‘I am an American!’ proclaims Roshan mid way through the film, explaining why he has to go back; ‘My life is there.’ However it does not take long for Roshan to realise that home is where his heart is and that he has lost his heart somewhere in the lanes of Delhi-6. So much so that he admits later on that ‘India works!’ amidst all the chaos.
Welcome to life in Delhi-6, or in other words, Old Delhi where life still goes on with its own dynamics even in the face of modernism - the kind that we find outside our doorstep in every city in India. There is a Delhi-6 in every nook of India and that is why the film is truly about us. Director Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra decides it is time that we looked at ourselves in the mirror before pointing fingers. The narration of Delhi-6 kicks off in full swing as US resident Roshan (Abhishek Bachchan) volunteers to take his ailing grandmother (Waheeda Rehman) back to India. Though we are given the reason why the family would not go back to India ever again, we never really know why Roshan steps in.
Like the pious at the Ganges, Roshan soon finds himself immersing in the traditions and culture that the country has to offer. He tries to blend with the community and is surprised at the love and warmth that the place offers. He realizes that his grandmother is so much at home here, thus justifying her wishes to live her last few years back at Delhi.
This confidence though comes shattering down when Roshan realizes that everything is not picture perfect as the pictures in his camera (which I thought got more screen time than many of the other characters). Slowly snap-snap, Roshan learns that beneath all this lie the true colors. It comes in the form of ignorance, prejudice, hatred and malice, sometimes soaked in saffron, at times green. And all that takes to expose these people is something as frivolous as a monkey man.
Surely that would be enough to send him packing back to America. Right? If only he had not fallen for the cute girl next door, Bittu (Sonam Kapoor).
The same cards are played by Mehra yet again. Just like we saw in Rang De Basanti, a life of a group of ordinary folk is changed in one way or another, thanks to the entry of a foreign element. If it was a documentary filmmaker Sue McKinley that did the trick in Rang De Basanti, this time it is NRI Roshan who walks in the same shoes. And this time around Mehra is happy using Ramayana instead of the freedom movement in order to draw parallels. However, got to admit, it does not work completely.
Here too Mehra takes it one step further. This time he touches on a whole lot more, from caste to fickle politicians. He mocks religion and all that jazz, and the superstitions and traditions that come with it. Even the ’tulsis’ and the reverent cows are not spared. Add to that the influence of reality television or the media. So do not be fooled into thinking that this is one of those movies that is all about a NRI falling in love with the corn fields and glasses of lassi. Here it is this outsider that brings in cognizance and rationality to the ensuing chaos.
But Rakeys Omprakash Mehra might manage to get away washing the laundry in public. Had it been a Boyle-like foreign hand behind it, we would have our own media hounding him and the moral police out on the streets the next day shouting slogans. So no takers? Beware, for Mehra opts to strip the common Indian, laying bare the hypocrisy and incoherence that precede love and tolerance.
He uses the common folk of ‘puraani-dilli’ to achieve this effect. Thankfully we are spared of one of those loud designer set pieces of Priyadarshan. So the folks are not as loud, or slapstick prone. They are kept real for most parts, though only comical enough to highlight the satire.
As expected, the supporting cast does deliver the goods. The characters are really not well sketched out, but they all chip in with their best. Veterans like Rishi Kapoor, Om Puri, Pran and Waheeda Rahman goes about their task with elan. Even lead lady Sonam Kapoor does manage to hold well in the ensemble, though the role is hardly meaty.
But the ones who do manage to impress are the ones in smaller but yet more significant roles. Vijay Raaz as the imperious ‘public servant’, Divya Dutta as the spunky jalebi or Atul Kulkarni as the naïve Gober are all wonderful talents on display. Deepak Dobriyal who plays the role of Momdu also deserves a special mention, as he owned several of those sequences that involved him.
The mixed bag however, turns out to be the writing department handled by Mehra and lyricist Prasoon Joshi. Sure, the dialogues are great and several of them do get you in splits. But the script had the tendency to be a lot wayward and episodic. It becomes evident that they were trying to string up together a lot of ideas and messages, using the real life incidents of the monkey man to their advantage.
To make matters worse, the central character of Roshan is not established well and as a result one does not exactly connect with him. He is thrown into the turmoil, with a lot of his actions left unanswered. It worked well in Rang De Basanti because we were not supposed to connect to Sue’s character and she is only used as a plot device to introduce us to the real subjects. Here Roshan’s character ends up making the sacrifice trying to be that medium. Even the love story between Roshan and Bittu is found wanting.
The editing was all over the place and did not complement well. It looks like a rushed job, and seems a lot of scenes were left back at the editing table. Even the interval point plays out awkwardly. The leisurely pace of the film changes as we head to the final few reels, only to slow down again for preachy overtones and an obligatory romantic pit stop. Even the encounter that Roshan has with a particular person he hardly knew through life did not seem convincing enough, in spite of all its religious subtexts. As the director tries to switch gears from the satire mode to more dramatic and emotional domain, it tends to lose footing.
Amidst all this chaos, the music score emerges as a blessing, blending in and elevating the proceedings. Rahman has dished out a thali of sorts, throwing up various genres in his soundtrack. And in the hands of Mehra, it is ensured that the music is better presented, than mere eye candy pop numbers. While ‘Masakali’ draws in the crowd, it is wonderful to see how ‘Rehna Tu’ plays out, as a wonderful ode to the city that we embrace.
Delhi-6, might not go on to create the kind of impact that Rang De Basanti did. However even with its rickety screenplay and weak characterizations, it still is a lane worth strolling through. It gives enough to ponder about as we take in the good with the bad. And more importantly it attempts to show us our home, both honestly and earnestly. And that, my friends, is very much the need of the hour!