I recently had the opportunity of visiting a leading movie theatre in Delhi to watch the new box office sensation "Badhaai Ho". The sleeper hit featuring an above average cast with mostly newcomers has gone on to set the box office on fire with over Rs 100 crore in box office revenue. Made on a budget of not more than Rs 20cr as per industry estimates, the film has been declared a "super-hit" by all trade circuits. Although the film only has Ayushmann Khurana and Neena Gupta as the most visible faces, the real star was the landscape of the city of "DELHI".....
This post is an essay on the city of Delhi and its ever evolving relationship with Indian films.
The city of Delhi since long is a hotbed of stories of humanity, greed, lust and many more emotions. It all started on the big screen with Sai Paranjpe's "Chashme Baddoor" in 1981 which was based in the city and featured the lives of college students in Central Delhi.
Be it "Titli" which showcases a jilted, carjacking family which kills on a regular basis, be it "Khosla Ka Ghosla" which creates the many crusades one family has to endure to get their "plot of land" back from a land grabbing shark, to the dysfunctional Punjabi families portrayed in "Monsoon Wedding", to the beauty parlour operating family in "Vicky Donor", Delhi is the biggest creative magnet in Indian films today.
It’s very difficult to set one tonality for Delhi in a story as it has such a range of people inhabiting it. I mean the world of a government service class family living in the Trans Yamuna area is vastly different from a business man’s family living in Greater Kailash. It’s their daily struggles which keeps the viewer hooked.
Delhi vis a vis Mumbai as a venue for a story :
The catfight between Delhi and Mumbai has entered the film industry as well. This is largely because both cities being the financial and power hubs of India, dictate terms to the rest of the nation when it comes to popular culture, fashion trendz, personalities, etc.
Mumbai being a megapolis which has entrepreneurship deeply ingrained in its fabric has less time for family matters and politics amongst family members. This refers to an average working class Mumbaikar. Delhi on the other hand, has been a conservative city which has slowly mushroomed into a large business and power hub now rivalling Mumbai in many ways.
The capital city is mostly inhabited by refugees from undivided Pakistan, Marwari and Bania families, government servants, students from all over India, entrepreneurs, political and business brokers, traders, retailers besides millions of people who come to work every day from nearby states such as UP, Haryana, etc. Delhi in short, has more time for family melodrama than Mumbai. It is also more political as a city in nature and that also is seen in the daily behaviour of the average Delhiite.
The politics in tenor creates a plethora of characters in the city. Let’s take a look at the various characteristics which are common when a story in Delhi is portrayed on screen :
1. The deeply emotional and imperfect working class family: "Khosla Ka Ghosla" shows the Khosla family in a south-west Delhi neighbourhood which is trying to make a living. An honest father with two sons who are trying to make a living in vastly different ways. The Delhi factor here is that they exude humour in most difficult situations to kill stress. They might be unplanned but somehow come out of troubles they get stuck in. The "Jugaad"(frugal innovation) strategy was invented in Delhi households. The nagging mother here is the key. The mother in fact is the most colourful part of the family. Her incessant rants, the chill out attitude in life and not taking life too seriously are the highlights. Eg. Can you ever forget the mother and grandma’s "late night drinking sessions" in Vicky Donor?
2. The Cuisine :- Delhi's cuisine is the tour de force in storytelling. The countless mentions of "Rajma Chawal" , "Bhalle Papdi", "Seekh Kebab and Dal", "Aloo Chat" are not just names of various food items, but each one of them has a character of its own. Eg Rajma Chawal is staple food in many households but the mention of this meal evokes emotions in many Delhi based characters as they frequently talk about "Ma ke Haath ka bana Khana" when they are missing home.
Delhi street foods like "Gol Gappe", "Kachori", "Samose", "Chole Kulche" are all experiences while growing up and films like “Vicky Donor” talk about it in its central narrative. Especially when actor Annu Kapoor calls for food in his office.
3. Different Worlds in One City :- The movie "Fukrey" talks about the families and their travails living in Trans Yamuna area Eg. the kids do illegal betting in a place hidden behind a funeral home. "Vicky Donor" talks about a family living in the refugee area of Lajpat Nagar, "Ayesha" talked about the upper crust and well heeled families of Malcha Marg and Vasant Vihar. "Vicky Donor" also talks about the Bengali settlements of Chittaranjan Park. A dozen films have already talked about the walled city area of "Chandni Chowk". Its this mass diversity of Delhi which creates unique story ideas one after the other.
4. The Delhi Lingo :- The abrupt and yet chewy lingo of the city is quite evident. Words like "Chape", "Kalesh" , "Bhasoodi", "Tashan" are all Delhi patented terms. Its shown that Delhiwalas don't like to elaborate on sentences and would like to put their perspective in squeezed terminology.
5. The world around the lead characters:- In films based in Delhi, the scene stealers are the friends and buddies of the central characters. Eg in "Oye Lucky Lucky Oye", actor Manu Rishi plays an affable sidekick called "Bangali" who just blindly supports his thieving buddy, in "Khosla Ka Ghosla" Anupam Kher's buddies in morning walk and laughing club, in "Badhaai Ho" Ayushmann's friends at the chai wala who keep gossiping about the colony's "wives" are all a fascinating world which ensure the viewers are never short of surprises.
TOP DELHI MOVIE CHARACTERS EVER PORTRAYED :
1. Gogi Bhai in "Oye Lucky....Lucky Oye": Portrayed by Paresh Rawal, Gogi Bhai is a stolen cars trader masquerading as an orchestra troupe owner. One can never forget his nefarious motives which are largely sugar coated.
2. Bholi Punjaban in "Fukrey" : A memorable character played by Richa Chadda. Loosely based on the now jailed pimp "Sonu Punjaban", she deals in sex, drugs, illegal gambling and so on. She has two Africans as her bodyguards and uses crass language. This portrayal remains with us.
3. Khurana in “Khosla Ka Ghosla” : The land shark who like the Big Bad Wolf comes to grab land from the honest hard working Khosla family. The “Jai Mata Di” chanting Khurana is a smooth operator and works like a full fledged criminal. The city of Delhi at one point of time was infested with these types. But the evil Khurana played by Boman Irani is unforgettable.
4. Bittoo Sharma in “Band Baaja Baraat” : Bittoo played by Ranveer Singh is the true depiction of the Delhi youth. Aggressive, ambitious with next zero capital and with no formal plan, Bittoo cuts through various challenges and ultimately builds a sustainable and growing enterprise. The Bittoo story is written all over the city of Delhi. A depiction which built the stardom of Ranveer Singh.
It is my belief as a Dilli citizen myself that the city, given its varied population, will continue to drive innovative content in films and TV in the coming years but my favourite will always be “Khosla Ka Ghosla”.
- Rahul Gupta, Film Critic.