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Sights & sounds of an address

The volcano has erupted again. Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra has done it one more time. Albeit, quite differently.

If Rang De Basanti was all rage without an iota of remorse, Delhi-6 is all love with a dash of hate. If RDB was a public movement, D-6 is a personal monologue. And just like Rang De was what the country needed back in 2006, Delhi-6 needs to be the new pincode of India. Where the mirror pops up for all matters of religion, caste, money and power, where you look within before you point a finger at others.

More than a motion picture, Delhi-6 is a free flow of ideas, images and sounds. He may harp on the importance of the script, but Rakeysh Mehra, the erstwhile advertising whiz kid, is essentially a man of ideas, a bit of a Bollywood visionary. With the help of the magic troika of A.R. Rahman, Binod Pradhan and Samir Chanda (production design), Mehra creates a world which explodes in every frame. It’s a full-bodied experience, a visceral trip which completely takes over your senses.

For the first one hour you may be even excused for thinking that you stepped into the wrong theatre to watch not a starry Bollywood movie but a beautifully done documentary on Delhi.

I-am-an-American Roshan (Abhishek Bachchan) brings his ailing grandmother (Waheeda Rehman) to her Delhi house and thus unfolds Chandni Chowk like you have never seen it before. The crowded bylanes, the lumbering cows, the leaning havelis, the reverberating mosques… it’s perhaps more energetic, more colourful and more intricate than what Delhi-6 has been for a long time.

And just like in Rang De, Mehra puts the story on the backburner and just lets it rip. Pigeons fluttering in the air, kites colliding in the sky, chillies drying on the roof, jalebis frying in the pan… Mehra achieves perfection in the rhythm. Stills, staccato, flickering, slo mo… the images unfold at their own pace, as if they were born on camera. Sometimes the frames turn into paintings, with smudged shades and muted highlights. Delhi-6 is a sensory tour de force.

No surprises then that when Mehra remembers that he has a story to tell, things get rushed. The screenplay (Mehra, Prasoon Joshi, Kamlesh Pandey) searches for a problem so that it can solve it.

And when it finds one — we won’t spoil it for you — it looks a tad forced and tired. But there’s so much to likea in the first 90 minutes of the 140-minute film, that you go with the flow, swallow the preachy pill and by the end of it all go seeking the mirror nearest to you.

Delhi-6 belongs to A.R. Rahman more than anybody else. He may get the Oscar for another movie, but this is clearly a far better work, a soundtrack so complete that you don’t miss a tone. And kudos to cinematographer Binod Pradhan for bringing those songs alive. Not just Masakkali, the promo queen, all the songs are captured with a lot of heart. But if there’s one that stands out, it’s Dil gira dafatan. You can watch the movie a couple of times just for this one song, replete with tributes to The Aviator and King Kong!

Mehra’s ensemble cast provides the punctuation marks in this celluloid collage and each one brings a unique voice. Rishi Kapoor, Vijay Raaz, Deepak Dobriyal, Atul Kulkarni, Divya Dutta, Om Puri, Pavan Malhotra, Prem Chopra, Cyrus Sahukar, Sheeba Chadda, Supriya Pathak, Aditi Rao… they all do their bit in making Delhi-6 the address to visit this spring.

Watching Waheeda Rehman do the thumka again with a twinke in her eyes is a sight for sore eyes. She is luminous as the grand old daadi, the pillar around which the rest of the cast rallies. She is a bit neglected in the second half but returns at the right time to bring things back in perspective.

Perspective is something that sometimes gets lost with Abhishek’s act. Here’s an uneven performance which is brilliant in certain scenes and plain ordinary in others. The accent’s there, so is the swagger but the casualness sometimes strays into disinterest and that certainly doesn’t help the film. He is at his best in the scenes with Sonam and the kids and totally rocks it in the rap song.

Delhi-6 also reintroduces Sonam Kapoor. After what was essentially a wishy-washy debut in Saawariya, where she had to peek out of veils and jump out of wells, this movie allows the dove to spread her wings. There may not be too many she-scenes but Sonam makes the most of the ones she has. Let’s just say, we won’t miss Kajol anymore. That vivacity, that natural effervescence, that fluidity is back and how! Change the outfits, give her songs or scenes, place whoever opposite her, Sonam’s spot on, in every frame.

For just its overwhelming audio-visual eruption, Delhi-6 is a must watch. Don’t go in expecting a Rang De Basanti. This one too can light a candle, but quietly, somewhere deep in the heart.

Pratim D. Gupta
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