I watched a superb film yesterday. This particular film is a bit of a departure for me. Not that I watched an Indian film; that’s not uncommon for me. Instead, the departure is that I chose to write about it.
Delhi-6 was directed by Rakesh Omprakash Mehra. This movie is not about a sports team, nor a disco, nor a bar. Delhi 6 is actually a postal code signifying a specific neighborhood. The actual code is Delhi 110006.
This 2009 film was a thoughtful story, and was so special visually that I had to share it with you. The story begins in New York, with an American man, Roshan, of Indian ancestry, deciding to accompany his ailing grandmother back to India, so she might die on the soil on which she was born. And so within minutes, we arrive in Delhi India.
Roshan, played by Abhishek Bachchan, is initially overwhelmed by the sights and sounds of Chandni Chowk, one of Delhi’s oldest neighborhoods. He suffers a bit of the fish-out-water syndrome as he’s not used to the tastes and flavors as well as the traditions and customs of the locals. He views everything through his New Yorker’s eyes and mindset.
Though he is heartily welcomed by his grandmother’s friends, neighbors, and extended family, his entry into India is not easy. We are soon introduced to an assortment of folks. There’s a police constable who will manhandle people first and ask questions later.
There’s the beautiful Bittu who has her heart set on winning the Indian Idol TV reality show and heading for Mumbai (Bombay) to pursue a career as a movie star and pop idol.Her conservative father has other plans for her starting with an arranged marriage.
Bittu is a determined and strong willed girl. She will not settle for life as her parents want it. Nor does she wish to become a spinster like her cousin.
She’s set her sights on stardom and won’t accept any alternatives. Roshan befriends and counsels her. He even intercedes when he should not.
Other assorted characters include Jalebi, a woman scorned by the locals as a low-caste person, who cannot be permitted to enter anyone’s home publicly, but privately she is on much more intimate terms with some men in the neighborhood. There’s a money-lender, a local politician who will co-opt any kind of public gathering to promote herself, a Muslim sweets-seller, a Muslim cleric, a Hindu priest, and other people who will interact with Roshan.
The Chandni Chowk neighborhood itself serves as the backdrop but there’s always the cultural clash of old India and the new India going on. While we see gleaming new subway trains, roving tv news reporters whose on location reports are uploaded to a satellite link and broadcasted instantly, stock markets, and internet as the accoutrements of the modern world, the ‘old India’ still exists side by side with the New India in the same neighborhood.
While some workers commute to their jobs on high-speed rail links, others must deal with and accept huge traffic delays brought about by a sacred cow giving birth to a calf right at a busy intersection. People flock to religious festivals like the Rama Leela to watch the old stories be re-enacted on stage, then go home to watch reality TV shows.
People might gather for a prayer meeting (pooja) at a neighbor’s home, while other characters are having an affair. Atop all of this there might be a power outage or a loss of running water at any time. And so life goes on in Chandni Chowk, in Delhi, and across India.
I am not personally inferring that these loss of services and infra-structure difficulties are the norm, I am only stating that the director brings these to our attention to show how disruptions can occur, and at inopportune times.
But within these people, the age-old sectarian enmity of Hindu vs Muslims still exists. It’s not out there for all to see all the time, but per the film’s auteurs, it is there slowly and quietly flowing beneath the surface, As does the division between higher and lower castes, and between the wealthy and poor.
Director Mehra believes that all people have both good and evil within them. And that under certain circumstances and provocations, the relatively peaceful co-existence wherein people of different faiths and beliefs may live together harmoniously despite the close quarters, can be quickly shattered with the calm replaced by chaos.
He shows us that the understanding quickly turns to misunderstanding. That hot-blooded zealots emerge from within peaceable and law-abiding citizens. And that disaster is never too far away.
Whether or not he succeeded in getting his message across is a question that is still being argued by movie critics. Whether or not his choice of the so-called Black Monkey (Kala Bandar), an Indian version of the western concept of a ‘boogeyman‘, worked as the hot-button dramatically or not is another discussion that you might have after seeing this film.
But there will be no dissenting opinion or thoughts about the strength of the movie which are the amazing visuals.
You can purchase this film from Amazon.com or rent it from Netflix.