So simple from above and yet so lusciously layered beneath, Delhi 6 does what its director's last work Rang De Basanti did so spectacularly. It pushes the boundaries of cinematic entertainment almost beyond the brink, but catches its breath just in time in an exhilarating exhalation of enchanting thoughts, images and characters that seem to convey the truth about life without obstructing the truth about cinema.
As Abhishek Bachchan jumps from one building-top to another in the congested colony of old Delhi, Parkour meets the monkey-man in Delhi 6 in a mix that's zingy and intoxicating without trying to be either.
In fact, the most cherishable quality of this film about the cultural diaspora and its tragi-comic resonances in a society trapped between the machinations of religion and politics is its transparency. Even when Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra makes deep comments on the culture and politics of religion in contemporary India, he keeps his narrative liberated of punctuation marks.
The narrative flows in one seamless harmony of characterizations, music and satire bound by a vision that sees the aspirations of an Indian Idol contestant (Sonam Kapoor) in the same line of vision as the fornications of a chalu Delhi-chaap photographer and the self-serving pontifications of a saffron lady.
The greatest virtue of Delhi 6 is its bustling mass of everyday commuters from Chandni Chowk whose lives converge in routine and not-so-routine ways to create a work of art that pays a heartwarming homage to the spirit of a city without idealizing and romanticizing the gulli culture of the backwater towns where jalebis are fried by street side halwais next to kids frolicking and defecating in the open sewers.
As a society based on hierarchical and communal segregation collapses all around us, Rakeysh Mehra portrays this society in a flux with a mixture of pleasure and regret without getting overly nostalgic. There are lines which openly ridicule the 'dilli ke dilwale' who are supposed to be one big happy family although the family (warring brothers Om Puri and Pavan Malhotra) and religious communities (the green versus the saffron brigade) fall apart with an earth shattering heartbreaking thud.
The dynamics of a culturally-decaying society are projected into scenes that come together as vibrant vignettes drawn with sincerity affection and transparency from the most enduring and endearing colours of life. And while we are on the colours of life, let me say right away that Binod Pradhan's cinematography is the real hero of Delhi 6. Pradhan captures the faded pastels of the crowded gullis of Delhi and the glorious miraculously aesthetic garishness of the Ram Leela with the feeling and fervour of a subtle celebration rather than a flamboyant festival.
Delhi-6 Mehra's mellow -drama completely avoids the touristic flamboyance that the theme (NRI boy returns to desi roots with dying grandma) could have happily embraced. By the time the narrative reaches a somber climactic 'reality' we're watching a work of art that transcends the power of the visual medium sneaks into the realm of dark poetry and them re-merges as a socio-political commentary without any tell-tale signs of battering obtained by the protagonist Roshan's long journey from innocence to grim awareness .
I remember a young upcoming arrogant leading man telling me he rejected Delhi 6 because he didn't 'understand' the script. So glad he didn't do this film. Abhishek Bachchan, who plays a Hindu-Muslim NRI returning to his roots in Delhi, gets the point. Fully.
It would be unimaginable to think of Delhi 6 without the gigantic cast of players who play who they do, and the way they do it. The vast cast is so much into the subtle satirical profound spirit of the film that you wonder which came first, the characters or the actors.
It would be grossly unfair to single out any of the performances. At the risk of sounding prejudiced, mention must be made of Deepak Dobriyal as the innocuous Muslim jalebi seller who's pushed against the communal wall, Pavan Malhotra as a loud boisterous somewhat mean though by no means evil electrician, Divya Dutta as the mohallah's garbage collector…wonderfully warm in her caste isolation, Vijay Raaz as the neighborhood sadistic cop who's so slap-happy you wonder about his cheekiness, Atul Kulkarni as the naïve mohallah punch bag and finally Waheeda Rehman. So serene yet spirited as the dying grandma somewhat representative of the world that she comes to inhabit in Delhi with her grandson.
But the film belongs to Abhishek Bachchan. What a triumphant home-coming. Delhi 6 is swarming with metaphors, some of them straightforward poetic, others like the monkey man motif, arching from first to finish in a curve that defies immediate interpretations.
Peeling off layers of texts and subtexts, we arrive at a work that exudes the scent of true lived-in and experienced emotions. The hurt pain and anger of a socio-political system that has gone from corruptibility to destruction is hidden just beneath a warm sunny all-is-well (but not for too long) veneer so beautifully represented by Sonam Kapoor dancing with that dove perched on her head.
What an idea, Sirji!