Movie Review: Delhi 6

The film opens with New York-based Roshan (Abhishek),flying in with his dying grandmom (Waheeda),straight into the bosom of her large,extended family and neighbours.

Written by Shubhra Gupta | New Delhi | Published: February 20, 2009 5:09 pm

Cast: Abhishek Bachchan,Sonam Kapoor,Waheeda Rehman,Rishi Kapoor,Om Puri,Pawan Malhotra,Surpiya Pathak,Sheeba Chaddha,Vijay Raaz,Divya Dutta,Aditi Rao

Director: Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra

Pincode,Zero Six. Rakeysh Omraprakash Mehra sets his coming-back-to-roots story in Old Delhi: the never-empty narrow ‘galis’,the ‘havelis’ within,the connected rooftops,the ‘patang-baazi’,the cows and the cars,the rickshaws and the hand carts,the ‘jalebis’ and the ‘golgappas’,the mandir and the masjid,the skull caps and the saffron ‘gamchas’ .

And the people,people,people: seldom has Chandni Chowk,currently Bollywood’s flavour du jour,been recreated on screen with such verve and fidelity.

The film opens with New York-based Roshan (Abhishek),flying in with his dying grandmom (Waheeda),straight into the bosom of her large,extended family and neighbours.

They—estranged brothers (Om and Pawan),trying-to-keep-the-peace ‘bhabhis’ (Supriya and Sheeba),spinster ‘bua’ (Aditi),and the free-spirited Bittu (Sonam) who wants to be the next Indian Idol—envelope the new arrivals in the warmth and the bustle,old affections and new rivalries of Purani Delhi.

The trouble with ‘Delhi 6′ is just this: Mehra is so focused on getting the setting right that he forgets to move his movie along. It’s one thing to translate the slow,old-world quality of the place; it’s quite another for your story to have to struggle to come up for air.

Roshan spends a lot of his time sitting,listening,talking,only once in a while breaking out into a jog. Which is fine when he starts out doing it—it’s all new to him,as it is for us—but the repetitive loops start getting in the way all too soon.

As does the inordinate time spent on building up the urban legend of the ‘kala bandar’,(a mysterious monkey that terrorized Delhi some years ago),as a metaphor of the growing communal unrest simmering under the surface and the by-play of the Ram Lila on the make-shift platforms and the theatrics of the street-life: it’s all done with admirable authenticity,but it leaves you yearning for something to happen.

It does,right at the end,but it’s done with a staginess at odds with the rest of the film: Mehra keeps heading towards his intent—to show the incredible syncretic nature of one of the oldest parts of the world (at heart ‘Delhi 6′ is an old-fashioned cry for Hindu-Muslim amity),but spends all his time in the foreplay,not going all the way. The end peters out.

But meanwhile,there are stellar performances from the main supporting cast—Om Puri and Pawan Malhotra,even if Vijay Raaz as the abusive Haryanvi ‘thulla’ comes off more caricature than real,as does the ‘jamadarin’,played by the excellent Divya. Rishi Kapoor effortlessly and superbly creates the still-alive ‘nazaakat’ and decay of the ‘nawabi’ traditions of Delhi Chhe.

And this return of the native has to be Abhishek’s most convincing starring role: he manages the transition from the cool NY dude to a potential Old Delhi resident with panache.

You wish,though,that Mehra hadn’t short-changed the refreshingly natural Sonam,who is all girl: she deserved much more screen time.

In the end,‘Delhi 6′ remains a film which promises more than it delivers,but with a message that bears repeating: sometimes,it is possible to come home again.

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