Direction: Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra
Cast: Abhishek Bachchan, Sonam Kapoor, Waheeda Rehman
In the beginning, you want to love this film. As Binod Pradhan's magical camera sweeps over the terraces of the walled city, winds through its gallis and homes and explodes in a riot of colour and drama in the Ramleela shows, Rakeysh Mehra weaves all the threads that go into the tapestry of Delhi 6 with a seamless beauty.
The humour is light and comes in various forms, the dialogue is sharp, art direction super, the characters believably etched. The music and lyrics just flow with the film, and AR Rahman's amazingly varied background score just knocks you out with its artistry.
In the first half, you're thinking: right on, Rakeysh. You’re even willing to forgive some stock characters, the same ol’ NRI-returns-to-the family-fold story and a bizarre King Kong-ish dream sequence.<b1>
So you warm up to "burger-chaap" Roshan Mehra (Abhishek Bachchan), who accompanies his ailing grandmother (Waheeda Rehman) to India because she wants to die where she was born. You hope along with Bittu, Roshan's free-spirited and full-throated neighbour, who dreams of starring in Indian Idol. And you smile with the large ensemble cast that mirrors the conflicts and the camaraderie of a typical urban neighbourhood. The warring brothers, resident genial uncle, mohalla regulars, the Pragya Kumari-like politician, they're all familiar to us.
The one black spot: a mysterious, marauding kaala bandar (taking off from Delhi’s alleged 'monkey man' of 2001) who throws the city into turmoil. And then, Roshan's life as well. All through, Mehra uses the Ramleela as an inventive sutradhar of sorts as the film moves to its resolution.
This has to be one of Abhishek Bachchan's best performances (even if his NRI accent dips and rises). He slips into an understated role that tests him in its quietest moments and delivers with honesty. <b2>
He's just the beginning. If there were an Indian film award for best ensemble cast, this one would have to be a very strong contender Sonam Kapoor's Bittu, aching to break free, lights up the screen with her spontaneity. Divya Dutta as the fiery sweeper Jalebi, Deepak Dobriyal as the mercurial Mamdu, Rishi Kapoor as Ali Uncle and Vijay Raaz as Inspector Ranvijay turn in great cameos.
And what a little gem from Waheeda Rehman, her beauty imbued with a world-weariness, doing her bit with a quiet elegance. The only minor disaster is Cyrus Sahukar, who has now earned the right to be spoofed on MTV.
Unfortunately the film has a bigger disaster: the climax, which is a huge letdown; no, downright ludicrous. And that completely gratuitous scene with Amitabh Bachchan— heavens, what was Mehra thinking?
Most tediously, the movie has far too much of symbolism and underlying messages. Besides the central theme of communal conflict (with Roshan a “50-50”, ie of Hindu-Muslim parentage), there are swipes at superstition, the caste system, rabble-rousing politicians, sensationalist TV anchors. A mad fakir urges everyone to look within, there’s a mandir vs masjid track, Masakalli the dove waits to be freed by Bittu, and even that dratted bandar turns out to have a message. It all begins to feel too much like a morality play.
Mehra sure has his heart in the right place. But couldn’t he have allowed himself… and us, a little more fun?