Beth and Pitu both have some interesting things to say about their favorite movies in a while (Oye Lucky, Lucky Oye and Dev D, respectively), specifically about the central characters and why they like them so much. Reading it makes me rethink Delhi 6 – the movie that could well have been a favorite of mine if its last 20 minutes or so didn’t aggravate me so much, I’m loath to even term it a noble failure.
Unlike the protagonists of the two movies above (both of which I adored, by the way, flaws and all) Delhi 6‘s Roshan is A Hero to the max. He loves his grandma, he has a sense of humor, he’s kind, polite and well-mannered, he’s good with kids, he stands up for the downtrodden, he’ll take the contempt of the entire neighborhood rather than rat out a guy he doesn’t really care for, and he’ll even sacrifice himself in an appropriately bloody fashion to save the people he loves (much as they don’t deserve it!) from their own actions.
Any day now, I expect to hear Jesus has sued for copyright infringement.
Therefore, by rights, Roshan > hamster-on-a-materialistic-wheel Lucky+ whiny-junkie-loser Dev. So why then does Roshan’s movie suck so much?
1. Curse of the Perfectionistas – The Perfect Human Being is a thing of admiration, but he suffers from one flaw: he’s boring. Perfection offers no surprises, it has no twisty bits in its soul that make you gasp, no dark shades that makes you secretly identify with it and hug that knowledge to yourself, scared to admit it for fear of what it reveals about you… perfection never pops out at you and grabs you by the throat.
It’s why Prince Charming is the least interesting member of the Cinderella story, why fairy tales invariably revolve around the scrubby third son who needs to pull something extraordinary out of a box if he wants a shot at his father’s fortune, why Snow White’s relationship with the dwarfs overshadows her love story and why the Beast is such a wonderful character for Beauty to tame.
Perfect Roshan with his Perfect Name and his Perfect Ideas about the Perfect World is kind of a drag. I’d like to pay Rakeysh O. Mehra the compliment of imagining that this was probably deliberate – his very blandness plays up the vitality of the neighborhood in which he finds himself, flaws and all.
Tellingly, the only time I ever liked him as a character (Abhishek Bachchan as an actor is always charming and I like him just fine which isn’t the issue here) was when he yelled at his grandmother for acting like a child after his feelings were hurt. In that moment, Roshan is a real person with real feelings and you feel for him.
2. Mirror Mirror – This was, to me, the most offensive part of the movie. That’s right, “offensive”. If all you wanted to do was treat me like I was a five year old in the last 20 minutes, why on earth did the movie go to all that trouble for the preceding two hours?
The scenes from the Ramayan for instance – they were absolutely brilliant. Their staging, the way it punctuated the events of the movie, its resonance. And for some reason, Mehra chose to make the play more cinematic than the actual movie – that horrible village idiot with the broken mirror was straight out of some first year drama student’s version of a brilliant street play. A talentless hack of a first year drama student’s version of a brilliant street play.
It’s all the more heartbreaking when you think of all the other stuff that went on with Gobar, especially his complex relationship with Jalebi. All that, and you come away with a lasting impression based on that stupid mirror. Atul Kulkarni deserved better.
3. The Bachchanalia – It really deserves a term of its own, don’t you think? A name for the maxim that no movie starring a person from the Bachchan family, especially father or son, is ever complete without at least a cameo from another member of that family.
Even though I don’t think it’s cute or necessary, my objection to the use of Amitabh Bachchan as Grandpa on a Cloud is not merely stylistic. It’s that it leads to precisely the kind of laziness that ran through that scene.
Maybe I got it all wrong, but wasn’t the point of Roshan’s journey from “I’m an American” to “India works” that he is able to find his own reality in the world that he is thrust into? He really didn’t need a Gandalf at that point to guide him home. He’d pretty much worked it out for himself and that was his central value as the Goody Two Shoes Outsider:
Unlike the rest of the Delhi 6 crowd, Roshan sees his heritage for what it is and is able to appreciate it (and be outraged at it) without surrendering to the sentimentality that inflames passions in that neighborhood; he is not a slave to the past. He falls in love with the people in that lane in spite of the associations it holds for his family, in spite of their opinion of him based on the past when he wasn’t even born and things beyond his control… not because of it.
The Mehra that came up with that Dil Gira Dafatan sequence is clearly a man who could have come up with a far more interesting and challenging climax. Instead, he went for the cheese and gave us father and son on a bench coupled with an exposition scene that patted us all on our heads and told us to go home and play with our dolls, dreaming of the day when we’ll all grow up to run the world coz that’s when the rivers will flow with chocolate, trees will grow candy and every day will be Christmas.
That’s the kind of thing that seriously pisses me off as a viewer – it’s one thing when I’m served dross from the beginning so I know what I’m getting, another when you raise my expectations with subtly drawn characters and then crap all over it.
And that’s really the problem, isn’t it? Expectation. Delhi 6 is that symphony that sounds absolutely perfect when you play it in your head, but the orchestra butchers it every time they attempt it. They’re probably doing the best they can, but it’s simply not good enough.