Delhi - 6 - After what seemed an interminable wait once the trailors and music were released, I finally saw the movie yesterday. At the outset, I declare that this has spoilers. Though touted to be shot in Delhi, a huge set was evidently used and the result is quite mixed. We are taken to a place where there is some kind of a time warp, especially as it is very close to the national capital. Rickshaws, cows, horses and vintage cars - this is what the scene is like and its a little hard to believe especially as the effort seems to be directed towards making all modern transportation non-existent.
The first half of the movie is an introduction of numerous characters and much of the effort goes in establishing how they interplay in a small locality. A money lender, a Muslim sweetshop owner, a family divided by a wall (Om Puri and Pawan Malhotra on either side), a photographer, a mysterious monkey man, two mischievous kids, a low caste garbage collector and an ambitious Bittu (Sonam Kapoor) - they joke, discuss the monkey man and go to see the Ram Lila with their Muslim neighbors. Roshan (Abhishek) arrives with his grandmother to this locality. He is frustrated in the beginning, gradually is drawn to the people and falls in love with Bittu in a subtly sublime fashion and with the place as a whole as circumstances pan out.The setting is complete for the second half.
The cinematography by Binod Pradhan is very good. One gets to see the numerous bylanes with sweet shops, cricket-playing kids, colorful people, the temple and the mosque -they showcase the diversity in a simple and convincing manner. The music is one of the best works of AR Rahman. The Mozart of Madras displays his versatility and even gets behind the mike for a number. The songs are already big hits with 'Masakali' and 'Maula', being my favorites. Kailash Kher and Javed Ali make the latter even more memorable. The lyrics by Prasoon Joshi are again different and innovative. 'Hey kala kala kala bandar/Bahar hai ya andar...Aao Hum shisha dekhe/Apna sandesha dekhe/Apna Ghayal Hissa dekhe/Apna asli kissa dekhe', 'Tujhe badalna na chahoon/Rati bhar bhi sanam/Bina sajawat milawat/Na jyaada na hi kaam' go the lines and they are riveting.
Social messages are conveyed throughout the movie. The struggle between superstition and modernity exemplified by the rumors of monkey man and the launch of Chandrayan, the bane of untouchability in the 21st century and the shame of forced marriages in an age when women are shattering all ceilings - this is where the movie scores high. A lot of characters at times serve to veer away the focus. Abhishek is just good and Sonam has a very good presence whenever she gets the chance.Atul Kulkarni is wasted for his potential.
In the second half, a small spark ignites a communal flare-up in the peaceful and colorful locality. The warmth is suddenly lost and suspicions abound. This shows how tensions and animosity need only a small flame to feed on. Politicians exploit the divide to gain. Things seem head for a disastrous end. Roshan explains the metaphor of Monkey Man which is all the movie is about. He nevertheless falls a victim to the unreasonable anger of the people when he saves Bittu and professes his love.
This is a movie that tries to pack a lot of things together, but ultimately leaves the viewer with some good messages to carry home. It is certainly not as good as Rang De Basanti; that doesn't mean that it should be missed. Watch it without RDB expectations and come out with a better understanding of the Kaleidoscope that is our country and the fickle and prejudiced nature that is mankind!