Rakyesh Omprakash Mehra’s Delhi-6 is a sprawling love poem to the city of his birth, specifically the neighbourhood where he grew up. Delhi-6 is set in Chandni Chowk, imagined here as the thumping heart of the capital, teeming with colours and flavours and people of all faiths living in perfect harmony.
Into this warm and welcoming zone that is presented as the authentic Delhi comes New Yorker Roshan (Abhishek Bachchan). Roshan is accompanying his grandmother Annapurna (Waheeda Rehman) back to her ancestral home. He is befuddled by the quirky characters he meets, but eventually embraces them as his own. The extent of his domestication is indicated by the woman he falls for – his neighbour Bitoo (Sonam Kapoor), who lives a sort of double life and changes out of her traditional clothes into trendier threads as soon as she has left home.
The movie proposes several such East-West encounters. Chandni Chowk, as per Mehra’s imagination, is neatly balanced between tradition and globalisation, Indian values and modern technology, Delhi then and now. The soundtrack by AR Rahman, one of his best, perfectly matches Mehra’s ambitions. It includes sufi, jazz and folk sounds, and plays a vital part in moving forward the movie’s numerous ideas.
One of the best tracks is also the most well shot. Dafatan (Suddenly), written by Prasoon Joshi, begins with the words “Dil mera” that careens off into a high-pitched warble before singer Ash King settles down into the melody. My heart has fallen someplace suddenly, but you know not where it has gone, King sings in the background as a fantasia of globalisation unfolds. Visual effects locate the Statue of Liberty towering over the criss-crossing wires of Chandhi Chowk’s narrow lanes. A door opens onto Times Square in New York City, where Bitoo, clad demurely in a virginal white salwar kameez, stands alongside the other denizens of Chandni Chowk. The neighbourhood’s roadside food stalls are there, along with the auto rickshaws, the resident cow and the Ramleela performers. Suddenly, Roshan is at the top of a building with the Monkey Man, who has been terrorising Chandni Chowk, but then the mask falls, only to reveal…
From one tourist trap to the next, the journey is seamless. The song depicts Roshan’s divided heritage – one leg in New York, the other in Delhi – as well as reflects the Indian capital’s changing geography. The faultlines that are hidden by the happy exterior will soon emerge, but at this point in the movie, Roshan is enjoying the fruits of globalisation, which allow him to travel without leaving his rooftop.