‘There is Mani Ratnam and then there are the rest’. A friend quoted my very words while ranking current directors from second position onwards. Raykesh Omprakash Mehra was one such name that came up, but with our minimum criteria of 3-4 films we decided to wait till Delhi 6 was out. I often argue with my buddies that the plot is the main ingredient in a movie much like baking a cake without flour. You may compromise on eggs or coloring, but without flour you don’t have anything. A few ridicule me by asking me to wake up and smell the air as story is not always important these days and even a set of conversations make a memorable movie. Well for me atleast that only ranks alongside a salad, though some salads are sublime. You may gorge on salads to argue with me, but nothing makes up for the main course. A more simpler metaphor from back home is making biryani without rice, you may go ahead but it’s only a salad then! This excessive food talk is only because I’m hungry after watching the movie and in spite of trying hard, food somehow finds it way into this post in the form of metaphors.
Raykesh Omprakash Mehra has a fetish for social messages which is clearly evident from his past two outings and this time he tries to deliver one as well. ‘Aks‘ was about the victory of good over evil and how defeating the enemy within was upto will power and metaphored by an eclipse. ‘Rang de basanti‘ focused on the awakening of the youth and raising their voice in protest which was metaphored as the souls of Bhagat Singh and team. Delhi 6 however tries to deal with a lot of topics like untouchability, superstitious beliefs, communal harmony, middle class dreams, urban legends, lost love, sibling rivalry and finally the discovery of oneself. Looking at this exhaustive list may entice you into believing that it is going to be a curry of human emotions. The way it stands is that the makers have bitten of more than what they could chew. Amongst all the sub plots, the ones that stand out are that of the imaginary monkey-man creating havoc and Abhishek’s discovery and later falling in love with his roots. Lets step away and go to our art class in school, what happens when you mix red and yellow? You get a bright orange but what if you mix all the colours in your paint box? Delhi 6, falls for the same thing where the makers try to talk of a lot of things while managing to lose focus of the story they set out to narrate.
The movie hasnumerous flashes of brilliance though like how they use the Ram-leela as a story telling vehicle. It begins with a pointer of how even Ramji has to wait and dance to the whims of our politicians before embarking to find Sita. They use the Shabari tale to illustrate how untouchability is still an issue and since Ramji is god ‘unko sab allowed hain‘. Lalaji’s wife rolls in bed with her illicit lover as the hapless remote switches channels each time their feet go over it, with suggestive lines playing on TV as the channels keep changing. The highlight being when they climaxing coincides with the Chandrayan launch and hence phallic references to the rocket! There is also the smart reference of Hanuman burning Lanka and connecting that to the urban legend of the monkey-man creating havoc in Delhi. There are many such flashes of brilliance that when put together don’t fit like the pieces of a jigsaw but seem more like a collage. Such flashes make for intelligent viewing but one has to remember how the rain is more loved and worshiped than its more powerful cousin,lighting. If flashes of directorial brilliance were good enough to make a good film then Ram Gopal Varma would be at the Kodak Theatre each year.
Abhishek plays the NRI accompanying his granny back to the desh and finds solace in the small pleasures of life. He doesn’t carry the film on his shoulders but is reduced to a mere character amongst others, probably on purpose. Sonam is a small town girl aspiring to be the next Indian Idol and a conservative middle class ladki serving chai to her obese suitor. She is symbolised by a dove whose wings are tied and Abhishek goads her to set the bird free. You know he is talking of the free spirit inside her, caged in her fathers wishes. The problem with Delhi 6 is that there are too many characters who all seem to get equal screen time heck even the dove gets a full song. A.R.Rahman would be the most pained to see only two songs of his mind blowing soundtrack being picturized and one of them was on a dove fluttering on a girls head. The other was handed over to an intern in a SFX lab as Chandni Chowk met New York. Cycle rickshaws, horses and a cow with its calf grace Times Square but you are lost in the only full song to spot the jarring inconsistencies. When the Abhishek is welcomed to India by the news of the kala-bandar you get the hint that the real focus isn’t going to be our leading man. The sub-plots are beautifully woven though as Mehra points questions at our beliefs, roads are blocked when a cow gives birth, people are terrorized by a non-existent monkey-man with a circuit board on its chest and springs attached to its feet. God-men try to gain some mileage by justifying the attack on a shop with claims that a temple once stood where a mosque stands now. The ugly side of thngs are revealed when communal groups begin to clash against each other and yesterdays friends are todays foes. Mehra holds it all very tightly till this point with some brilliant writing, how we wish what followed was in the same vein.
Mehra has aknack of leaving a bad taste in the mouth at the very end. If Aks had the BigB miraculously fight his inner demon as the moon eclipsed the sun and Rang De basanti had the police gun down a bunch of guys holed up in a radio station. In Delhi 6, Abhishek decides to stay back because of the very people that make this nation so endearing to him who later almost pound him to death. The very man who accuses that people abroad were only living in a shadow of their past, puts to use those very same values to fight superstitions and religion. Pardon me for being too cynical but holding a mirror to someone’s face and telling them that a part of the almighty resides in all of us, is like pushing the ‘aham bramhasmi‘ concept a bit too far. You sense that the train is coming of the rails when the man who was ready to give up everything for the people he began to love, has to pay for their ignorance with his life. The part where he briefly travels to heaven and shares a jalebi with his grandfather in the ecstasy of lament may seem too far fetched. However one may seem to forgive Mehra for the closing sequences as an aberration and just look towards the other parts. If you can look past the wobbling camera that signifies an attacking monkey, you may see the terrifically talented ensemble who put up a good show. Despite having a central plot and lack of screen time for the lead pair, Delhi 6 is worth watching for its holds a mirror to you and forces you to get rid of the monkey in you and get on with life!
(Images courtesy: Delhi 6)