17 May 2009

DELHI-6 (Dir. Rakesh Omprakash Mehra, 2009, India) - The Diaspora, Duality and Delhi

Indian cinema is currently going through one of its worst periods. Not only has the quality of film making been exceptionally below average but the crisis that unfolded between the producers/distributors and multiplex exhibitors in early April has led to a prolonged strike that continues to have an impact on the domestic box office:

‘Producers and distributors are demanding a 50:50 revenue-sharing deal with the multiplexes, regardless of cast or production budget, as opposed to the current variable week-on-week percentages...’


The outcome of this dispute will likely and potentially determine the long term relationship between distributors and exhibitors when it comes to the lucrative area of multiplex cinemas. Most of the major Hollywood studios and film stars have come together in expressing their displeasure over the uneven financial monopoly wielded by the emergence of the multiplex cinema chains. When and how such a significant stand off will be resolved is still very much in its early stages and it will likely to have a major affect on the tent pole films awaiting release for the summer season.

Abhishek Bachchan as the American Indian, Roshan Mehra; a symbol of the Indian diaspora?

UTV Motion Pictures is today one of Indian cinema’s most powerful and critically acclaimed film production companies, having already invested in a few Hollywood films including Shyamalan’s ‘The Happening’. UTV struck box office gold in 2004 with the Aamir Khan starer, ‘Rang De Basanti’ (Paint it Yellow), a contemporary youth orientated political drama. The film was directed by an emerging and talented Indian film maker, Rakesh Omprakash Mehra, who had shifted from a successful career in advertising to making his debut feature with none other than Amitabh Bachchan in a dark thriller titled ‘Aks’. Having established a successful working relationship with UTV which were instrumental in staging an inventive and expensive international marketing campaign for ‘Rang De Basanti’, Rakesh Omprakash Mehra’s latest film, ‘Delhi-6’ saw him reteam with a number of key collaborators including UTV, scriptwriter, Prasoon Joshi and the legendary Indian actress Waheeda Rehman.

Rishi Kapoor as Ali Beg; the voice of the moderate Muslim

I was disappointed by Mehra’s new film because for a film maker who had shown that politics and the youth could actually work together quite fluently in a mainstream film like ‘Rang De Basanti’ with ‘Delhi-6’ he seems to revert back to a kind of conventional cinema that propagates the same contrived narratives and over worked themes which find their way into many Indian films of late. Take for example, the journey of the Non Resident Indian who discovers that though he may have been born in America, his true origins and identity belongs to his homeland, India. Even worse is the uninventive and tired sub plot of the repressed Indian girl who rebels against her father’s wishes for an arranged marriage, only to end up in the arms of the innocent outsider. I can see why Mehra would want to make a film about the area of Delhi-6 particularly as it works so colourfully as a microcosm of an Indian society that shows Hindus and Muslims living in a state of peaceful co existence but the script falters in creating a convincing set of characters and an engaging narrative, falling back on a desperation to outline a strong moral conviction which unfortunately ends up being far too preachy and didactic in what is a very uninspired ending.

In one of the more interesting ideological aspects of the film, the agnostic character of Roshan Mehra adopts a dual religious identity which not only expresses the co existence of the Delhi-6 community but also points to his own scepticism with religion acting as a force of good within contemporary Indian society.

With a mildly average score by A R Rehman and competent performances by an ensemble cast compromising of Rishi Kapoor, Om Puri, Prem Chopra, Abhishek Bachchan, Divya Dutta and Soonam Kapoor, ‘Delhi-6’ has not performed terribly well at the box office either and yet again such disappointing cinema serves to only further underline the commercial and critical slump being experienced by the current crop of mainstream Indian films.


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