It is easy to tell where exactly Delhi 6 goes wrong. Rakeysh Mehra was out to make a fond movie about the city of his birth, but could not resist corseting it in a bit of conventional moralisation. He paints over a frisky, anecdotal collage of Delhi with the bleak gray of communal strife. Fancy-free descriptions of the grand old city of Delhi simply do not sit well with hamming epiphanies about love and universal brotherhood.
Not that the movie does not have its share of fine moments. Roshan (Abhishek Bachchan), who brings his grandmother (Waheeda Rehman) back to Delhi from New York, provides the amused, third person perspective of the bustling Indian microcosm. An ensemble cast of some top-notch character actors plays the many species of Chandni Chowk's little self-contained ecosystem.
The depiction of CC denizens in Delhi 6 is authentic and as cute as a Mr. Men cartoon - Grumpy Dad (Om Puri), Slimy Thulla (Vijay Raaz), fiesty lower-caste koode-waali (Divya Dutta), sweet-tempered jalebi
seller (Deepak Dobriyal), sleazeball photographer (Cyrus Sahukar), benevolent mullah (K K Raina) etc. You can almost hear Doordarshan's old "Hind desh ke nivaasi sabhi jan ek hain
"jingle in your head as the unity in diversity is constantly underscored from frame 1.
So the Jalebi seller is a Muslim who worships Hanuman, and Roshan's daadi
is a Muslim wedded into a Hindu family and religiously irrigates her Tulsi plant every day. And Roshan adapts himself to an eclectic routine of skullcapped visits to mosque, Ram Leela appreciation, and playing billiards over beer with an avuncular Rishi Kapoor. He is as delighted with the whole milieu as a white-tourist around a well-trained temple elephant.
While pointedly emphasising the communal symbiosis, Mehra finds time to paint each character in engaging detail. Sonam Kapoor, who plays the slender Bittu, a childlike, self-absorbed dreamer, is just one of the characters unfortunately. Doesn't take much to play the Nukkad belle to perfection, and she pulls off the non-challenge fairly well. Roshan is drawn to her as he goads her to rebel against the plans of her father (Om Puri) to marry her off against his wishes.
Basically, the weather is sunny with ample tailwinds, and we expect a smooth ride ahead, when turbulence hits.
Enter the Monkey Man - a good touch this - including an actual incident as a story engine. Delhi in 2001 saw attacks by a so-called Monkey Man, causing a few deaths due to sheer paranoia as people plunged off heights after imagined sightings. The movie spoofs rabid news channels as their bloodhound reporters get on the trail of the mischief-making chimp. Some hilarious urban legend causes a few titters in the audience. There are Chinese whispers about a lit-up computer motherboard on the chimp's chest, while Chandni Chowk is flooded with merchandise featuring the hairy terror.
Mehra is on a roll by now, almost making up the story as he goes along, throwing in experimental ingredients like a master chef who can't go wrong even if he tosses carbolic soap into the soup. Which he does. With the effect that he manages to pretty much screw the pooch.
The Chandni Chowkites, through a bit of stretched logic, conclude that the Monkey Man is really a Muslim fundamentalist. Gullible Hindus and Muslims swallow the bait and jump into a free-for-all much like Goscinny and Uderzo's gauls.
Very satirical and all, but it is this dramatic mood-swing in the movie that destroys the finesse. One minute the characters are charming and expansive, and the next, they are suffocatingly, foolishly paranoid. From a poetic portrayal that bubbles with optimism, Delhi 6 dissolves into tears and lament.
In response, Roshan acquires saint-vision and starts appreciating the inner beauty of the petty squabblers. He dons his martyr's cloak and halo, and indulges in an act of selfless folly to save the Chowkites from themselves. His love story with Bittu catches up meanwhile to dovetail into the kitschy and forced resolution. Tsk Tsk. What a downfall!
For the maker of Rang De Basanti
, it might have been hard to resist throwing in the odd social issue. After all he proved how well he could handle it once before. If only he had desisted. Delhi 6 could easily have been a charmer of the movie. Instead, you end up getting antsy waiting for Masakali to come along. Amazing song, that. Some delectable characterisation. And a movie that is a whole lot lesser than the sum of its parts.