Saturday, 2 December 2006

Spirit of Dilli

There was a time when Delhi was hardly there in the Mumbai films, except for that passing shot in front of India Gate or South Block with the rashtrapati bhavan in the background. As someone had cribbed after watching Kal Ho Na Ho, films do tend to distort the geography of cities, and if New York could not escape it, how could Delhi do it!

The films are such that you would think that India Gate and Red Fort are close to each other and next to the railway station and the airport, so that if you come to Delhi, you can't avoid passing in front of them.

This year, I have already seen 4 Hindi films where hamari Dilli plays a key role, and the year is not yet over. Perhaps, in 2006 there were other films too, that were based in Delhi, that I have missed. The question I am asking is, which of these films reflected the real spirit of Delhi?

It started with Rang de Basanti. In RDB, India Gate was not just a distant shot seen from the windows of the passing car or autorickshaw but it played an important role in a crucial scene along with the spacious bunglows of the ministers, not too far from it. It was essentially a south Delhi kind of Delhi in RDB, where upper middle class lives. There were a few scenes of old Delhi and the Muslim culture but they were more like cameos and didn't affect the overall voice and texture of the film, that remained essentially south Delhi. I felt that, Aamir Khan as the sikh son of a dhaba-owner and his disgruntled companions, suceeded in giving life to the growing up experience in Delhi. I could identify with it. Its language, ambience, people were the kind you find in Delhi.

Then came Fanaa, another Aamir Khan starrer. Here Delhi was just an interlude, a background to the shairo-shayari and songs. The film highlighted the touristy part of Delhi. It skimmed superficially over Delhi, not really trying to look at the life of the city. In spite of the luminous Kajol, I felt that it was a synthetic make-believe world, not really reflecting anything real about the city or its people.

The third film that I saw was Khosla ka Ghosla. It was a more of a west Delhi kind of ambience, people who usually live in Punjabi Bagh or Rajouri Garden. It was also very real. The way neighbours reacted, the way people talked and went around their lives, it was able to catch the spirit of dilliwallas. There was a part of the film dealing with Mandi house and Bhartiya Kala Kendra part of Delhi, the part involving theatre-wallas. This part was slightly less real in the way the two main actors behaved (Navin Nischol and Tara Sharma), but even in these scenes, all the side actors were very dilliwallas. KKG was also quite enjoyable in a Gulzaar-Hrikeksh Mukherjee kind of way, that was refreshing.

Finally the last Delhi-based film that I saw was Ahista Ahista. It was mainly an old Delhi, Chandni Chowk kind of Delhi, around Jama Masjid, Dariyaganj and Red Fort. In the film, at times the way the actors (Abhay deol and Soha Ali Khan) walked effortlessly from Red Fort to Niajammuddin or to Qutab Minaar did jarr a bit but overall, the ambience of narrow streets and the Muslim culture was quite real. However, the film was marred by the actors, their way of speaking, their general way of behaving, that seemed false and out of place in Chandni Chowk. Abhay Deol is a nice looking guy, reminding me of Dharmendra in vintage films like Bandini, but he did not look like or act like old Delhi person. His dialogues did not ring of old Delhi, they seemed very Mumbaiwalla. His other friends, they seemed as if they had come out of the TV serial Nukkad, falsely nice and synthetic. This does not mean that film was very bad, but in my opinion, it could not catch the spirit of Delhi.

So which of these films did catch the dil of Dilli? I think that the real competition is between RDB and KKG. Ahista Ahista and Fanaa were not about real Delhi. I can't decide between RDB and KKG.

It is difficult to decide, perhaps because the two films look at very different parts, people and cultures of Delhi. These two Delhis are quite similar geographically and do overlap, though obviously RDB is not about everyday places and persons (like the shots behind the airport or the shots at the old monuments, the scenes at India Gate and All India radio), while KKG is about everyday middle class Delhi. On just this basis, perhaps KKG wins for me.

And for you - is there a film that represents the spirit of Dilli - Delhi for you?



  1. for me it Khosla ka Ghosla anyday... nice post... :D

  2. What I really liked about RDB was its Delhi-ness. That crass Punjabi tongue, that ease with which one bypasses authority, that life that one finds in the ruins - the backdrop of politics and violence. Even indifference. Though I found myself wishing they'd actually shot in near the DSchool Canteen and had some shots of Nizamuddin.

    But KKG I loved. For that charming insight into that middle class comfort of buying one's home. The Jai Mata Di stickers on cars and Gurgaon next door. For the sheer lawlessness and name dropping that gets you by in the city.

    Delhi is a city with a quirky, violent and erratic history. For both the movies - the main star for me was the city itself - the context, rather than the characters.

  3. KKG wins hands down for no other reason but the way Ranvir Shorey's character behaves (confronted with a big-built jat, he looked for a smaller guy to pick on!) and the way he speaks ("mujhe apna shageeerd bana lo aap")... Spot on!

    Also, my Dilli-waali wife mentions that there are enough and more Delhi-centric errors in RDB, while KKG manages a clean slate!

  4. ya,

    i too noticed that now a days Delhi is getting highlight in bollywood movies... wait for few days new Salam-e-Ishq will bring some more dilli chillies.... :D

  5. I live in Hongkong and i also saw all the above movies but for Fanaa and your comments are just Apt..The Student style from RDB was Dilliwala..The Marriage Bureu and Galis of Old Delhi were relistic in Ahista Ahista ..But i will give full votes to Khosla Ka Ghosla..The Elder Son of Khosla,Khosla Himself,The Chowkidaar,the Sikh Friend of Khosla,the Rajmah Culture and Morning walk etc..reflected Real Delhi very very well. The Jaat Chowkidaar!! I would say he did an excellent part as this is exaclt the the Jaats (no offence) will react .."Mama ,jab maine teri baat sun ni na to fir bol ke koi faayda?"...It was ultimate ..though yes the Navin Nishchol's Drama School was not so real..But He himself played an excellent role..So far best in his life (as per me) !!

  6. bbbbbbbbbbeeeeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaauuutttttiiiifuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuulllllllll!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  7. I was re-reading this old post after a gap of couple of years and if I had vote now, I am sure Oye Lucky, Lucky oye would win the prize effortlessly. It could catch the spirit of west Delhi wonderfully!


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