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Feb 21, 2009 at 06:31pm IST

Masand's Movie Review: Delhi-6

Cast: Abhishek Bachchan, Sonam Kapoor, Waheeda Rehman, Rishi Kapoor

Direction: Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra

That director Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra feels genuine affection for his characters is evident in every scene of Delhi 6. He knows them well, he's familiar with their lives, and he embraces their quirks and their contradictions. Delhi 6, is indeed a film about its characters.

A series of patched-together vignettes from the lives of these colorful souls who baffle our protagonist Roshan (played by Abhishek Bachchan), a half-Hindu half-Muslim NRI boy who arrives from New York to deposit his grandmother (played by Waheeda Rehman) to the family home in Old Delhi.

Before he knows it, Roshan finds himself getting involved in the lives of his new friends and neighbors. The two sparring brothers who can't see eye to eye (played by Om Puri and Pavan Malhotra), but whose wives and kids operate as a perfectly functional familial unit who exchange pakoras and gossip through the loose brick in the wall that separates their homes. Or the sixty-something Laalaji (played by Prem Chopra) whose trophy wife invites her lover home through the balcony window for passionate afternoon romps. Or the affable streetside jalebi-wala (played by Omkara's Deepak Dobriyal), the local bully cop (played by Vijay Raaz), the dim but earnest temple worker (Atul Kulkarni), and the low-caste sweeper girl (Divya Dutta).

From Ram Leelas and jaagrans to cows who stop traffic because they give birth in the middle of the road, Roshan's Dilli-darshan is an eye-opening experience, one he takes in sportingly, armed with a camera-phone and the liberal use of the word 'cool' in his wobbly American accent. There's also the matter of his growing friendship with his neighbor's daughter Bittu, the 20-something Indian Idol-wannabe (played by Sonam Kapoor).

Repeatedly through the film we are reminded of an ambiguous monkey-man scare that has gripped the city, and towards the film's final act that hysteria leads to an unfortunate Hindu-Muslim confrontation that threatens to divide friends and shatter long-standing relationships.

Working perfectly well as an ensemble piece, even a journey of Roshan's self-discovery, Delhi 6 slips in its last half hour when Mehra decides to suddenly turn this into a message movie. Problem is the message itself is so simplistic, and yet it's hammered home with preachy dialogue and scenes that make you cringe. It's a far cry from Mehra's Rang De Basanti whose message came woven subtly in the film's narrative, and didn't jump out at you in the end like it does here.

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Delhi 6 also delivers a disappointing climax, not least because it betrays the filmmaker's otherwise fearless spirit, and sees him instead pandering to what one assumes must be commercial diktats. As for the ridiculous cameo in the end, it's unnecessary and the entire scene in fact is such a shameful cop-out in what might have otherwise been a brave, personal film.

Despite its flaws there is inherent beauty in Delhi 6 that cannot be ignored. There is warmth at its centre, and much of that warmth is provided by AR Rahman's spellbinding music which is used liberally in the film, and contributes to some of the film's finest, finest moments including the seemingly spontaneous choreography of the Genda Phool song, and the sheer visual delight of the Masakalli song picturisation.

The film also benefits enormously from Binod Pradhan's remarkable cinematography, his camera alternating between its role as silent spectator when the characters go about their daily duties amidst the hustle-bustle of Chandni Chowk's crowded by-lanes; then lavishly and breathtakingly capturing the city's gorgeous topography in all its splendor.

At the core of Delhi 6, however, are its real heroes, its characters. Played magnificently by an ensemble of some of the finest actors you're likely to come across, it's difficult to point out who is better than whom.

The names that come to mind immediately are Pavan Malhotra, Deepak Dobriyal, Vijay Raaz, Divya Dutta, Sheeba Chaddha and luminious new discovery Aditi Rao Hydari who stars as the gentle Rama bua. As an old friend of Roshan's father, Rishi Kapoor brings such depth to what is really a small character role; and to see actors like Prem Chopra and Supriya Pathak on screen in significant parts after what seems like years brings a smile to your face. Then you have Waheeda Rehman who is the portrait of quiet dignity even in scenes where she has little to do.

Of the leads, Abhishek Bachchan jars in the early bits because of that labored accent, but warms up to you eventually. He does well with minimal dialogue, relying on his eyes and his expressions to do the communicating, especially in those scenes with Sonam where he's expected to strum up romance and chemistry in between looks of sheer bewilderment at her constant yapping. But it's Sonam Kapoor, his co-star who is the revelation in Delhi 6. She's a firecracker performer, instinctive and uninhibited in what isn't even a conventional female lead.

In the end Delhi 6 isn't great cinema like Mehra's Rang De Basanti but it's a pleasing tapestry of tender moments and of diverse characters who engage you in their lives. It's a very watchable film and for that I'm going with three out of five for director Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra's Delhi 6. The muddled message and the frustrating climax aside, it's a film with heart.

Rating: 3 / 5 (Good)

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