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Reconsidering Delhi 6

15 Mar

dilli6

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.

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23 Comments

Posted by on March 15, 2009 in Entertainment, Movies, Review

 

23 responses to “Reconsidering Delhi 6

  1. Adithya

    March 16, 2009 at 12:21 am

    Oh, hehe, the father and son on bench sequence actually made the last 20-25 minutes bearable for me. It kind of saved the whole in your face climax. It’s probably got to do with the surreal nature of the whole thing. Not the scene but the memories of a very similar(same!) sequence in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows between Dumbledore and Harry. Well, it is just fanboy love, not justified, so never mind.
    What I didn’t understand was why was the climax such a turn off for everyone who loved the1 hr 45 min or so before it.

    I did not see Roshan as a messiah. Until the crappy end of course. I thought he was just being the observer, as we were, through him. So, the perfection didn’t really bother me. Or rather his was the relatively weaker(written) characters. And I thought the intention behind Dafatan was brilliant but second half of the song poorly executed. Anyway, I wish people cut Mehra some slack. Just because f one climax some people consider RDB to be flash in the pan. It’s like calling A Wednesday a bad movie because of the irresponsibility of the message.

     
  2. Mamma Mia! Me a Mamma?!?

    March 16, 2009 at 4:59 am

    “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.”

    This sums up perfectly everything I’ve ever felt about a Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni book.

    And yes, I loved Delhi6 except for the last 20 minutes, when it all went phoos! for me. Everything leading to it however was something else!

     
  3. Jawahara

    March 16, 2009 at 6:11 am

    Now I need to actually rent this film and watch it. Only then will I understand all the references in your review. Mirrors, cameos, Amitabh on a cloud? Huh?

    Mamma mia, I’m glad I’m not the only one who feels the same way about Chitra Divakaruni’s books. Thanks!

     
  4. Simi

    March 16, 2009 at 8:25 am

    Honestly I did not think that the climax of Delhi 6 was that bad / preachy etc.
    Infact some of the movies Delhi 6 is being compared to had far more pathetic endings
    RDB’s climax was completely over the top and it made me squirm in my seat
    Swades’s second half was so unbearable that I actually walked out of the hall.
    Btw Roshan was much more realistic than SRK ..an observer who gets pulled into ‘India’ with all her imperfections
    Have you been in the midst of any communal riot in our country?..don’t you wish someone would tell the people in very simple language that you really don’t need to fight!
    SAD when people don’t appreciate this..call it preachy instead..

     
  5. shenoyn

    March 16, 2009 at 10:39 am

    I guess I don’t understand much about movies except that a movie should tell a story. All bits of the movie which don’t do that, or do it sloppily, are irritants, if you ask me.

    By that yardstick, that dream sequence and the bench in heaven sequence were not quite it. Cute, especailly the dream sequence, but what is it telling us, other than the subliminal message “This director is Great”?

    I was frankly irritated by the lack of story-telling and especially the big let down about Gobar and Jalebi. Infact, the movie should have been about Gobar and Jalebi. But then, this is what you get from ivory tower directors who remember everything except that their main business is to entertain.

    Oye Lucky and Dev D were MILES ahead.

     
  6. pitu

    March 16, 2009 at 1:44 pm

    Hated the whole movie :-p So frickin sub-standard.

     
  7. Amrita

    March 16, 2009 at 2:12 pm

    Adithya – you’re ruining HP for me!! 😛 For me it was like an absolutely beautiful cake that’d been driving me out of my mind with its delicious smell and then I bit into it and got cardboard wrapped in whipped cream. Unfortunately it’s the taste that remains with me long after I spit it out.
    If Roshan had been able to remain as some kind of observer or even if he’d sacrificed himself and Gobar hadn’t made his absolutely dreadful expository speech, then it might still have saved the day. I thought RDB was terribly manipulative towards the end but it didn’t attack me with sledgehammers so I actually liked it.
    That said, I’m one of maybe five people who thought Aks was a noble failure so I’m not sounding the death alarm for Mehra yet. 😀

    Mamma – Lolz! You’re so right!

    J – I think you’d enjoy it, right up until it goes to hell in a handbasket. It has a certain lazy charm to it that’s very nice until you see where it led.

    Simi – actually from what I remember of the Mandal riots in Delhi when I was a kid, if anybody had pulled a Roshan-ish stunt then they wouldn’t have made it out alive. And they would have given Gobar a few licks with their sticks as well just to get it out of their system, mirror or no mirror. That’s one of the reasons why the climax sucked – the movie’d been doing such a good job of showing how things are, and then it suddenly remembers its patriotic duty and crams it into the last 20 mins. Which might be fine on paper, but cinematically it sucks.
    I wasn’t crazy about the second part of Swades either, but I should point out that SRK wasn’t an American discovering India, he was an NRI and as such he was fine although once again, the exposition got me down.
    Glad you enjoyed Delhi 6 though.

    Shenoyn – damn, a movie about Gobar and Jalebi and their unconventional love story is a movie I would see!
    Although my problem with him isn’t that the dream sequence exists, it’s that it exists in such a lazy manner. I don’t mind cliches and things, I just expect it to be reinterpreted in some way if the director is someone like Mehra.

    Pitu – yes, I read your thoughts on the subject 😀

     
  8. pitu

    March 16, 2009 at 4:59 pm

    Ok, saying ‘gobar’ and ‘jalebi’ in the same sentence is making me want to throw up :-p Ew!

     
  9. pri

    March 16, 2009 at 8:20 pm

    you know i’m surprised the ‘dil gira’ sequence didn’t get much blogger love. i loved that part of the movie.

     
  10. Ramsu

    March 17, 2009 at 12:32 am

    You’re right about him being too nice. The whole damn thing might have worked better if Roshan had been dispassionate, maybe a bit of an a-hole as well, but ended up trying to do something nice and gotten killed. Just plain dead and gone, without the jalebis at King’s Cross experience, I might add.

    Maybe Mehra also had a problem with expectations. For a lot of people I know, the ending of RDB was a bit problematic. (I think he got the right idea, but botched up the execution.) Did he tack on a happy ending here just because people had a problem with that one?

    Even the bit with the mirror — if he had used it only in the end credits, with no prior reference, it might have been interesting. Especially if Roshan had died in the end. As an isolated sequence it works, but what precedes it is the problem.

     
  11. M

    March 17, 2009 at 11:42 am

    Finally watched the movie this weekend, and I found it OK really…my biggest gripe with it was that Abhi was the wrong actor to play that role. It really needed someone who could convincingly portray a young ABD, with no experience of India, let alone CC. Abhi looked too at home there for much of the movie, and his odd ABD-isms looked tacked on (Look Dadi, golden deer!) I also felt that he was supposed to be a college-age kid maybe? Certainly one without a job or other responsibilities in the US, which is why he was able to be in India without a real timetable – and again, Abhi looks too mature for that. (as did Aamir in RDB – he looked way too old for that role as well).

    Overall, an OK movie, nothing to write home about…but then I felt the same way about RDB as well…and AKS, which Sony TV must have got cheap (they keep showing it on Max) is again, barely OK…so my expectations of Mehra weren’t great anyway.

    M

     
  12. DewdropDream

    March 17, 2009 at 12:52 pm

    Glad to know there are two others who feel as I do about Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s books. Phew.

     
  13. pitu

    March 17, 2009 at 1:48 pm

    Spices! Spices! Talk to me! Ohhhhh talk to me!!

    😉

     
  14. Amrita

    March 18, 2009 at 4:56 pm

    Pri – me too! It was the one thing that jumped out at me. Even variety couldn’t stop raving about it.

    Pitu – well see, that one, you knew was going to be horrendous right from the blurb. Should’ve skimmed it at your local B&N same as me.

    DDD – oh, lots more I should think. I don’t know why, but women over 60 seem to be her biggest fans.

    M – oh dear, yes, if you didnt much care for RDB then this is definitely not the movie for you.

    Ramsu – thus proving my writing teacher’s maxim: Exposition Kills. But yeah, Roshan needed to die except that wouldn’t have been hopeful and hopeful is what Mehra was shooting for apparently.

     
  15. sachita

    March 19, 2009 at 12:44 am

    I never found Roshan really that perfect, i mean as things were happening around him, wasnt he just standing still for 3/4th of the movie?

    i do agree with other two things, rdb was lot lot… more craftier than this. heck the movie aks which i didnt even understand had a tighter screenplay. #3 I suspect is because u cant release a hindi movie without amitabh’s voice or cameo. it is there in rulebooks.

    I also feel may be some charming hero could have helped us connect with the scenes better:)

    and that genda phool came out of the blue instead of with the flow. such a cute song shud not be wasted. it was sung by right people but just was it doing at that point of time in the movie, i dont get it.

     
  16. sachita

    March 19, 2009 at 12:48 am

    and yeah that roshan’s role – he doesnt seem like an abd from any angle. that character was an out and out indian than an abd.

     
  17. pitu

    March 19, 2009 at 2:15 pm

    I have always felt about Aby that while talented, he is a lazy actor who doesn’t bother to rise above his character/lines. He coasts along…

     
  18. Amrita

    March 19, 2009 at 3:15 pm

    Sachita & Pitu – I was going to ride into ABaby’s defense but now I think about it, Mani Ratnam is the only director in whose movies I’ve liked him and that’s not really saying much is it? I mean, he made Arvind Swamy look good. Hmm, sochna padenga.

     
  19. pitu

    March 19, 2009 at 3:59 pm

    Swami was hawt in Roja in the ciggie scene and the entire ‘Ye haseen vadiyan’ song! 🙂

     
  20. Kabir

    March 19, 2009 at 4:23 pm

    Delhi -6 does have its fare share of flaws but its a msut watch.

     
  21. sachita

    March 19, 2009 at 5:41 pm

    no, no, abhi has done well in bluffmaster, bnb and sarkar.

    but i agree with every word pitu says, thats exactly what i feel. he is talented but extremely lazy. may be he requires taskmaster all the time(mani is one from what i see).

    Esha deol is the only person who couldnt give a decent perf. even in Maniratnam movie.

     
  22. Beth

    March 22, 2009 at 4:57 pm

    Right, this is going in my short list of favorite movie posts by anyone anywhere ever. You’ve put your finger precisely on everything that bothered me in this movie and your descriptions are so perfectly evocative!

    Also: Bachchanalia as practice no, but as new and very useful vocabular, hells yes!

     
  23. Amrita

    March 24, 2009 at 1:47 pm

    Sachita and Pitu – but isn’t he essentially the same character in all those movies? Sort of variations on a theme and he does the theme really well but if you contrast Bunty (full disclosure: I didn’t like that movie all that much) to his character in Yuva, there is such a world of difference. Like Ash, I think Abhi really shines in movies where the director asks him to step up rather than play to his comfort zone.
    And yes, Esha Deol is a total waste of negative space.

    Kabir – it’s not for everybody certainly 😀

    Beth – Thank you! High praise considering the source!
    Bachchanalia is also a compliment when you think about it! Salman Khan does this too with his entire family, but the Bachchans are the ones with the heft to shoulder the origination of the process!

     
 
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