Monkey business in the old city! review of Delhi 6

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Rang De Basanti has to be a huge monkey riding on the shoulder of Rakeysh Om Prakash Mehra.  After making a film that supposedly became an anthem or sorts for energizing the youth, expectations were riding very high for Delhi 6.  The film had a good amount of hype and buzz and the music was already a winner.  So it was shocking to see the initial reviews that were mostly average.  It did help to reduce my expectations as I watched Delhi 6.

Delhi 6 is so much but could have been so much more.  Front and center in the casting is the city of old Delhi, Delhi – Postal code 6.  Living there is a microcosm of characters that could represent India – the warring brothers (Om Puri and Pawan Malhotra) with a wall down the middle of their house (I have cousins who live like that  ☺ ), a rich old seth (Prem Chopra) with his young wife, a muslim jalebi waala who is a Hanuman bhakt (Deepak Dobriyal), a benign rich man who plays pool and dishes out advice (Rishi Kapoor), a corrupt and swaggering policeman (Vijay Raaz), a simple minded fool who speaks profound words on occasion (Atul Kulkarni), a lower caste woman with a heart of gold (Divya Dutta), a sleazy photographer (Cyrus Sahukar), a fakir who goes around showing people their faces in a mirror, the women who do not war (Sonam Kapoor, Supriya Pathak, Aditi Rao, Sheeba Chaddha), the usual rabble rousing politicians, maulanas and other “holy” men, and kids who want to hurry up and grow up.  Into this mix is thrown the NRI Rohan (Abhishek Bachchan), when he brings his grandma (Waheeda Rahman) to her home so she can die happy!

The city teems and seethes around this mass of humanity, and each character is etched with enough back-story to make it interesting.  And it is all shown to us through the eyes of Rohan, as he uses his cell phone to capture everything from the namaaz at Jama Masjid, to cows undergoing parturition in the middle of the city street, to bells on the local temple.  There is a Ramlila running parallel to the story, at times introducing us to the NRI Rohan (Dadi, the golden DEEER!), introducing the politician who will later foment trouble, the warring brothers, the hypocrisy of revering Shabri while abusing Jalebi!   This Ramlila runs throughout the film at regular intervals and when the film cuts from the riots to the epic battle, the parallel is almost too obvious, although the most mesmerizing scenes of the Ramlila are in the soaring figures in this sequence.  The urban legend of Kaala Bandar – the mythical monkey man that terrorized Delhi in 2001 – is used by Mehra to set up a hokey McGuffin, representing at the same time the evil that resides within us all, and also the cause around which Hindus and Muslims will eventually rally and set aside their differences.  The film raises an issue a minute and takes on female choice in marriage, religious bigotry, casteism, superstitions, police corruption, and political machinations (Babri Masjid type scenario also raises its head)!  This plethora of issues obfuscates the already thin plot (does Bittu love Rohan?  Does Rohan love Bittu?), and really only leaves a teeming city as the leading star in the story.

The performances are excellent by the ensemble cast of veterans, led by Waheeda Rahman.  Deepak Dobriyal, Divya Dutta, Rishi Kapoor and Vijay Raaz deserve special mention for outstanding well etched performances.  Sonam Kapoor looks luminous, but does not have much opportunity to show off her acting skills.  Abhishek is a bewildered NRI with a confused accent.  He has his moments, but they are few and far in between, and more often than not he is a mere presence.  Mehra is to be faulted here for stripping his lead of the considerable charm the man possesses, and making him a mere onlooker and a bystander in the city.  When he does spring into action, it is in a King Kong suit (do not ask why or even HOW) with a motherboard and blinking LEDs, and by then it is too little too late.  This is followed by a heavenly jalebi eating episode with his grandfather (played by Amitabh), but by then it is verging on purgatory for this viewer.

Delhi 6 could have been a worthy successor of RDB, and even a better film (because I am not overly fond of the politics of RDB), but it ends up as a too-sincere and ultimately un-engaging exercise.   RDB entertained and did it very well until the final moments, but D 6 is too scattered, cloyingly sincere, and quite hokey in parts.  It is a smorgasbord of issues and characters that in the end never come together to make a satisfying feast.  2.5/5

http://pakhipakhi.wordpress.com/2009/02/23/monkey-business-in-the-old-city-delhi-6-review/