Sunday, February 06, 2011

Delhi story

Do Dooni Chaar (2010, India, Habib Faisal)

Mumbai manufactures celluloid dreams while Delhi serves up cinematic reality dressed up in fictional clothing. Such is the conclusion derived from a handful of Delhi based films in the last few years, starting with Dibakar Banerjee's 2006 film Khosla Ka Ghosla to 2011’s No One Killed Jessica. There is a reason why Delhi would be responsible for showcasing reality. While Mumbai is home to Bollywood and the vast film making industry, Delhi has no film industry. So if a filmmaker wants to set a film in the nation's capital, then they do so with a specific story in mind. The success of the filmmaker's work depends on how well they integrate a story within Delhi's landscape and let the authenticity of the city engulf the characters. Habib Faisal has done a magnificent job in dipping his film Do Dooni Chaar throughly in Delhi’s way of life and as a result, he has given a true voice to a section of Indian society that rarely gets screen time anymore -- the middle class.

Plenty of magazines and books talk about India’s growing middle class and their new found purchasing power, but in recent decades when Bollywood and Foreign movies have given India a cinematic treatment their cameras have remained fixated on just a few rungs of Indian society. Bollywood’s tales focus mostly on the wealthy who lives are preoccupied by flying to foreign locales and falling in love or showcase stories that take root in slums and follow the emergence of a hero or gangster. Also, Bollywood ignores mainstream society altogether and focuses on the parallel economy powered by the underworld and its association with politicians and corrupt lawmen. Sometimes, the middle class gets a toe in but for the most part they are relegated to the sidelines. Yet, the section of Indian society that is most talked about nowadays is also the least represented in contemporary cinematic coverage. One reason for such limited coverage is that the middle class is such a vast label that encompasses multiple professions and millions of people. The label ranges from members of society who just manage to acquire a concrete roof over their heads to citizens with a measly income of a few thousand rupees a month to those with 5 digit monthly salaries who own multiples houses/apartments. A single film cannot manage to cover all such diverse cases but Habib Faisal has used one family’s experiences as a case study to examine larger issues.

The Duggals are an average middle class family struggling to make ends meet and depend primarily on a single source of income. Santosh (Rishi Kapoor, brilliant) is a school teacher whose meagre income is hardly enough to afford the family modern day luxuries such as a car. So his trusty scooter (moped) is his sole mode of transport much to the shame of his two kids and even sister-in-law. The sister-in-law insists that for once the family arrive in a car for a family wedding so that she does not have to endure further humiliation. Santosh decides to borrow his neighbour Farooqui’s (Akhilendra Mishra) car but since Santosh is not a confident driver, his daughter Payal (Aditi Vasudev) takes the wheel. Farooqui is worried about his car’s safety but despite an extraordinary wedding trip complete with having the car stolen and then recovered via a bribe, the Duggals manage to bring the car safely back to the colony. However, the car gets dented during parking and that damage leads to an altercation with Farooqui’s wife. Kusum Duggal (brilliantly played by Neetu Singh) pays more than enough to cover the damages but the insults don’t stop there. Santosh cannot stand the humiliation any further and makes an impulsive claim to own a car within 15 days. However, Santosh quickly realizes that he cannot buy a car in his teacher’s salary. His daughter Payal proposes to chip in after she finds out that a job in a call center would bring in a decent amount to contribute for a car down payment. But Santosh refuses her offer and wants Payal to focus on her studies. Instead, both Santosh and Kusum debate about honesty and morals after a student offers a substantial bribe to get a passing grade.

Santosh and Kusum lead a simple honest way of life which is why the bribe presents a dilemma. On one hand, the extra money could solve their immediate problems yet that would mean going against everything that the two of them have worked for in their lives. To complicate matters, a popular reality tv show’s sting operations catching people taking bribes gives Santosh nightmares after his son Sandeep’s (Archit Krishna) shocking admission of a cricket gambling habit and the arrest of Sandeep’s broker on that same reality show. Santosh is convinced if he were to navigate down the wrong path, he would be unmasked on the tv show.

The Duggals may be fictional creations but their plight is completely real and by shooting the movie on location in Delhi, Habib Faisal has created a story that could take place in any Delhi colony on a daily basis. Across Delhi, Middle class public school teachers or government employees struggle to make money while their children have the opportunity to earn more in one month than what the parents make in a year. The source of such income for the children comes via working in call centers or other jobs for multinational companies in the private sector. This imbalance in the incomes of two generations especially for families living under the same roof poses a unique set of challenges. By portraying Do Dooni Chaar in a charming humorous manner, Habib Faisal ensures such relevant issues are presented in an accessible manner without compromising the film’s intelligent beating heart.

Rishi Kapoor is in perfect form and gives the best acting performance seen in any Indian film in 2010. Neetu Singh used to portray memorable characters in Indian cinema through the late 1970’s and early 1980’s but she stepped away from films in 1983. She had a comeback via a small role in 2009’s Love Aaj Kaal but Do Dooni Chaar reminds of her acting talent and is proof that the craft never leaves a true artist. Do Dooni Chaar was easily the best Indian film of 2010 yet it was also one that was rarely seen. It certainly deserves a wider audience and hopefully it will get that in 2011.

Note: Habib Faisal had quite a year in 2010 as Do Dooni Chaar marked his directorial debut and he also penned the screenplay for Band Baaja Baaraat, another charming Delhi based film.


Sam Juliano said...

Very interesting Sachin. There was a multiplex very close to where I live that offered up Bollywood films regularly. it was a 16 screen cavernous complex under a Pathmark and a shopping mall that devoted it's screens to the latest Bollywood releases and current art house fare. This was a place to catch repeat viewing so the latest foreign language films (I remember going back there three times to see Despletchen's KINGS AND QUEEN) but that's just a fraction of the visits I paid there. Some of their curry dishes at the resfreshment stand were quite good too! My Bollywood choices were poor, mainly as I didn't have a grasp of what were the strongest entries. Anyway, I do hope as you speculate that DELHI STORY will get a wide release in 2011. It's one I am most interested in, in large measure because of your excellent qualification here.

Sachin said...

Thanks so much for your comments Sam. That place you mention sounds fascinating with multiple screens for art house fare and good food nearby :)

We used to have a single screen theater which mixed art house with Bollywood films but the Bollywood films were only the big banner popular films which sometimes were entertaining but at other times were as guilty as Hollywood in sticking to true and tried formulas. Now that theater still shows great art house films but Bollywood films are no longer on tap. Although there are 1-2 other theaters in the city which show a few Bollywood films but once again, they offer the big budget films. So not surprizingly a small budget film like Do Dooni Chaar did not get a theatrical release here.

Actually Do Dooni Chaar translates to two times two equals four and there is no Delhi Story in the title. I just felt like having that for the blog entry as the film represents Delhi quite well.