Delhi-6 (Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra, 2009)
The story of an NRI returning, willingly or unwillingly, to India, only to ultimately find him- (or her-) self has been done countless times in Hindi cinema. It's a kind of patriotic film carrying the message that no matter where you were born, if you have Indian blood, “there's no place like home...” or, if you prefer, “phir bhi dil hai hindustani”.
(I'm pretty sure this trope isn't exclusive to Indian cinema either. Think about Hollywood films where, for example, a New York businesswoman returns to her rootsy Southern hometown to learn a life lesson/find herself – it maybe is less patriotic but it's a similar theme).
Anyway. I had seen Delhi-6 years ago when it first released and managed to forget just about everything about it. Second time round and I am stunned as to how anyone could fault this charming, beautiful, well-made film; populated as it is with interesting, well drawn characters who are played by some of the best actors in the industry.
Such as Rishi Kapoor! He is WONDERFUL as Ali Baig.
The first half of Delhi-6 unfurls deliciously languidly, as American-born and raised Roshan (Abhishek Bachchan) volunteers to accompany his sick grandmother (a still stunning Waheeda Rehman) back to Delhi, because if she is dying, that is where she chooses to die. We experience Delhi through Roshan's eyes – it's not quite as magical as India is to Shahrukh Khan in Swades, where he hears music and bursts into joyful song on arrival – but for anyone who has travelled to a country with foreign customs and culture, his mixture of awe and trepidation will be familiar. Roshan revels at first in the crowded alleyways and chaotic bustle of Chandni Chowk, taking photo after photo on his cellphone, and meeting the extended family of his grandmother who all instantly embrace him as their own. He attends a Ram Leela with the rest of the community (which will serve as a narrative device in itself throughout the film, as well as just being gorgeous and an epic tale of good versus evil):
That's Ram aiming an arrow at Ravan, by the way.
But it's not all just a happy holiday. Slowly, amid the charm and colour and bustle that is so alluring to Roshan, the frustrations and problems of the place start to show themselves. The power cuts off every night at 8pm, and the water is unreliable. Roshan encounters problems with corruption, attitudes to caste, and arranged marriage, that do not gel with his own Western ideas.
And then there's the Black Monkey.
From the moment Roshan arrives in Delhi, the biggest news story dominating the city is of “The Black Monkey” - a creature terrorising the residents.
The story grows more and more out of control, with hysteria around “The Black Monkey” building to fever pitch. How the “Black Monkey” affects the Delhi-6 community forms the backbone of the 2nd act of the film, where the community, family spirit that Roshan has come to love and embrace in India breaks down into secular violence, pitting neighbours and friends against each other.
My one complaint is that it does get a tad preachy towards the end, but I didn't really mind, given the overall calibre of the performances and the loveliness of the film.If you've let 'meh' reviews put you off this one in the past, GO AND WATCH IT NOW.