Delhi-6 (2009): Focused energy is thy name

A convincing act in which Madan Gopal (Om Puri) dissects to Roshan (Abhishek Bachchan) his understanding of the effects of lightning on clouds in the presence of rain is all it takes to not be bothered by what is perhaps the biggest criticism of this film -- that it tries too hard and often to get the point across, and gets preachy in so doing. Perhaps it is just self-aware in its singular focus, and chooses to concentrate its energy there? Perhaps, as Jalebi (Divya Dutta) says, there's little harm in fooling fools (but only if they let live!)?

Because the characters discuss physics in that pivotal scene noted above (which also carries the risk of being perceived as rather silly; it is funny regardless), let's first discuss this film with respect to energy, defined as one's capacity to work. I was taught it stems from four base sources: body, mind, emotions, and spirit. If you've seen Delhi-6, you know there's plenty of each involved. Consider the first 10 minutes alone. A failing body and related emotions lead the protagonists to an environment with interesting (to say the least) minds that maintain good enough spirits to keep our hero engaged.

There's lack of equilibrium in individual and collective energies transferred within and outside that territory in Delhi allocated zip code 6, because of an uneven juxtaposition of the use of these four sources. This begs for trouble. And trouble it instigates. Except that it's not entirely wasteful, and has its share of positives for those who are willing to play along and give it a chance.

Just like the core issue with working long hours is that time is a finite resource (this might not be a good analogy upcoming, but it's been rough these past couple of months), the core issue with Delhi-6 might just be that it tries to remind us that so is intellect, perhaps even rationalism and resolve. In other words, it offers, at the very least, a reminder that we need to rethink the focus of our energies (if that makes sense).

While this might well have been a popular stance a couple of decades ago, it is no longer one when done without subtlety. And that's fair, except that while perceptions in film consumerism have shifted over the years (at least in urban India), the country's political and law enforcement infrastructures have only gotten worse. So much so that many would rather hear of it from a nasty, self-proclaimed representative of the aam aadmi (common man) as in A Wednesday (2008), than from a Non-Resident Indian (NRI), born to a Hindu father and Muslim mother, who only endangers his life, and expresses his frustration with words, not explosives.

Rants (pun intended) aside, there's something to be said of the ease with which the groups presented in the film are blinded in their real-life persona as well. There's hardly anything fictitious about communal conflict in independent, pre- and twenty-first century India, and the fact is the country is infested with people such as those portrayed in this film. So, I rather enjoyed the use of a kaala bandar (Monkey Man; literally 'black monkey') to get the point across. Although its roots are anything but enjoyable. This news story and this one have more background. (Aside: Someone please remind the haters the real bandar is within them, and not the one depicted here.)

It works to an extent, but sadly, has some difficult to ignore distractions along the way.

As has been said on countless occasions elsewhere, Delhi-6 has a fine supporting cast who are more than up to their mark in delivering effective performances. When it's not Dadi (Waheeda Rehman) -- the word means paternal grandmother -- or Jalebi (Divya Dutta), it's Gobar (Atul Kulkarni) or Ali Baig (Rishi Kapoor). It's always good to see a Lagaaniite, Daya Shankar Pandey does the honors here. There is no way to do them all justice, know that there is an obvious abundance of acting talent throughout, a definite complement to the final product.

Which makes the weakness in Abhishek Bachchan's character Roshan stand out glaringly enough to where it hurts. The film would have been better had it positioned him as a British Indian than an Indian American. That English accent wasn't working at all. (I know those who speak very good English with a perfectly American accent and very good Hindi/Urdu too, so the argument that none can be fluent in both languages and retain their respective authentic styles doesn't work at all for me.) Besides, the Kaala Bandar song (complete with its silly choreography toward the end; I actually enjoyed all the leaping around on rooftops by night -- but that might be because it reminds me of the Spider-Man 3 for Playstation 3 ;) includes a significant dose of English, and it's not of the American kind either! This character tweak alone would have significantly enhanced the film for me. (Open-mindedness is hardly unique to America and us Americans, so yes, I see it working just as well if Roshan were from London and not New York City.)

Directors are to cater to their actors' strengths, and one cannot help but feel this film wasn't aligned with Abhishek's verbal portfolio. It's a shame, really, because with respect to body language, Abhishek has probably done better here than in any other film I've seen him in. This, however, is not what makes the climax somewhat ineffective too (a relatively intelligent NRI's wardrobe, guest appearance, and goofy behavior in the last scene are).

Sonam Kapoor is gorgeous and not bad at all as Bittu, so full of energy! Masakkali the dove is underused, although I liked the metaphor for Bittu's desire for independence from the sociocultural Delhi-6 norm.

The art direction and cinematography are splendid, and offer a visual feast. The dialogue is engaging. The music (A. R. Rahman) and its integration in most cases are fun as well (except Kaala Bandar and Genda Phool, especially found the latter annoying). The integration of the Ram Leela is quite fantastic, as is the panoramic view of Jama Masjid. A hadith of the Prophet Mohammad says that he who discovers himself has discovered God. The beautiful qawwali Maula has a subtle reference to this quote, Mujh mein hi woh khushboo thi, jis se tum ne milwaaya (I embodied the guidance I sought; khushboo is literally translated as fragrance). Contrast with lyrics to Meherbaan from the 2008 soundtrack to the unreleased Ada.

If it appears I'm trying to have it both ways, it might be because I am. I love the foundational layers to Delhi-6, and I don't believe casting or execution are primarily to blame for its pitfalls. On the other hand, I can't help but feel this settled for much less than it had the potential for. Rang De Basanti by the same director, Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra, was much more effective at sending the message across, but is it fair to compare any film to the 2006 classic?

Yet, overall, I think there's more than enough in Delhi-6 to warrant at least one viewing. It makes for a fairly good and engaging experience. Treat it as fiction with a message for those who need it (and if you aren't convinced it's required for a good number of people in the region (and indeed elsewhere, for us too, because getting better never stops), a quick check of the headlines in Indian political journalism around election time -- like, now! -- might be a good place to start), and it will not disappoint. It's only fair to acknowledge a sincere and energetic filmmaking effort, which is where it is at its strongest.

Movie rating: 3.5/5 (Good!)

My classification: PG-13 (for language, some violence)

Music rating: Here's the music review. See thoughts on integration above.

Official website (and picture source):


Nicki said...

Thanks for the movie review. It's very thoughtful. I've heard bad things about the film but it could be that they expected more. Although I adore Abhishek, I'm more eager to watch the film for Sonam. Plus the music is wonderful!

dunkdaft said...

Quite insightful. Excellent analysis of physics.
The metaphor of black monkey is what I loved most in this flick. And that, was annoying to most people whom I came across, in here, india. So many people I met, were telling how the movie goes only after 'bandar' and that they felt was 'yawning'. And that hurts me the most. Not too many are ready to see what's in their inside.

One Lagaanite you missed....Raghuveer Yadav, and this time he was fulfilling his dream. Remember his dream was to be a singer??!!

I know this movie is a little bit preachy as everyone puts in. But there is much more relief in terms of visuals, performances and music, that we can't feel 'that' heavy. But yes, it falls short by RDB.

And there, you asked is it fair to compare? Never. RDB is never to be compared. Let it be a classic. Even if same cast and crew gets together again, they can never recreate such magic. So no comparison...

I think there is so much fuss about Abhishek in this. Tell me, which actor would you want to see in this one instead of him?

Anonymous said...

Great review! I've been meaning to see this but I was never able to work up the energy to go to the theatre. I heard through the grapevine that it might be released in American indie/art house cinemas, which would be nice. I'd love your opinion on that!

I totally agree on directors needing to cater to their actors strengths. This is why I don't believe that 'story is king' (to quote Luck By Chance) but should be flexible to accommodate changes like the American - English switch.

Saadia said...

Wow, your review is just as abstract as I found the movie. Just not my cup of tea, I guess. The kala bandar fiasco is so true of our societies, but so badly executed in the movie, I think.

The only saving grace was Rahman's music, once again, esp Genda Phool and Masakali. Sonam looks best, simple!

Anonymous said...

You didnt like Genda phool?!!

I loved the movie for all its assorted characters and the lovely cinematography. But overall, it should be one of those TV miniseries with each of the side-character's story getting proper attention. For a movie, it was just too wide a canvas as the PPCC review points out. Strangely enough, Abhishek's lack of American accent didnt bother me at all - his lack of shaving did! And Sonam looked way too young to be paired opposite him.

Anonymous said...

I will echo Saadia re: Sonam, who is ravishing. I loved every actor here- but the conclusion completely killed it for me. I do not agree about going in with no expectations- there have to be some expectations based on the actor's and director's bios. Ah well- maybe this oen will get better with time for me!

theBollywoodFan said...

Nicki: The music is splendid, but we knew that going in. The expectations of Delhi-6 were interesting. Every time a director delivers an innovative film that's as widely accepted as Rang De Basanti was, and every time he uses 'From the Makers of RDB' in the promos, the comparisons will abound. And they'll be fair. I just don't see how someone would expect another such film. Just doesn't happen, at least not back-to-back. Didn't happen with Swades after Lagaan (both by Ashutosh Gowariker) either. It's tough work to follow up on that level of success!

As you can tell, I found Delhi-6 satisfying to some extent, but then, I have always been the ideal audience for filmmakers :) I think the real issue with it for most is that there's not much that's novel about it. And that's true. Doesn't prevent it from being good enough to view, though.

Darshit: The 'kaala bandar' bit made it all more entertaining for me. I was just smiling through it all, even through the end, except until after Divya Dutta and Atul Kulkarni had that dialogue exchange in the climax. That's when things went downhill fast (and I know I shouldn't have been smiling during the climax, but you get the point). Ref: Raghuvir Yadav, of course! He's written the lines to the play in the movie, I hear.

Preachy it is, but for the people in the film, it certainly needed to be that. If it weren't, we'd all be wondering how those people understood! Having said that, from the standpoint of a mighty engaging film, this didn't work too well. And one could argue that the filmmakers didn't define their target audience well, and that would be a fair criticism. The major holes are in the script, if you ask me.

Agreed on Rang De Basanti. Remember how a segment of the RDB audience complained without really understanding the film's message that it encouraged violence? There was some ambiguity there. I wonder if that feedback influenced Mehra, because it's quite an about turn here, with nothing left to the audience.

Not sure if I agree on Abhishek, though. I think he did well given the elements, thought he made the film better in some ways, and I hold R. Mehra accountable for the issues with his character. However, I have been wondering whether a younger (and more 'American') actor like Imran Khan would have done better. Imran has spent a good amount of time right here in Los Angeles (he went to college here too), so he might have been a good option. Good for him from a career standpoint that he wasn't cast in it, I guess.

Filmi Girl: It would certainly align with the art house cinemas, Mehra's technical prowess combined with the majority of performances in this wouldn't be out of place. There's much to appreciate, the issues with it notwithstanding.

The little details do matter, and I was somewhat surprised that the accent issue came up to begin with. One can see they've put a lot of work into it, and something as trivial as an accent switch should not have been treated as lightly. And what's a good story without at least decent actor? Agreed!

theBollywoodFan said...

Saadia: That climax could definitely have been better, and although I haven't put much thought to how, I'm sure some we could come up with alternatives.

Why Abhishek felt the need to wear that wardrobe to toward the end, I have no clue. I'd much rather have had a good old dishoom dishoom sequence there, as unnatural as that would be for Abhishek's character, LOL. Anyone else agree/disagree? There's got to be a better and more classy way for man to fight for woman than to do what was done.
****End Spoiler****

I'll take that comment on the abstract as a positive ;) The music was great, and I liked how the unpredictable the intergation of the music was, yes! And Sonam...SubhaanAllah!

Bollyviewer: 'Genda Phool' kind of came from nowhere. I don't know why I felt that way. The wide variety of characters worked for me as well. I agree with the thought of having a TV mini-series! That'd be exciting, with all the posibilities! Maybe that issue of greater attention to them might have been solved had they gone the normal length of a typical Hindi film? Maybe this was 40 minutes too short? I certainly wouldn't have minded the extra time if it meant a better climax. We disagree on Abhishek, but that's understandable :)

Shweta: It's interesting, with Saawariya and this, and Sonam Kapoor validating that much glamor exists in simple traditional dress! ;) I agree with you on going in with no expectations not being a good approach at all, why would one even see the film otherwise? It's often tricky though, because after reading a few reviews, perceptions easily translate to group think, and the only way to avoid it is to 1) not read reviews, which I probably can't do (haven't tried, but aadat se majboor), or 2) see the movie on day 1, which is not always possible (unless it's an Aamir Khan film -- I've taken Fridays off from work for those ;) It's easy for me to not expect a Rang De Basanti or Lagaan, and you know why that is. For the rest, I'd easily fall into the trap!

Anonymous said...

Well, I'm highly intrigued after reading all that. A pity it's not on at my nearest multi-plex. I'll have to wait to rent it, I guess. Pity, it sounds like my kind of film.

Pitu said...

You finally saw it! I am still hating on it though ;-)

Bhargav Saikia said...

I really liked the way Genda Phool was picturised. I've heard some people saying that the songs are forced in the screenplay, to which I totally disagree. I felt songs like Maula and Rehna Tu gave depth to the movie, especially the latter. Rehna Tu's picturisation is very similar to RDB's Luka Chhupi, both are at unexpected places. I loved it! I've lived in Delhi for a few years, and as an ode to the city, Rehna Tu is beautiful :) I could feel Prasoon Joshi's words. This man is a genius at what he does.

I'm very very disappointed that Delhi6 hasn't been appreciated as much as it deserves to be. To me, the film is special, not only because of the city but also because it has wonderful characters to whom I could relate to instantly (even the two little kids!) and for the important message it gives to its audience through its two brilliantly executed metaphors (the Kala Bandar and the mirror). The way majority of the audience has interpreted the Kala Bandar, it was shocking, atleast to me!

I had to pinch myself to believe how people have reacted to the film as a whole. It's sad.

Leaving that aside, your analysis of the film is brilliant. Well done!

Anonymous said...


I will never forget my unsuccessful saga of trying to see this movie on the big screen "Down Under" - thrice! No jokes. The particular Hoyts Cinema I went to 3 times messed the whole thing - 1) the movie has not come yet to Oz (this was supposed to be around 20 Feb when the movie released all over the world) 2) they changed the session times without notice! 3) they cancelled the session for the day and actually had only a morning show (10.30 am) for next 3 days!

Phew, in the end i gave up. I guess i am destined to see it on DVD though I was eagerly looking forward to the big screen experience. My twin saw it on the big screen though with her friend. Her verdict : :" it is a very serious movie and will appeal to those who are familiar with the politics in India"

theBollywoodFan said...

Joss: Too bad about the cinemas, I know it's always frustrating. I'll look to know your thoughts, eventually. Hope you like it!

Pitu: Finally did, yes! (Two weekends ago, one of our theaters is still playing it!) I remember our discussion after you saw it, and I told you that book experience was going to work for me! LOL. Wish the climax were handled better, it really put a dent in it all.

Bhargav: Thanks, dude. I'm not near as attached to Delhi as you are (go Mumbai! LOL, just kidding; every Indian is inherently attached to the capital city, of course), but it seemed to have been effectively depicted for the region of Delhi it was based in. Do you think it was accurate overall (the dynamic of the people, etc.)? Agreed on Prasoon Joshi, absolutely. Of his generation, I think he is the finest.

Not sure about the reception to this, either. There are enough characters for most to find someone to relate to. For me, it was most obvious when Abhishek was at the receiving end of the 50-50 comment (although the case doesn't apply with religion). The Kaala Bandar bit, I really enjoyed. The one with the mirror, I wasn't too thrilled about, to be honest, although I didn't mind it much. DJ did it in Rang De Basanti with one dialogue ("Two ways to live..."), and I'm afraid that coming from the same director might not have worked well.

Having said that, little of the reactions of the masses to movies shocks me. I do think it deserved a better overall reception at the box office, but so is life. Don't think it takes away from the strengths of the film.

Anonymous-ji! Thank you for stopping by, and I'm so sorry to hear of those letdowns :'( Although I salute your commitment to the cause, must say. Three times! And your twin is correct! I think what also factors in, in addition to familiarity, is admission of the situation, and admission of the role of the common man in the political mess (which is not new at all, it's been like this since the late 1980s onward). To me, there always seem to be too many contradictory forces from the same sources, which is when the sense of purpose is lost.

So many mirrors, yet we know or acknowledge so little of ourselves!

theBollywoodFan said...

All: Firaaq, marking the directorial debut of Nandita Das, releases today. More in the February releases post (it was postponed by a few weeks, obviously).

I would have broken my rule of viewing a film of this genre on DVD for the one and only Nandita Das, although I didn't with Earth which starred Aamir Khan too. Such a shame no theater in L.A. seems to be screening it :(

This woman needs security outside her hotel rooms in her own country (she's needed it for a few years), but chooses to stand for her values despite the obvious threat. Salutations from a fan, Ms. Das. You rock (for lack of a better term).

Punjabi Folk Singers said...

Great site. I found the film pretty good as well. The soundtrack was great. I liked that one song Dil Gira Dafatan a lot. I recently saw a film called Kalyug. Have you seen it yet? It was some disturbing stuff. Also, it was nice to see Prem Chopra after quite some time.

theBollywoodFan said...

Welcome, Ramneek, and thank you for your visit and comment! I haven't seen Kalyug, but know Emraan Hashmi won some critical acclaim for his performance. I also know the film addresses a very tangible, real-world issue, so maybe I should see it? What do you think? Cheers.

Punjabi Folk Singers said...

I guess Emraan Hashmi was good but his character is just a lift from the Nicolas Cage film 8mm. He basically plays Joaquin Phoenix's character. I actually like Amrita Singh's performance the most. She's been in some good stuff as of late. I actually think it's worth watching. You should check it out when you have time. It has some genuinely eerie moments.

theBollywoodFan said...

Wow, I had no idea Amrita Singh was in it, Ramneek. Thank you for the info. I would brave any film for her! Have you seen her in Dus Kahaniyaan?

theBollywoodFan said...

PS: And Emraan Hashmi's career seems to be structured around roles that were adapted from elsewhere. I really think he's not a bad actor at all, but I hope he realizes he's got to step out of that spiral some day.

Punjabi Folk Singers said...

If you're big on Amrita Singh, then Kalyug is a must. I did see Dus Kahaniyaan. I liked it quite a bit. My favorite story was the one with Manoj Bajpai. I like films like Dus Kahaniyaan and Darna Zaroori Hai. Did you see Amrita Singh in Shootout at Lokhandwala? By the looks of it, she's going to have some nice second innings in Bollywood.

Punjabi Folk Singers said...

I haven't seen anything else with Emraan Hashmi. When it comes to Bollywood film watching sessions, I'm not that prolific. Perhaps, you could recommend something.

Anonymous said...

Well said Nawab! Very nice post. "The integration of the Ram Leela is quite fantastic, as is the panoramic view of Jama Masjid." Yes! I also agree with what you wrote regarding the supporting cast and Abi's poor American accent.
All the best!

Anonymous said...

I've been thinking about Darshit's question about who instead of Abi in the part. Like you theBollywoodFan, Imran Khan came to mind first. I also think that though all maybe a bit too "old" for the part, I'd pitch Ranbir Shorey, since he could pitch that sort of clueless American thing some of us possess. ;) I'd also think that Shahid Kapoor or Farhan Akhtar could play the part well. Also, another more mature actor, but with boyish looks to pass for younger, would be Madhavan. Those are my suggestions for the re-do. :D
All the best!

theBollywoodFan said...

Thanks, Ramneek, for the info. So Kalyug it will be, for Amrita Singh! That story with Manoj Bajpai (in Dus Kahaniyaan) had Dia Mirza in one of her best roles, I think. And I really enjoyed Shootout At Lokhandwala, it was really well made. As for Emraan Hashmi films, I'd start with Jannat (2008).

Adab Sita-ji: Thanks, and all your choices for the role are interesting. That 'cluelessness' can be a blessing sometimes, though, because it's often the little things that are overlooked that give rise to the real issues, which is where Abhishek's character was effective.

On an unrelated note, Imran Khan and Sonam Kapoor might be working on a film together soon, should be fun!

Swimi said...

I loved this movie.... I don't know why people didn't like it!

theBollywoodFan said...

It's certainly made to be a lot worse than it is, and as you know, I rather liked it too. I think when people finally see it, it'll be of some value. Thought of Yuvvraaj in the same manner, really. To each his own, I guess.