Bollywood and culture in an emerging India
Delhi 6: Mehra’s mirror has many faces
“I like it so far,” I told him, “but I don’t see where this is going.”
I am so happy that Rakeysh Mehra did show me where he was going in the second half.
He weaves a cohesive story from a million plots, tells us a modern parable for our times and extracts some great performances from an ensemble cast — and he did it all in the best place possible — Delhi.
Like I said, Mehra tells us myriad stories in this film, but the main strand is that of Roshan (Abhishek Bachchan), who is introduced to the madness of Old Delhi on a trip home with his ailing grandmother.
The first half of the film is filled with colourful characters and we are introduced to them slowly as Roshan is, each revealing layers as the film progresses. There is no background — we are left to decipher these people for ourselves.
Also, for a large part of the film there isn’t a plot. It just seems like a lot of stories being told at the same time.
There are the warring brothers who live on two sides of the same wall, their wives who bond through a loose brick in the wall, the police inspector, a jalebi wallah, two adorable kids (watch out for the scene with Divya Dutta’s character and the two kids) and then there is Bittu.
Bittu is a Chandni Chowk girl who wants more. She wears salwar suits at home, changing into halter tops and wearing lipstick outside. She speaks chaste Hindi and calls Roshan “burger chaap”.
She also dreams of becoming something more, expressed in her desire to be the next ‘Indian Idol’, because she tells Roshan that’s the only way for a middle-class girl to achieve fame.
There is also mention of the monkey man menace, portrayed though grainy images on television (Mehra makes an astute comment on the media revolution in the country) and it’s talked about by almost every character. Watch how this seemingly minor plotline delivers the film’s main message.
Like I said, the first half seemingly meanders along several stories but Mehra ties up every thread in the end. It all comes together to tell us a modern fable for our times.
Mehra pays great attention to detail, and brilliantly uses the medium of the Ram Leela, played out on the grounds of the Old Fort to depict each major turning point in the film.
His love for the winding, cacophonous lanes of Old Delhi is reflected in every frame. Binod Pradhan’s camera prances, crawls and almost caresses these lanes, showing us a Delhi far removed from any preconceived notions you might have had of this city.
Sonam Kapoor has a great screen presence and does well in her scenes. Waheeda Rehman is luminous as Roshan’s grandmother. Every other cast member, from Deepak Dobriyal to Om Puri, Supriya Pathak, Atul Kulkarni and Vijay Raaz — they are all brilliant.
Bachchan, as the detached onlooker who gets sucked into his environment delivers one of his best performances. Watch out for him in the scene where he holds up a mirror to everyone — it is difficult not to be moved.
If there are any flaws, I would say Mehra tries to tell you too many stories at once, he could have done with a little less. Rishi Kapoor’s character for one and Rehman’s plot seem to get lost somewhere. Also, I wish he had chosen a different ending.
I won’t say more, except that this is a film that goes beyond the usual plotlines and characters to say so much more. Mehra holds up a mirror to each one of us and it is up to everyone to reflect on the image we see in it.