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): Delhi6.co.in