathak, and sp. appearance – Yana Gupta

WARNING: My review does contain spoilers so if you do not wish to know what happens before seeing the film, please revisit my review after viewing the film.

All images courtesy of:

There is something to be said about a film that doesn’t haven’t to shout out from the rooftops to stand apart from the crowd – a film that stands on its own merits and once the initial dust has settled around the release, the film emerges stronger than anyone (read viewers and gossip websites) would have expected. That’s pretty much how I felt after watching Chalo Dilli. I was actually looking for a screening of Thor when I found out my local multiplex was showing CD and readjusted my plans accordingly (that’s the power of Bollywood!), and though some may argue Thor is the “bigger” film, I would retort that CD might be a “smaller” film but probably has a bigger heart (talk about judging a film by its poster and trailer).

Chalo Dilli has a simple story – Mihika (Dutta) is a busy urban businesswoman with has an obsession with cleanliness and living a certain lifestyle – a far cry from the existence led by Manu Gupta (Pathak) a Delhi based shopkeeper. On her return to Delhi from a business trip, a series of mishaps involving Manu lead to Mihika taking a journey that she never thought she would take with the last person she would ever want to go with and ends up on a journey of self discovery…

I have to say CD pleasantly surprised me with its simplicity and faithful execution. The story is well written, albeit a Planes, Trains And Automobiles remake neatly blended with numerous other films but rather than being a blatant of copy of its source material, CD creates its own distinctive stamp with clever anecdotes, strong writing and taut direction and performances. I loved the way the film touched upon many issues – manners, corruption, people of different social classes thrown together by circumstance, spoofing/referencing other films, urban versus rural, men versus women and how a journey in India (yes, specifically India!) can throw up so many contradictions in a short space of time. I also have to admit I fell hook, line and sinker for the emotional punch at the end of the film and exchanged a tearful glance with the woman seated next to me (how embarrassing – needless to say, I ran away before the lights came up!) and loved how it added weight to story in a very unexpected way. The only sore point for me was the Laila item number which seemed out of place and served no purpose except to see Yana Gupta shake it like Beyonce whilst old men threw money everywhere (what happened to item girls wanting respect? Munni and Sheila would never stand for that!) and the part after the credits explaining what happened to everyone – this was a personal thing though and I totally understand why the film included it though I would have been happy for the film to end on a fade to black (and then maybe have Yana doing an item number at the end without being leered at – seriously, what is that about??)

Technically, the film is fantastic, with no overtly fancy camera angles but solid cinematography bringing colours to life quite nicely and proving that Lara Dutta looks ethereal from every angle (to argue otherwise is pointless). The editing was brisk and kept the film moving along nicely, guiding the audience on the journey with confidence and clarity. I also liked the introduction sequence that used animation very simply as part of the story and formed a nice motif for Mihika and how her attitude changes during the film. Styling wise, Louis Vuitton and Burberry hold court as Lara wears the same outfit – YES, the same outfit – throughout the whole film (no nicking stuff off washing lines or borrowing clothes from well wishers). I quite liked her corporate look of a black pencil skirt (that later turns out to be a dress) with a silk pussybow blouse, red Burberry trench and black LV bag (though wasn’t keen on the black slingbacks) which was in total contrast to Vinay with floral shirt, jeans and trainers (Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi anyone?) but the styling works perfectly for the story and did I mention Lara looks amazing throughout?

Performance wise, Vinay and Lara both do an excellent job. I did feel Lara was a little awkward in some scenes but this works in her favour as we understand that Mihika is not a spontaneous person or used to being in challenging circumstances – I feel Lara was really trying her best here and this might just be her best work to date. The only other film I really loved her performance in was Bardaasht where she played a lawyer and I feel she played Mihika sympathetically and made her feel like a real person. I also think she had a a hell of job acting alongside noted scene stealer Vinay Pathak who turns in a note perfect performance, effortlessly surpressing the urge to overact and instead, keeping Manu lovable, grounded and recognisable. What I really like about Vinay is how he plays his character with subtle nuances, dominating the scene when needed but also supporting Lara and the rest of the cast. I wasn’t exactly thrilled to see Akshay at the end but Vinay’s performance was a happy distraction from that and his delivery of the emotional punch at the end is simply fantastic.

If I had to put CD into a group with other films, I would put it with films like Jab We Met and Band Baaja Baaraat which is high praise indeed seeing how well loved these films are. But CD really does have a lovely watchable quality to it with cheeky dialogue and wit abound which pushes it up several notches than an average film and the spirit of the film is also undeniable in that this is a “small” film which is thinking big in the correct way – that is to say, all the money and effort appears to have gone into the film itself, into the writing, the production and the promotion rather than into satisfying egos and bowing to the star system. This is definitely a commercial film but refreshingly has none of the awful bloatedness of a big commercial production (even Laila is forgivable – to a certain extent!)

CD is  definitely worth a watch in cinema and is one of those films that can be watched with the whole family. It is also worth a watch on DVD or telecast and is definitely one film that deserves goodwill and encouragement if only for being a film that doesn’t rely on a wedding or romance to save the day but instead has a platonic relationship at its centre and a rather mature but fun outlook that communicates to an audience rather than at them. As for Thor, I am still going to see it (in 3D of course!) But I certainly have no regrets about watching Chalo Dilli first – recommended.


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