By Subhash K. Jha (23:35)
Film: "Chalo Dilli"; Starring: Lara Dutta, Vinay Pathak; Directed by: Shashant Shah;
Rating: *** 1/2
Once in a while you come away from a film with a lot more than you expected. Except for a somewhat flabby 15 minutes post-interval, "Chalo Dilli" sparkles with the pleasurable punchy emotions that we seem to have forefeited in our journey from the cinema of Basu Chatterjee to the present day films of the Kashyaps and Bazmis of the show-world that are all form and virtually no content… with very little contentment to take home.
"Challo Dilli" is a film with a lot of heart, and some soul. There are practically just two characters in the skillfully-conceived plot about two mismatched travelers on the road from Mumbai to Delhi via Jaipur and places in Rajasthan you had never known about until now.
That the two seemingly-incompatible traveling companions are played by Lara Dutta and Vinay Pathak is a stroke of good fortune that takes the story much further than it would have gone in the hands of two other actors. Before any more comment on the captivating product, let's speak right away about Vinay Pathak, whose unorthodox personality and talent have been on the look-out for suitable resting places since the unforeseen success of "Bheja Fry" four years ago.
In "Chalo Dilli", Pathak as the Dilliwala with a heart many sizes larger than his luck and bank balance sheds so much solar energy into the plot you feel grateful that someone out there in the mediocrity-infested entertainment industry looks out for talent like Pathak's.
And Lara Dutta? Quite easily one of the most beautiful and underrated actresses of our times. She's smart, sexy, savvy and supremely confident. What has stopped her from cracking the top rungs of stardom? You think about this quite frequently while watching her make all the correct moves as the hoity-toity investment banker who misses her flight but gains so much in terms of human experience that you wish we would all miss our flight if we don't want to miss the bus as complete human beings.
Apart from the wrong use of the word 'forcefully' in place of 'forcibly' for Lara's character the people in director Shashant Shah's film remain true to their words.
Really, you can't catch the people in Shashant Shah's films making false moves. Whether it is the cabbie who falls asleep on the deserted highway, or the bashful truckdriver who gives Vinay and Lara a ride, or the rashogolla-sweet Bengali couple on the train, you can't miss the heartwarming sincerity of this little film with a big heart.
Ironically Akshay Kumar strikes the only false note. When towards the end he appears to laugh out loud at Lara's adventures he sounds as though he's just being polite. Not quite the emotion that we expect in a film that is all heart. No two ways about it.
"Challo Dilli" follows that refreshing trend of capturing India's heartland in all its sleepy supine splendour. It was Imtiaz Ali who in "Jab We Met" started the trend of making his protagonists travel across places in India that had gone out of favour in recent times. The recent "Tanu Weds Manu" carried forward the trend of traveling into the small towns.
"Chalo Dilli" is an absolutely enchanting and heartwarming journey into the heart and the heartland. Skilfully scripted and with credible dialogues (Arshad Syed) and situations that you immediately recognize it revives the joy of the road movie back.
Nope, you can't imagine any other two actors but Lara and Vinay in the two main parts.
"Chalo Dilli" is a far more accomplished work than many of the big-budget monstrously unfunny comedies that infest the silver screen. Very often you find your face breaking into a smile as you watch the sophisticated female entrepreneur opening up her emotional vaults to the experiences that the Jaipur-Delhi route offer.
At one point in a roadside dhaba she stares pleasurably at the sunrise. 'Iss mein kaun si nayi baat hai?' guffaws the street-smart Pathak.
"Chalo Dilli" connects us to the basic element of the cinematic experience. It is all about the heart and the heartland.